The MARIE ANTOINETTE pocket watch by Breguet

February 10, 2022By Bonetto Cinturini

The 1700s were a particularly flourishing century for France from a cultural and craftsmanship standpoint, as there were many nobles who loved to own luxury items that would show their status, in a continuous struggle to assert their influence in society.

Abraham-Louis Breguet’s atelier fits perfectly into this triangulation of power because we speak of the trusted watchmaker not only of the highest noble hierarchies, but even of an iconic figure like Marie Antoinette. Locked up together with her husband in the Tour du Temple, the Queen expressed in fact the desire to possess a precious pocket watch that would help her follow the passage of time, too slow and boring for a very busy woman like her.

Already many times she had in fact turned to the renowned shop for herself or to pay homage to her most illustrious guests, advising the work of a man who at that precise moment in history had no rivals in the kingdom from the point of view of the aesthetics and functionality of his devices.
Swiss precision and extreme attention to detail had made him the most famous watchmaker in France and Europe, a reputation that has allowed him to perform works for the most important personalities of the time.

Although Marie Antoinette owned several watch models made by Breguet, this simple pocket model is a true relic for those who have reconstructed and admired over time the historical events of the queen, since it belongs to tragic period of decadence and imprisonment that will end with her death.

It is a jewel that later became part of the Sir David Salomons Collection along with another variant also made to celebrate one of the muses of that specific period.

This chronicle of the period is accompanied by a series of oddities that make the timepiece No. 160 known as the “Marie Antoinette” even more appealing and turn it into an object of strong symbolic value, which for such reason is still being studied by many interested parties.

A watch never delivered to the recipient

Breguet’s timepiece No. 160 was commissioned back in 1783 not by the Queen herself, but by an admirer who wanted to give her a precious object, made by the best atelier in France. It is surprising that the gesture did not come from her husband but from a third person, to underline how the figure of Marie Antoinette was loved and appreciated as it had never happened before for a sovereign of the country. The secret admirer decided to spare no expense and asked the well-known watchmaker to use every modern technology and discovery to make the object one of the best to date.

Sure enough, there were many sophisticated mechanisms that had been developed in this kind of manufacturing as early as 1700, so that it was possible to achieve a precision to the hundredth of a second and an elegant and refined style. With a view to the creation of a precious jewel, it was decided to replace every other metal with pure gold, which paid homage to the importance of the queen and was equal to her splendor.

Unfortunately, the unfortunate woman, prisoner and close to the end of her life, never had the chance to receive her gift, which she would have certainly appreciated as a lover of luxury.

Breguet was extremely happy to work without price and time-related constraints and gave his best to one of his most successful works. However, perfection requires accurate workmanship, and it took the famous watchmaker no less than fifty years to complete the masterpiece.

Unfortunately, the recipient had died 34 years earlier, when in 1793 her life was broken by a guillotine in the public square, as was customary during the French Revolution for people accused of high treason. An inglorious end for what has been one of the most controversial personalities of the period, rich in facets and contradictions, capable of giving glimpses of elegance, luxury, and acumen to all those who have decided to follow the exploits in the years to come.

However, it was not the well-known watchmaker who completed the work, since his death occurred in 1823, 4 years before the end of what is still called a genuine work of art. Enthusiasts and market experts are still fascinated by the story of Breguet’s mysterious Marie Antoinette pocket watch, which has become a cult object that has given rise to numerous legends and stories.

In 1983 the precious timepiece was even stolen, being smuggled from the museum in Jerusalem. It was necessary to wait until 2007 to get hold of it again, by chance only a year before the launch on the market of its direct successor, which saw the light in 2008 and was able to partially match the splendor and attention to detail of the well-known predecessor.

The MARIE ANTOINETTE pocket watch by Breguet lives again in the present

Riding the wave of mystery and charm of the original MARIE ANTOINETTE Pocket Watch No. 160, the Breguet atelier has decided to faithfully replicate the model, based on the drawings and designs of the time found thanks to numerous and accurate studies.

It is a perpetual model that marks the hours, the quarters of hour and the minutes on express request, with an exceptional precision and splitting the second sharply without ever losing turns.
It presents various complications compared to those that were the standard of the time, realized relying faithfully on ideas that in the 1700s seemed so modern and innovative.

Some of them have been deduced by analogy, analyzing similar jewels, such as those of the Duke of Praslin which were very close to that of Marie Antoinette in terms of aesthetics and functionality.
Its aspect has the same charm of its well-known predecessor, as it was decided to focus on the elegance of a vintage style made with the best materials currently provided by the industry. Renamed No. 1160, a decision was made to opt for a case made from an oak from Versailles, a very valuable wood, able to withstand the wear of time and ensure excellent performance in the long term.

However, the motivation that accompanies such decision is fascinating, since it is precisely the tree under which the sovereign loved to rest during her free time, when she could withdraw from public life and devote herself to some of her passions, such as reading.
They are in fact watches designed to work properly over the centuries, despite the many vicissitudes that may arise, as it happened to the fascinating timepiece desired by the admirer of the queen in order to celebrate her importance in that particular historical period.

Able to indicate the date, by day and month, in the center, besides the typical hands for the hours and the seconds, they also have an independent hand that serves as the ancestor of the chronograph. Right next to the power reserve indicator, which may last for 48 hours, a bimetallic thermometer was placed, precisely the same as in the original design, which never reached the unfortunate owner.

There are no less than 823 components that form the watch movement, meticulously wedged in together to ensure perfect functioning of each gear.
Most of the components are made of pink-oil sanded wood, using a technique called au bois, while for the screws they opted for a finely polished blue steel. The bearings and the friction points are adorned with sapphires, which make the composition that came to light in 50 years even more valuable. It certainly could not have been more refined than the standard of the time.

Inside, a solid anti-shock device was installed, which protects the watch from continuous stress and allows it to maintain the same performance over time.

Watch enthusiasts and lovers of the historic figure of Marie Antoinette wonder if this new interpretation of the well-known MARIE ANTOINETTE pocket watch by Breguet will also suffer the same kind of vicissitudes of the original, carefully following his movements and admiring the class and perfection with which this historical atelier has been able to work over the centuries, still standing as one of the best in the world in terms of aesthetics and functionality.

Although it did not directly belong to the sovereign, it is an heirloom of enormous importance, which tells so much about the taste and discoveries of the time, taking us back to a historical period that was rich in contradictions, but which also had a remarkable charm.

The materials, the fine workmanship, the exemplary functionality, and the elegant aesthetics make this precious watch one of the most famous in the world, which deserves to be admired in the appropriate locations by any future generation.