Remarkable History, Exceptional Gift and “The Grand Complication” are some of the names given to the Marie-Antoinette 160 pocket watch. Let’s uncover the truth behind this marvellous timepiece.
The story goes something like this…
The Swiss watchmaker Abraham- Louis Breguet was given a task to make a timepiece by Swedish Count Axel von Fersen the Younger in 1783. This watch was supposed to be a gift for the Count’s lover, the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. As the gift was of high value, it was to be as spectacular as possible. Gold was to replace the use of metal and other auxiliary mechanisms wherever possible and complications were to be as numerous and varied as attainable. As there were no financial or time restrictions imposed, Breguet got to work with all his dedication.
This was Breguet’s 160th watch. This masterpiece of horology was called “The Grand Complication”. It has also been called “a poem in clockwork”. Unfortunately, the queen did not live to see the watch. She was executed in 1793 during the ongoing French Revolution. After her death, work on the watch stopped for seven years between 1789-1995. This was also the period of Breguet’s exile. The watch was finally completed in 1827, after a whooping period of 44 years since it started. This was after 34 years of Marie Antoinette’s death and 4 years after Breguet’s death.
The watch remained in the possession of the Breguet company until it was sold to Sir Spencer Brunton in 1887. Eventually, the watch was collected by Sir David Lionel Salomons, a Breguet expert, in the 1920s. Moreover, the watch was stolen from a museum in Jerusalem in 1938 and could only be recovered in December 2007.
With a history as interesting as this, the masterpiece of horology has been a favourite topic of discussion among various watch experts and collectors. Given its mysterious and bizarre fate, Nicolas G. Hayek challenged Breguet’s watchmakers to create an exact replica of the Marie Antoinette watch.
Following this, Breguet produced a timepiece that features a minute repeater that strikes hours, quarters and minutes in command. It shows the date, the day and the month at two, six and eight o’clock respectively. The equation-of-time displays the difference between the civil and solar time at ten o’clock. It has a 48-hour power-reserve indicator and a bimetallic thermometer side by side.
The new Marie-Antoinette timepiece was presented in April 2008, placed in a presentation case made with the very Versailles oak tree under which the Queen used to rest. A beautiful ode to a beautiful craftsman.
Price: $30 Million