Thomas Jefferson's watch key was both an essential tool and a marker of loss. Jefferson used it to wind his pocket watch and it was a memento that contained a delicately woven lock of hair from his late wife Martha Wayles Jefferson, who died in 1782 after 10 years of marriage. The hair is held in place beneath a piece of quartz crystal and the gold plate on the reverse is inscribed: “Martha W. Jefferson / Born 19 Oct. 1748 / Died 6 Sept. 1782.”
While this object is small, the story it tells is large. Learn more in this video from Monticello’s Associate Curator of Decorative Arts Diane Ehrenpreis.