Recently, we were cordially invited by Breguet boutique to the exhibition of arguably the most valuable and famous watch in the world; the re-made Marie-Antoinette pocket watch.
This masterpiece of craftsmanship was designed by 18th-century genius Nicolas Breguet who created the watch after it was requested an unknown admirer of the queen’s guard. The Queen herself was a large admirer and owned many of the watchmaker’s designs. She fervently recommended, almost endorsing his work, to the whole French Kingdom. Her words influenced many emperors, diplomatic envoys and crowned heads to acquire a taste for Breguet’s pieces. Watch no 160 named ‘Marie-Antoinette’ was brimming with every known refinement, function and detail of its time as there was no time or monetary constraints. The lack of limits resulted in a 60mm pocket watch featuring a full perpetual calendar, a jumping hour hand, 23 complications and 823 parts. It was encased in 18-karat gold and sapphires graced every working surface. The queen never saw it completed. In fact, the watch wasn’t completed until 34 years after her death, four years after Breguet’s, and 44 years after the timepiece was ordered.
Marie Antoinette helped provoke the popular unrest that led to the French Revolution and to the overthrow of the monarchy in August 1792. She became a symbol of the excesses of the monarchy.
The watch passed through the ages and gained a reputation as a relic of notoriety and exchanged prestigious hands, namely David Solomon an avid watch collector and owner of more than 124 Breguet pieces. Fast forward to April 1983, the world’s most expensive watch was on display at the LA Mayer Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem where it was infamously stolen by renowned master-thief Na’aman Diller in one of the most famous watch heists in history. The watch that we were invited to see, no. 1160, was a replica that was commissioned to Breguet and supported by Swatch and took four years to make.
Fast forward to the present day, we were warmly welcomed into the Breguet Boutique shop on New Bond Street and after perusing the pieces and mingling, there was a clinking of a fork against a glass to signal our silence. At this point we were introduced to the guest of honour; television presenter, actor and lifelong horological devotee Nicholas Parsons who presented the BBC4 Documentary ‘The Incredible Story of Marie Antoinette’s Watch with Nicholas Parsons’. He recounted how he was invited to Jereslum by the LA Mayer Museum of Islamic Art to view the watch. The BBC ‘picked up on this’ and asked if they could follow him and compose a show about it. What merely started as a simple excursion, turned into an intriguing telling of the watches royal origins, one that goes far deeper than what this blog has touched on. The documentary still stands as the first-choice resource for any horological enthusiast interested in finding out more on this timepiece.
Charles Burns, otherwise known as ‘The Roving Artist’ stunned the audience at the exhibiton with his intricate silhouettes of people.
After the keynote speech, we were all treated to famous silhouette artist Charles Burns, who’s work includes portraits of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and then-President Clinton. Needless to say, he wowed us with not only the detail but also how quickly he was able to go around and effortlessly recreate everyone in the room!
We had an exuberant evening, full of indulgence and insightfulness everyone at Bond thanks Breguet for inviting us to share the historic evening with them. ‘Incredible’ really is an understatement.