$type=slider$au=0$cm=0$snip=0$rm=0$c=7$l=0$sp=6000

ADVERTISEMENT

Breguet No.160 "Marie-Antoinette": the complete history of the Mona Lisa of watchmaking

The Mona Lisa of the clock world. The Holy Grail of watchmaking.

These are some of the definitions used for the exceptional Breguet timepiece No. 160 that takes the name from Marie-Antoinette, the Queen of France at the time of the French Revolution.

Many experts refer to it as to the most important watch ever produced for technological, aesthetic, historical and even emotional reasons.


Its history, spanning more than two centuries, could certainly be the subject for a novel or a movie.

Let’s make a jump back to the end of the 18th century.

Abraham_Louis Breguet (1747-1823) was 28 when, in 1775, he established his own watchmaking firm in the Île de la Cité in Paris. Born in Neuchatel in Switzerland, he had moved to Paris when he was 15 to be apprenticed to an unknown Versailles master watchmaker, soon astonishing him with his intelligence and skills.

Abraham-Louis Breguet

Breguet quickly made a name for himself as one of the greatest horologist of his time (today we can safely define him the greatest watchmaker of all time) and within ten years he had commissions from the most important aristocratic families of France and even from the French Queen, Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793), one of the most enthusiastic admirers of his timepieces. She herself owned several creations of the master watchmaker and recommended him to other crowned heads.

In 1783 Breguet received a commission, through a member of the Marie-Antoinette Guards, for a special timepiece that had to be created as a gift for Queen Marie-Antoinette.

The watch had to incorporate every complication and function known at the time with gold to replace brass wherever possible. No time or monetary limit had been placed on the order.

The name of the commissioner had to be left off the order and not unveiled so there is no certainty about his/her identity.

According to a legend it was the Queen herself who ordered it but most sources suppose that the watch was ordered by Swedish Count Hans Axel von Fersen (1755-1810), a close friend of the Queen who became her lover, as evidenced by the decrypted coded letters that they exchanged in the last years of the Queen.

Axel von Fersen and Marie-Antoinette in their youth: they met when they were both eighteen

A coded letter that Marie Antoinette wrote to Axel von Fersen in 1791

The Queen never received the watch as she fell under the guillotine on Place de la Révolution on 16 October 1793.

Seventeen years later von Fersen died at the hands of a Stockholm lynch mob who suspected him to have conspired to assassinate Crown Prince Charles August.

Nonetheless, during all these years, the development of this exceptional watch - identified by No. 160 - continued with the exception of seven years, from 1789 to 1795, when Breguet left France going into exile in Switzerland and England until the political scene in France stabilised.

in 1827, 44 years since the original order and 34 years after the death of the Queen, the watch was completed. Unfortunately, Abraham-Louis Breguet had died in 1823 so the masterpiece was finished by his son Louis-Antoine.


The Breguet No. 160 pocket watch had a diameter of 63 mm and included perpetual calendar indicating the day of the week, date and  month, equation of time, repetition of minutes, quarters and hours, independent seconds hand, jumping hours and thermometer. It was a "perpétuelle" i.e. it featured a self-winding mechanism equipped with a full platinum oscillating weight.


The two sides of the Breguet No. 160

The total factory costs, as detailed in the archives, reached the impressive amount of 17,070 Francs (and not 30,000 as sometimes reported), much more than any other Breguet timepiece manufactured at the time. As a comparison consider that another early perpetual calendar pocket watch, the famous No. 92 created for the Duc De Preslin, was sold for the amount of 4,800 Francs.


Above and below, archival records of the factory costs for the manufacturing of the timepiece No. 160 


At that point both the commissioner (whoever he/she was) and Marie-Antoinette were dead from several years and the watch was probably sold to a certain Marquis de la Groye of Provins.

At least this is what we can suppose. In fact, while there are no records about the sale of the timepiece, we know that in 1838 the watch was brought to the Breguet workshops to be serviced by the above mentioned Marquis de la Groye of Provins.

His identity is not clear as it is not possible to find any corresponding profile in the genealogy of the marquisate de la Groye.

This lead to a third hypothesis that we need to present on who actually commissioned the Breguet No. 160 timepiece.

Basically, the Breguet’s archives might have misspelled - a fact not so uncommon - the name of the person who returned the watch to the Breguet factory for being serviced in 1838.

