Once again, Breguet is starting the year with an exhibition at Geneva’s Cité du Temps (Pont de la Machine). From 18 January to 21 February 2016, the House is inviting its admirers to explore the worlds of the important historical figures who have left their mark on its history. Drawing on the invaluable archives that enable Breguet to trace all sales of its watches from 1787 to the present day, the ‘Breguet, A Story Among the Greats’ exhibition relates the incredible ties that connect the House to several famous figures, writers and composers. An exclusive launch took place on Wednesday, 20th January in the presence of Marc A. Hayek, President and CEO of Breguet, and a number of VIP guests.
Abraham-Louis Breguet opened his watchmaking workshop on the Ile de la Cité in Paris in 1775. Shortly after, great men and women began to flock to the atelier to purchase his precious timepieces. Capable of meeting the requirements of his famous customers, A.-L. Breguet also inspired the most renowned authors, who were quick to cite him in their works. Throughout the history of Breguet, enthusiasm for its creations has remained constant. Today, the House is exhibiting those who have contributed to its history, and who remain an invaluable source of inspiration. Prepare to enter the legendary world of Breguet through a journey dedicated to nine iconic figures.
Marie-Antoinette was one of the first and most fervent admirers of Breguet timepieces. She purchased creations for her own personal use and was quick to advocate the talented master watchmaker in the French court and within her entourage. Breguet is additionally alleged to have created watch No. 160, known as “Marie Antoinette”, for the Queen, a timepiece featuring all the watch complications known at the time. Unfortunately she never got to see the piece, as its production was only completed 34 years after her death.
Whether for personal purposes or to further his various military expeditions, future emperor Napoleon Bonaparte keenly indulged in several Breguet creations, with a clear preference for repeater watches. He saw these prestigious timepieces as symbols of the social and political rise that went hand-in-hand with the power he coveted. In 1798, a few days before leaving for Egypt, Napoleon bought travel clock No. 178 from A.-L. Breguet, which featured a quarter-hour repeater function.
In the throes of the Napoleonic Wars, Turkey, which was still a French ally, proved a promising market for A.-L. Breguet. His meetings with the Turkish ambassador in Paris provided him with valuable details about the habits and tastes of this new clientele. Consequently, Breguet designed a series of “Turkish” watches especially for the Ottoman market. One of these pieces was destined for Sultan Selim III, who later ordered a replica of the original.
Meanwhile, Caroline Murat was one of A.-L. Breguet’s most loyal customers. Between 1808 and 1814, she ordered no fewer than 34 timepieces from him. The younger sister of Napoleon I who acceded to the throne of Naples in 1808, she promoted the arts and was quick to extol the virtues of Breguet. It was also on her request that the master watchmaker produced the first ever wristwatch in 1810.
From 1801, Breguet also met with enviable success in Russia. The House was nonetheless forced to cease its exports when Tsar Alexander I banned imports of French products in his territory in response to Napoleon’s politics. However, this did not prevent the monarch from discreetly visiting A.-L. Breguet’s workshop on the Quai de l’Horloge. This influential historical figure would later inspire the “Réveil du Tsar” Classique watch, an exceptional contemporary timepiece combining an alarm function and a second time zone indication.
Also in Russia, the man who was later considered to be the nation’s greatest writer was born into an established noble family, who demonstrated a particular fondness for Breguet and became loyal customers. It was therefore only natural for Alexander Pushkin to portray a Breguet timepiece in his work Eugene Onegin: “A dandy on the boulevards (…), strolling at leisure until his Breguet, ever vigilant, reminds him it is midday.”
Meanwhile in France, eminently famous novelist Honoré de Balzac also honoured a Breguet watch in his works. In Eugénie Grandet, he writes: “He drew out the most delicious thin watch that Breguet had ever made. Fancy, it is eleven o’clock, I was up early.” Today, the tables have turned and it is Breguet’s turn to pay tribute to these great authors with its collections of writing instruments.
But writers were not the only artists to appreciate the watchmaking style and expertise of Breguet. The House’s clientele also included some great composers, such as Gioachino Rossini. In his lifetime, Rossini owned Breguet watch No. 4604, a very small, simple watch featuring a calendar, a gold engine-turned case and an off-centred silver dial. The Breguet archives indicate that Rossini came to have it serviced in 1843. After the composer’s death in 1868, his widow continued to have the piece serviced by Breguet. In 2010, Breguet drew inspiration from its historical links with Rossini to create an original timepiece, the “La Musicale” Classique watch. Housing a patented musical mechanism, this timepiece plays the tune of The Thieving Magpie, an opera written by the famous Italian composer.
Over in the United Kingdom, Sir Winston Churchill held the position of British Prime Minister between 1940 and 1945. A high-profile politician, Churchill is most notable for the major role he played in World War II. He visited Breguet regularly, sometimes in order to make a purchase, as in 1928, but more frequently to have the watch he wore his entire life serviced: the Breguet No. 765, an exceptional chronograph with a minute-repeater and flyback seconds.
From Marie-Antoinette to Winston Churchill, not forgetting Napoleon Bonaparte or Alexander I of Russia, several of the world’s greatest men and women have worn a Breguet, and literature has honoured these timepieces as legendary objects. Across the centuries, the House has become synonymous with beauty, culture, luxury and creativity. To open its registers is to plunge into history, discovering the famous names that have left their mark on their respective domains and eras, as well as figures who make headlines today, but whose names, for reasons of discretion, Breguet refuses to reveal.