Marie-antoinette Grande Complication Pocket Watch No 1160 (2008)
Reproduction of the most complicated timepiece of the 19th century
Price: Not for sale but estimated at more than US$10 million
Royalty — among them the Empresses Joséphine and Marie-Louise and the Queen of France, Marie-Antoinette — was essential to Abraham-louis Breguet’s success. Seduced by his watches’ functional simplicity and irreproachable technique, it was thanks to one of these illustrious clients that the brand would derive its legend. In 1783, Marie-antoinette requested a very special skeletonised pocket watch by Breguet that had to be a paragon of sophistication and aesthetics. Breguet had carte blanche: No limits of time or price were fixed; gold had to replace all other metals; and all the innovations and complications known at the time had to be incorporated, including a clock, jumping hours, perpetual calendar, repeater, thermometer, chronograph and power reserve. Watch No 160, or the “Marie-antoinette”, as it came to be known, set the benchmark of Breguet’s career. Unfortunately, neither the queen nor the watchmaker lived to see it: The pocket watch was only finished in 1827, four years after his death and some 34 years after her execution. The pocket watch was last owned by Sir David Salomons, who bequeathed it to the LA Mayer Museum for Islamic Art upon his death. In 1983, the pocket watch, along with the entire Salomons collection, disappeared in a heist. As a tribute to its founder, Breguet decided to bring this legendary timepiece back to life and had the manufacture’s workshops produce an exact replica using 18th-century materials and techniques. With only a few rare photos and archival documents to guide them, the watchmakers spent three and a half years completing the titanic task, which was unveiled at Baselworld 2008. The one-of-a-kind watch No 1160 features a self-winding perpétuel movement with 823 parts and is faithful to the original down to the smallest details, such as the polished blued steel screws and flawless hand-finishing. It was also presented in a box made from over 3,500 pieces of wood from the royal oak in the Château de Versailles. As fate would have it, in 2007, when the new Marie-antoinette would soon see the light of day, the original suddenly reappeared in Tel Aviv, 24 years after the theft and 224 years after the initial order.