Based on this assumption, the commissioner of the watch in 1783 could have been the Minister of the Navy and Marshal of France Charles Eugène Gabriel de La Croix de Castries (1727-1801) and the one who brought the watch back to Breguet in 1838 his grandson, Edmond Eugène Philippe Hercule de la Croix, marquis and second duc de Castries, (1787-1866) who at the time was the commander of the "Chaussers" corp of the French Imperial army stationing in Provins: the marquis de la Groye (a misspell of de la Croix) de Provins. You can read more about this alternative version of the story here.

Charles Eugène Gabriel de La Croix de Castries, Minister of the French Navy and Marshal of France: according to some experts, the commissioner of the No. 160 timepiece  

Whatever the truth is, the serviced watch was never claimed back remaining in the hands of the Breguet company for several decades. Presented at the Universal Exposition of 1855 and other successive editions as the Breguet timepiece No. 160 (no references to Marie-Antoinette), it created sensation also for the high valuation of 30,000 Francs!

Finally, in 1887 the Breguet No. 160 was sold in Paris to London financier and collector Spencer Brunton (1846-1901) who paid the amount of 600 British Pounds, corresponding to around 15,000 Francs, half its original valuation but still an exceptional sum. The sales document, signed by Edward Brown, describes the watch as ' "N. 160 Montre dite Montre Perpetuelle" ' without any reference to Marie-Antoinette yet. We will soon find when the name of the famous Queen began to be associated to the Breguet No. 160.

At the death of Spencer Brunton in 1901, the watch was bought by Murray Marks (1840-1918), a Dutch art dealer and collector prominent in the London literary and artistic scene who sold it in 1904 to Louis Albert Desoutter (1858-1930), a French watchmaker who settled in London in 1881 and few years later started his own business in Maddox Street.

Years later, the watch was bought by Sir David Salomons or, to be precise, Sir David Lionel Goldsmid-Stern-Salomons (1851-1823), a multi-talented scientific author, barrister, baronet of Great Britain, nephew of the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London as well as one of the most expert collectors of Breguet watches.

Sir David Salomons

Below is Salomons’ memory of the day when he first saw the "Marie-Antoinette" from his renowned book "Breguet (1747-1823)":


"I now come to the year 1917, on May 3rd, a pouring wet day, when I passed a shop set back from the pavement near Regent Street, into the window of which I had never looked, as only modern jewellery was displayed. My attention was attracted by a curious-looking watch differing from the usual display, and I saw a notice by its side, bearing the name "Marie Antoinette." I then went up to the window to have a better look at the watch, and I saw that it had been made for that ill-fated Queen by Breguet, and was his masterpiece. A high price was put on it, and I went on to my house in Grosvenor Street, calculating all the way : "Could I afford this?" I then sat down to answer some letters, but all the time the reflection passed through my mind that such a watch could not stop long in that window if the rain ceased. Having come to the conclusion that I could offer a certain figure, I put on a waterproof and started back to the shop. The owner, I found, had made a special study of Breguet's work throughout his life. It is against my principles to make "offers," but when he told me the watch was being sold on commission, I was free to offer the price I proposed to give. I examined the timepiece, which is perfect, and said if he could let me have the reply to my offer by 10 a.m. the next morning, I should still be at home. At 9.30 the next morning, the vendor arrived with the watch, and said my price if advanced £50 would be accepted. I could not quarrel over the extra £50, so I gave a cheque and kept the watch. It turned out to be a good purchase, judging from seducing offers made to me later on to part with it. Evening after evening, I studied this watch, which is most complex and interesting, with the result that I formed the opinion that no other maker of watches could approach such work, and I have had considerable experience of the productions of other makers."

A caricature of Sir David Salomons

On his death in 1925, Salomons left fifty-seven of his Breguet timepieces, including the No. 160 "Marie-Antoinette", to his daughter Vera Bryce (1888–1969). Other pieces were left to Salomons’ wife.

After the World War I, Vera had moved to Jerusalem becoming and active philanthropist. After the death of her professor, Leo Aryeh Mayer, rector of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she founded the L.A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art and donated her precious watches to the museum in order to be exhibited in a dedicated gallery.

Jerusalem

The L.A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art was opened to the public in 1974 when Vera had already died. Apparently the Breguet No. 160 had found its home. The British master horologist George Daniels, one of the leading experts on the brand, had the opportunity to catalogue the Breguet watches and clocks in the museum and published a detailed study on them.

But, unfortunately, the No. 160 was going to leave its new home soon.

In the spring of 1983 the Israeli thief Na'aman Diller, aware that the alarm system of the L.A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art was temporarily down for a failure, planned one of the most famous heist ever happened in Israel’s history.

