BREGUET CELEBRATES ITS CONTRIBUTION TO THE AMBITIOUS RESTORATION OF A DECORATIVE-ARTS SECTION OF THE LOUVRE, WRITES Joyce Kam
The gilded woodwork, intricate stone marquetry, rococo tapestries and chinoiserie furniture at the Louvre’s decorative arts exhibition present a compelling visual definition of the word opulence. Reopened after a decade of refurbishment, the galleries resurrect the art of living in 18th-century France, allowing a glimpse of royal life.
Wardrobes made of inlaid brass and tortoiseshell by master craftsman AndréCharles Boulle reflect the transition from the baroque to the régence style during the late years of Sun King Louis XIV; pink porcelain pieces with Asian motifs are emblematic of the rococo style during Louis XV; and GrecoRoman figures surrounded by laurel leaves on Louis XVI tableware mark the resurgence of classicism.
The new exhibition was met with great enthusiasm on its opening night in June. “I’m touched to see the project supported by my late father has finally come to fruition,” says Nayla Hayek. Her father, Nicolas, co-founded the Swatch Group, which acquired Swiss watch brand Breguet in 1999.
Since 2005, Breguet has been a major patron of restorations at Petit Trianon—a small château on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles—and the Louvre’s department of decorative arts, whose common denominator is none other than Marie Antoinette, Queen of France during the reign of Louis XVI.
The story of Abraham-louis Breguet’s involvement with Marie Antoinette began in 1783. The young Paris-based Swiss
watchmaker was given carte blanche to develop a watch fit for the stylish queen. The instructions were brief: to use gold whenever possible and include all known horological complications.
Forty-four years later, the Breguet No. 160 grand complication was born—33 years after Marie Antoinette lost her head to the guillotine and four years after AbrahamLouis’ death. The 63mm-wide pocket watch was completed by Abraham-louis’ son, Antoine-louis. A bona fide horological genius, Abraham-louis went on to invent a series of new technologies, including the gong spring for repeater watches; the first travelling clock, sold to Napoleon Bonaparte; and the tourbillon, for which he obtained a patent in 1801. But his greatest legacy is still considered to be the No. 160 grand complication, also known as the Marie Antoinette. “That was the most intricate watch ever built, and would remain so for nearly a century,” says Emmanuel Breguet, director of Breguet France and head of the Swatch Group’s heritage department.
Ten years ago, a bolt of lightning reunited the two names once more. In 2004, Nicolas Hayek decided to make a replica of the No. 160 grand complication, as the real one was stolen from the LA Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem in 1983.
Meanwhile, an oak tree that had been hit by lightning had to be cut down at Petit Trianon. The wood was then gifted to Hayek to be fashioned into a case for the replica watch. As a token of gratitude, Breguet signed on to be a major patron to the restoration projects.
Hayek believed that preserving the ambience of the living space of the final queen of France carried great significance. The furniture and works of art commissioned by Marie Antoinette demonstrate her flair for new, unconventional objects. Perhaps that was also the reason behind her lifelong appreciation for Breguet timepieces.
THE LOUVRE PYRAMID STANDS PROUDLY IN THE NAPOLEON COURTYARD
OPULENT ABODE FROM TOP: THE SPLENDOUR OF THE GILBERT AND ROSE- MARIE CHAGOURY ROOM; ( FROM LEFT) RODOLPHE SCHULTHESS, EMMANUEL BREGUET AND MARTIN GANZ OF BREGUET