Breguet Marie-Antoinette Grande Complication Pocket Watch N°1160

Marie-Antoinette, the last Queen of France before the French Revolution, was a passionate admirer of Breguet watches. She had acquired a number of timepieces, including a perpétuel watch embellished with a self-winding device developed by Breguet.

In 1783, one of her admirers ordered from the workshops in the Quai de l’Horloge, the most spectacular watch possible, incorporating the entire body of horological science of the time, as a gift to the queen. The order specified that gold should, wherever possible, be used instead of other metals, and that the complications should be both multiple and varied.

Unconstrained by limitations of cost or time, Breguet had a free hand. The queen never had the opportunity to admire the timepiece. It was not completed until 1827, 34 years after her death and four years after the death of Abraham-Louis Breguet. The company sold the historic Breguet Marie-Antoinette watch to Sir Spencer Brunton in 1887.

It is also known as Breguet n°160 because it was the 160th watch by Breguet. Made of gold and powered by a mechanical automatic movement, this legendary timepiece featured a myriad of complications like Celestial time, Perpetual calendar, Minute repeater, Thermometer, Chronograph, Power reserve and Chime. Its extreme complexity, its roots and its story, as fabulous as it is epic, have haunted the watchmaking landscape and the minds of collectors for more than two centuries.

In the 1920s, this masterpiece was acquired by Sir David Lionel Salomons, who owned one of the largest privately-held collection of Breguet clocks and watches. In the 1970s, these timepieces including Breguet n°160 were handed over to the L.A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art in Jerusalem. This museum was founded by Vera Bryce Salomons, daughter of Sir David Lionel Salomons.

In 1983, the Breguet Marie-Antoinette watch and other timepieces from the David Salomons collection were stolen from the Jerusalem museum.

In 2005, Nicolas G. Hayek set himself the challenge of reproducing a replica of the legendary Marie-Antoinette watch. He then heard about the fate of the oak of the palace of Versailles, the queen’s favourite tree, which had to be felled, and decided to give it a second life by fashioning from its wood the presentation case of the watch.

Versailles offered the tree to Montres Breguet which, as a token of its gratitude committed itself to the restoration of the Marie-Antoinette domain. Just when the manufacture of the new Marie-Antoinette Grande Complication pocket watch N°1160 (the replica of the Marie-Antoinette watch) reached its end in 2007, the spoils of the 1983 robbery suddenly appeared as if by magic in Jerusalem.

In 2007, the investigators recovered the Breguet n°160 and several other timepieces from the collection and handed over to the L.A. Mayer museum.

Montres Breguet has to date not yet had the opportunity to inspect them. Research among the archives and original drawings from the Breguet Museum and from other high institutions of culture like the Musée des Arts et Métiers (arts and crafts museum) in Paris, are the only available sources of information for reproducing the Marie-Antoinette watch.

Comparative examinations of contemporary antique watches, notably the Duc de Praslin watch, have revealed new factors concerning the styling and watchmaking techniques of the period. The research has brought to light skills that have today vanished and has enabled the manufacturing company to produce a timepiece that is in every respect faithful to its predecessor.

Reproducing and designing such a large number of complications on the sole basis of documents is against the odds and reveals the talent of the watchmakers at Montres Breguet. Each function and every decorative feature was minutely analysed.

Breguet Marie-Antoinette Grande Complication Pocket Watch N°1160
Breguet Marie-Antoinette Grande Complication Pocket Watch N°1160

In the coachwork of the watch for example, the yellow gold of the 63mm-diameter case was cast in a special, more coppery alloy in order to match the period hue. The glasses for the dial and the case, made of rock crystal, allow the movement to display its finery and the marvels of its finish. The research has moreover brought to light a complication of the original watch: jumping hours.

As a self-winding watch with a minute-repeater striking the hours, quarters and minutes on demand, the new Marie-Antoinette has all the makings of a work of art. A full perpetual calendar displays the dates, the day and the months respectively at 2 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 8 o’clock.

The equation of time at 10 o’clock proclaims the daily difference between solar time and the mean time told by watches. In the centre, the jumping hours – invented by Breguet – and the minutes are joined by a long independent seconds hand, while the small seconds are shown at 6 o’clock. The 48-hour power-reserve indicator 10:30 balances a bimetallic thermometer at 01:30.

Breguet Marie-Antoinette Grande Complication Pocket Watch N°1160

The self-winding, “perpétuel” movement comprises 823 outstandingly finished components. The baseplates and bridges, the smallest gear-wheels in the trains for the underdial work, the dates and the repeater are fashioned in pink gold polished with wood.

The screws are in polished blued steel; the points of friction, holes and bearings, set with sapphires. The smallest details demonstrate perfect execution and have been finished by hand.

This masterly and unprecedented mechanism is furthermore fitted with a particular type of natural-lift escapement, a helical balance-spring in gold and a bimetallic balance-wheel. The anti-shock device – a double pare chute, another Breguet invention – gives protection against blows and shocks to the balance staff and to the shafts of the winding weights.

This masterpiece fit for a queen rests in a precious presentation box made of more than 3,500 pieces sculpted from the wood of the royal oak. It encloses a lavishly crafted inlay work of more than a thousand pieces of wood depicting the hand of Marie-Antoinette holding her rose – a detail inspired by the famous portrait of the queen. The outside of the box faithfully reproduces the parquet flooring of the Petit Trianon.

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