The L.A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art

The exceptional collection of Breguet watches donated by Vera Bryce Salomons, including the "Marie Antoinette", was stored in a glass case at the back of the building. Thanks to its slender build, Diller was able to slide into the museum, most probably by using a crowbar to bend the bars of a rear window well hidden behind a truck parked for this purpose. He stole 106 timepieces together with some paintings and, well aware that the stolen timepieces were too well known to be sold on the open market, he stored most items in safety deposit boxes in Europe and the USA, and then settled in Los Angeles.

The crime scene: the arrow shows the window that was broken to access into the timepieces room 

The police had thought of Diller a a possible suspect since 1983 but without finding any evidence. Checking auction houses and contacting collectors worldwide did not help. Apparently, the "Marie Antoinette" and the other precious timepieces had disappeared, vanished.

In 2004, while the case was still unresolved after more than 20 years and no one knew what really happened to the original "Marie Antoinette", Nicolas Hayek - founder of the Swatch group and new owner of Breguet - challenged his watchmakers to build an exact replica of this masterpiece of horology.

Recreating such a complicated watch solely with the help of ancient documents proved a real challenge for the firm’s technicians and watchmakers.

CAD software used to design the replica of the original "Marie Antoinette"

The original technical drawings in the Breguet Museum archives and few other pictures and description provided the only available informa­tion and guidance regarding the watch’s functions and styling detail.

While the creation of the modern replica of the "Marie-Antoinette" was progressing, the mystery of the vanished timepieces came to an end.

In 2006, the L.A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art was contacted by a Tel Aviv lawyer, Hila Efron-Gabai, and informed that one of her clients had some precious timepieces whose existence was revealed by her husband "on his deathbed". While battling cancer, the man confessed her that two decades earlier he had stolen these items from the museum. The woman was living in USA and wanted to return them to their rightful owner. Nonetheless she was asking to remain anonymous and to receive some money in exchange considering the existence of a reward of US$ 2,000,000 for anyone who could help to solve the case.

Through negotiations, the asking price was reduced to US$ 35,000. 53 of the 106 stolen timepieces were back in the hands of the museum in August 2007. Rachel Hasson, the museum’s artistic director, described her feelings while handling the old bowes containing the returned timepieces: "I opened them and identified them from their numbers. Most were in good shape. Some were damaged. When I came to the Marie Antoinette, I couldn’t help crying. It was so moving and exciting to see it after so many years."

For a few months the museum did not announce the discovery and kept the watches hidden while deciding on how to deal with the insurance who had already paid the contractual indemnity and the non-disclosure agreement signed with the lawyer of the woman who returned the stolen pieces.

But the secret got out soon and the police investigation led to the discovery of a document of the storage facility where the stolen watches were kept with the name of a woman living in Los Angeles: Nili Shamrat.

For the Israeli police it was easy to find that Nili Shamrat was the widow of Na’aman Diller, the notorious theft. After getting married in 2003, the two travelled to Tel Aviv to store the stolen timepieces in a safe deposit box. One year later, Diller had died of cancer.

Nili Shamrat was arrested in May 2008. In the following months the police discovered other 43 stolen watches in two bank safes in France.

After 25 years, a total of 96 of the 106 timepieces stolen by Na’aman Diller were back at the L.A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art. The case was finally solved.

Found! 

Today the original "Marie Antoinette", valued at US$ 30 million is one of the most precious pieces showcased at L. A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art well protected by a sophisticated alarm system and a bulletproof case.


In the same period, after four long years of research and reconstruction, the new Marie-Antoinette timepiece, identified by the No. 1160, was finally presented to the public ­at Baselworld 2008 by Nicolas Hayek, the founder of the Swatch Group.

Nicolas Hayek proudly showing the Breguet No. 1160, the replica of the original No. 160 "Marie Antoinette"

A treasure in its own right, the watch was placed in a precious presentation case, carved from the wood of the Versailles oak tree under which the Queen once used to rest and that had to be cut out after a violent storm.


A demonstration of exceptional watchmaking skills, the new Marie-Antoinette perpétuelle, or self-winding, watch features a minute repeater that on command strikes hours, quarters and minutes as well as a full perpetual calendar showing the date, the day and the month at two, six and eight o’clock respectively. At ten o’clock, an equation-of-time display expresses the difference between civil and solar time. At centre, jumping hours and a minute hand accompany a large independent seconds hand, the forerunner to the chronograph hand, while a subdial for the running seconds is situated at six o’clock. A 48-hour power-reserve indicator and a bimetallic thermometer are positioned side by side.

