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Breguet makes history with a watch for a Queen

Breguet makes history with a watch for a Queen

Friday, 12 October 2012
By Danièle Chambas
Danièle Chambas

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5 min read

Breguet celebrates the bicentennial of the first bracelet-watch, made for Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples.

The Isle of Capri was the setting for festivities to mark the two-hundredth anniversary of the first bracelet-watch, created by Abraham-Louis Breguet for Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples, and the tenth anniversary of Breguet‘s “Reine de Naples” collection. Some two hundred guests and friends of the firm travelled from around the world to enjoy this most glamorous of Italian resorts, and step back in time, starting with the Reggia di Capodimonte palace in Naples, once the home of Queen Caroline and King Joachim Murat. The historian Emmanuel Breguet tells more.

Invention of the first wristwatch

On June 8th, 1810, Caroline Murat, the vivacious and ambitious younger sister of Napoleon I, placed an unusual order with Breguet’s workshops on Quai de l’Horloge in Paris. The young woman was well-acquainted with the watchmaker, having purchased her first timepiece in 1805 at the age of 23. The order was recorded in the company’s registers as watch n° 2639, a “repeater in oblong form for bracelet”. The oval shape of the watch, which possessed a lever escapement and a thermometer, and the fact it should be made expressly to be attached to a bracelet, were two highly original characteristics for that time. It took seventeen specialist craftsmen two and a half years to make the watch in thirty-four separate stages. The finished piece, billed 4,800 francs in 1811, was delivered in a red calfskin box on December 21st, 1812. It featured a thin case in yellow gold, a guilloché silver dial with Arabic numerals, and a bracelet of hair entwined with gold threads. Breguet had made the first ever wristwatch!

Did Caroline Murat and Abraham-Louis Breguet imagine the historical significance of this order, which obliged Breguet to find the means to produce a complicated watch, in an oval form, and one which could be worn on the wrist? No one knows. Still, and even though no portraits show her wearing it, the Queen of Naples must have been particularly happy with her “jewel” as she would order 34 watches and clocks from Breguet until 1815, when she was forced to flee the Kingdom of Naples. As well as being Breguet’s biggest patron, she was also the most prolific buyer of timepieces of all the Bonapartes, who owned some one hundred between them.

Respect for tradition

What became of this unprecedented timepiece? We know it was inherited by Caroline and Joachim’s daughter Louise Murat, Countess Rasponi, as she took it to Breguet for repair in 1849, and again in 1855 to have new keys made. Following which the original Queen of Naples watch vanished without a trace. In 2002, three years after the Breguet brand became part of Swatch Group, Nicolas Hayek, an admirer of the great watchmaker’s masterpieces and the company’s history, initiated a timepiece for women inspired by Caroline Murat’s watch. Guided only by descriptions (no drawings of the watch have ever been found), it respected the form and spirit of the first bracelet-watch in its refinement, beauty and complications. The “Reine de Naples” collection was born.

Ten years later, Marc A. Hayek, Nicolas Hayek’s grandson and Chief Executive of Montres Breguet, was in Naples to unveil the “special anniversary model”, the most precious in the collection. Its oval case houses a grande complication movement and is embellished with diamonds and blue sapphires. It is joined by a collection of “Reine de Naples” jewellery, comprising earrings, a ring, a necklace and a tiara.

''Reine de Naples'' necklace © Breguet
The "Reine de Naples" anniversary special

This anniversary model is the latest in the line of Breguet’s grande complication watches. The striking mechanism marks each hour with two chimes, repeated three times. This chiming function can be disabled. The bridges, oscillating weight and decorations can be admired through the sapphire crystal back. The striking hammers appear above the dial, at 11 and 1 o’clock.

Case: “ovoid” shape in 18k white gold with a finely fluted caseband. Bezel, caseband and clasp set with 28 diamonds (approx. 0.89 ct) and 27 blue sapphires (approx. 2.77 ct). Crown set with a briolette diamond (approx. 0.267 ct). Chime pushpiece at 2 o’clock. Dimensions 38.45 x 30.40 mm.
Dial: silvered gold paved with 156 diamonds (0.42 ct) and 303 blue sapphires (approx. 0.84 ct). Flange paved with 77 diamonds (approx. 0.1586 ct). Off-centre hour chapter at 6 o’clock.
Movement: self-winding, mechanical, hand-engraved, individually numbered, signed Breguet. Power reserve of 65 hours without chimes and approx. 50 hours with chimes engaged. 18k gold oscillating weight. Swiss inline lever escapement. Silicon balance spring.
Strap: alligator with folding clasp set with 26 diamonds (approx. 0.1285 ct). ■

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