Abraham Louis Breguet was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, in 1747. His roots were French but the family had sought refuge in Switzerland because they were Protestants. Breguet’s father died in 1758 and two years later he left school. His mother remarried with a watchmaker named Joseph Tattet who had an atelier in Paris where young Breguet was sent at the age of 15. He became an apprentice for a watchmaker in Versailles. Breguet had the right talents for the job and studied math in the evenings at the Collège Mazarin. Abbé Marie became his mentor and made sure he was introduced to King Louis XVI, whose fascination with mechanics led to many royal orders for the future master watchmaker. His first own workshop was opened in 1775 at 51 quai de l’Horloge in Île de la Cité, Paris.
Breguet got more orders from the heir to the French throne and his beautiful wife Marie Antoinette. His watches gained popularity and probably the most famous of them all is the so-called Marie Antoinette watch. But both the queen and the king were decapitated before the watch was finished, and its story is a fascinating one.
The ”Marie Antoinette” watch (n:o 160 in Breguet’s ledger) is considered one of the most important and valuable watches ever made. The order was placed in 1783 and the watch would take almost 20 years to complete. Since the Queen was long since dead by then, the watch stayed in Breguet’s ownership until 1887 when it was sold to Sir Spencer Brunton who passed it on in the 1920’s to Sir David Salomon, world famous watch collector and Breguet enthusiast.
After Salomon’s death in 1925, his daughter donated his Breguet collection including the “Marie Antoinette” to the L.A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art in Jerusalem. The night before April 15, 1983, the institute was burglarized and the collection was stolen – and with it the “Marie Antoinette”, valued at 30 million dollars.
The case remained unsolved until 2006, when it became known that the thief had been an infamous Israeli burglar who had escaped to the U.S. His wife tried to sell the watch collection back (including the “Marie Antoinette”) to the museum after her husband’s death. Her starting offer was two million dollars, but the widow had to settle for 35,000.
Breguet’s owner, Mr Hayek, was also offered to buy back the original watch. He said no thanks, and explained why when he showed Breguet’s own version:
– We now have our own Marie Antoinette watch, made after the original blueprints that have stayed in our archives for all these years. It’s made out of exactly the same materials, it has taken ten watchmakers three years of work, and it was all worth it.
Throughout the years, Breguet has been admired above all by the men, but the French Queen is hardly the only woman in history who has fallen for Breguet’s amazing craftsmanship. In 1810 Napoleon’s sister Caroline Murat (better known as Reine de Napoli) ordered an egg-shaped watch, since she loved the jewel-adorned Russian Easter eggs, that would be worn on the wrist with a band out of braided hair and gold thread. The watch was finished two years later and was one of the first wristwatches in history. The Reine de Napoli model is one of the watch world’s most coveted ladies’ watches. If you ask me, it’s the most beautiful ladies’ watch in the world when it’s made in yellow gold with diamonds around the case, has a mother-of-pearl face, black satin-in-silk wristband and a couple of diamonds on the clasp.