Above and below, the front and back face of the Breguet No. 1160, the replica of the original "Marie-Antoinette" timepiece


The watch’s self-winding movement comprises 823 parts and components, all finished with exceptional care. Plates, bridges and bars, every moving part of the motion-work, calendar and repeater mecha­nisms are made of wood-polished pink gold. Screws are of blued and polished steel. All friction points, sinks and bearings are fitted with sapphires.

Considered the world’s fifth most complicated watch, the Breguet No. 1160 is often on tour to be displayed on most prestigious museums worldwide.



The original Breguet No. 160 "Marie Antoinette" and its modern replica No. 1160 testify the exceptional genius of the greatest watchmaker of all time, Abraham-Louis Breguet, as well as the capability of the brand he created to perpetuate over time a truly exceptional watchmaking prowess.


Originally published on August 26, 2016.
© Time and Watches. All Rights Reserved.

- Read about other iconic watches.

[RECENT]$type=two$height=auto$cols=2$l=hide$c=6$sn=no$d=0$cm=0$a=0$rm=0$show=page

[LADIES WATCHES]$type=complex$cols=2$l=0$c=4$d=0$cm=0$a=0$snippet=show$hide=page

[CHRONOGRAPHS]$type=carousel$cols=2$l=hide$c=6$s=0$d=0$cm=0$a=0$rm=0$hide=page

Name

A. Lange & Sohne,64,AkriviA,7,alarm,5,Alpina,8,Andersmann,2,Andreas Strehler,5,Angelus,4,annual calendar,28,Anonimo,3,Antiquorum,2,Antoine Martin,2,Antoine Preziuso,1,Apple,1,Apple Watch,1,Aquadive,1,Armin Strom,30,Arnold and Son,20,Astarwatch,1,Ateliers deMonaco,2,Auctions,52,Audemars Piguet,35,Autodromo,1,Bamford,1,Baselworld,2,BaselWorld 2013,50,BaselWorld 2014,53,Baselworld 2015,69,Baselworld 2016,27,Baselworld 2017,64,Baselworld 2018,75,Baselworld 2019,2,Baume,1,Baume et Mercier,17,Bell & Ross,19,Bernard Lederer Universe,1,Blancpain,33,BLU,1,blue dial,2,Bonhams,2,Bovet,5,Brands histories,1,Breguet,52,Breitling,36,Bremont,1,Bremont Watch Company,4,Breva,2,bronze,5,Bücherei,1,Bulgari,36,Burberry,1,C3H5N3O9,1,carillon,1,Carl F. Bucherer,2,Carl Suchy,1,Carrera,4,Cartier,36,ceramic,2,Certina,1,Chaumet,2,chiming hour,4,Chopard,22,Christie's,3,Christophe Claret,5,Christopher Ward,4,chronograph,313,chronometer,25,Chronoswiss,3,Citizen,3,co-axial,1,column-wheel,7,complete calendar,6,complications,57,concept watch,5,Concord,1,constant-force,26,Corum,13,CSEM,1,Cyrus,1,Czapek,3,Davosa,1,Daytona,3,De Bethune,14,de Grisogono,3,dead seconds,15,detent escapement,2,DeWitt,8,diving watches,136,double regulator,2,Doxa,2,drei,1,dress watches,235,dual time,69,Eberhard,15,Edox,1,El Primero,17,Emile Chouriet,1,Emmanuel Bouchet,1,enamel dial,7,enamelling,14,Equation of time,5,Eterna,17,exhibitions,1,F.P.Journe,21,Faberge,2,Favre-Leuba,1,feature article,15,features,49,Ferdinand Berthoud,3,flyback,31,Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie,1,Fortis,4,Franck Muller,6,Frederique Constant,8,Gallet,1,Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix,8,Georg Jensen,1,George Daniels,2,Girard-Perregaux,36,Glashuette,16,Glashuette Original,14,Glashütte,30,Glashütte Original,42,Glycine,2,GMT,56,GoS,1,GoS Watches,1,GPHG,6,Graham,5,Grand Feu,3,Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve,10,Grand Seiko,9,Grande Complication,17,Grande Sonnerie,4,Greubel Forsey,18,Gronefeld,6,Grönefeld,5,Grossmann,3,guilloché,2,H. Moser