Marie Antoinette was driven by a truly passionate desire for Breguet watches and had acquired a number of timepieces, including a perpétuel watch embellished with a self-winding device developed by Breguet. In 1783, one of her admirers ordered the most spectacular watch possible, incorporating the entire body of horological science of the time, as a gift to the queen. The order specified that gold should, wherever possible, be used instead of other metals and that the complications should be both multiple and varied.

The queen never had the opportunity to admire the timepiece. It was not completed until 1827, 34 years after her death, 44 years after it was ordered and four years after the death of the founder. The “Marie-Antoinette” pocket watch, entered into watchmaking legend from 1783. Its extreme complexity, its roots and its story, as fabulous as it is epic, have haunted the watchmaking landscape and the minds of collectors for more than two centuries. More recently, its destiny shrouded in mystery – stolen from a Jerusalem museum and lost for decades. In 2005, Nicolas G. Hayek, President, and CEO of Montres Breguet set himself the challenge of reproducing the Marie Antoinette pocket watch identically. Reproducing and designing such a large number of complications on the sole basis of documents is against the odds and reveals the talent of the watchmakers at Montres Breguet.

In the coachwork of the watch, for example, the yellow gold of the 63mm-diameter case was cast in a special, more coppery alloy in order to match the period hue. The glasses for the dial and the case, made of rock crystal, allow the movement to display its finery and the marvels of its finish.

Like its predecessor, the Marie Antoinette No. 1160 comprises the following complications: a self-winding watch with a minute-repeater striking the hours, quarters and minutes on demand. A full perpetual calendar displays the dates, the day and the months respectively at 2 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 8 o’clock.

The equation of time at 10 o’clock proclaims the daily difference between solar time and the mean time told by watches. In the center, the jumping hours – invented by Breguet – and the minutes are joined by a long independent seconds hand, while the small seconds are shown at 6 o’clock. The 48-hour power-reserve indicator 10:30 balances a bimetallic thermometer at 01:30.

The self-winding, “perpétuel” movement comprises 823 outstandingly finished components. The baseplates and bridges, the smallest gear-wheels in the trains for the under dial work, the dates and the repeater are fashioned in pink gold polished with wood. The screws are in polished blued steel; the points of friction, holes, and bearings, set with sapphires. The smallest details demonstrate perfect execution and have been finished by hand.

This masterly and unprecedented mechanism is furthermore fitted with a particular type of natural-lift escapement, a helical balance-spring in gold and a bimetallic balance-wheel. The anti-shock device – a double pare chute, another Breguet invention – gives protection against blows and shocks to the balance staff and to the shafts of the winding weights.

This masterpiece fit for a queen rests in a precious presentation box made of more than 3,500 pieces sculpted from the wood of the royal oak tree from the Versailles Estate. It encloses a lavishly crafted inlay work of more than a thousand pieces of wood depicting the hand of Marie-Antoinette holding her rose – a detail inspired by the famous portrait of the queen. The outside of the box faithfully reproduces the parquet flooring of the Petit Trianon.

In as much as in those days Breguet intended to make this watch into a monument to the glory of 18th-century horology, the brand has performed a feat of prowess by bringing a legend to life and anchoring it in the 20th century.

Posted by:Jason Pitsch

Jason is the founder of Professional Watches and specializes in writing, product photography, and digital marketing.