and Cie,22,Habring,6,Habring2,7,Hajime Asaoka,1,Hallmark of Geneva,2,Hamilton,15,hands-on,12,Harry Winston,9,Hautlence,4,Hermes,12,high jewellery,1,Hublot,10,Hybris Artistica,1,Hydro Mechanical Horologists,7,HYT Watches,12,Icon,1,In pictures,2,independent watchmaker,6,industry news,107,IWC,73,Jaeger-LeCoultre,74,Jaquet Droz,23,JeanRichard,3,jumping hours,23,Junghans,6,Kaj Korpela,1,Kari Voutilainen,4,Korpela,1,Krayon,1,Ladies watches,86,Lang & Heyne,2,Lange,11,large date,1,Laurent Ferrier,13,Le Garde Temps,1,Leica,1,Lemania,1,Leroy,3,Linde Werdelin,1,Longines,35,Louis Erard,1,Louis Moinet,5,LVMH,2,Maîtres du Temps,1,Manufacture Contemporaine du Temps,3,Manufacture Royale,3,marine chronometer,1,Maurice de Mauriac,1,Maurice Lacroix,5,MB&F,26,MCT,1,MeisterSinger,29,metiers d'art,1,mido,5,military watches,10,Minerva,1,Ming,1,Minute Repeater,35,Montblanc,42,moon phases,69,Moritz Grossmann,21,Moser,22,Muhle,4,Mühle-Glashütte,3,mystery watches,2,Nautilus,3,New Britain Corp,1,new watches,1694,Nomos,22,Ochs und Junior,4,Officine Panerai,53,Omega,68,Only Watch,2,Only Watch 2015,4,Only Watch 2017,2,Oris,26,Panerai,25,Parmigiani,1,Parmigiani Fleurier,17,Pascal Coyon,1,Patek,10,Patek Philippe,63,perpetual calendar,70,Perrelet,4,Philippe Dufour,1,Phillips,3,Piaget,17,Pierre DeRoche,1,pilot watch,57,Pita,1,planetarium,1,platinum,1,pocket watch,3,pocket watches,2,Poincon de Geneve,2,Porsche Design,12,Pre-SIHH 2016: Cartier - Clé de Cartier Automatic Skeleton,1,pulsometer,4,quartz,3,Rado,7,Ralf Tech,2,Ralph Lauren,2,rattrapante,13,Raul Pages,1,Raymond Weil,1,rectangular watches,4,regulator,14,remontoire,3,Reservoir,1,resonance,4,Ressence,5,retrograde,3,Revelation,1,Reverso,15,review,12,Richard Mille,49,Richemont,3,Richmond,1,Roger Dubuis,11,Roger Smith,1,Roger W. Smith,1,Rolex,32,Romain Gauthier,6,Romain Jerome,1,Royal Oak,16,Rudis Sylva,1,Seiko,15,SevenFriday,2,SIHH 2012,4,SIHH 2013,25,SIHH 2014,36,SIHH 2015,43,SIHH 2016,44,SIHH 2017,40,SIHH 2018,43,SIHH 2019,2,Singer,2,Singer Reimagined,3,single hand,5,single-hand watches,7,Sinn,11,skeleton,13,smartwatch,6,solar energy,1,Sotheby's,4,Speake-Marin,3,Speedmaster,13,split seconds,7,sport watches,389,Spring Drive,1,squelette,33,steampunk,1,Steinhart,1,striking time,10,SuisseMecanica,1,Swatch,2,Swatch Group,7,table clocks,2,Tag Heuer,64,terra Cielo Mare,1,Tiffany,14,Tissot,1,top news,60,Torsti Laine,1,tourbillon,208,Trilobe,1,Tudor,14,Tutima,1,ultra thin,23,Ulysse Nardin,28,Union Glashutte,1,Urban Jurgensen,19,Urwerk,14,Vacheron Constantin,64,Van Cleef & Arpels,7,Vauchier Fleurier,1,Vianney Halter,3,vintage watches,1,Vulcain,9,wandering hours,1,Watches & Wonders,14,Watches&Wonders,1,worldtime,27,Zenith,47,Zodiac,3,
ltr
static_page
Time and Watches: Breguet No.160 "Marie-Antoinette": the complete history of the Mona Lisa of watchmaking
Breguet No.160 "Marie-Antoinette": the complete history of the Mona Lisa of watchmaking
Breguet 160 Marie Antoinette. The complete history of the Breguet 160 Marie-Antoinette. The Breguet timepiece No. 160 takes the name from Marie-Antoinette, the Queen of France at the time of the French Revolution. Many experts refer to it as to the most important watch ever produced for technological, aesthetic, historical and even emotional reasons. The original Breguet No. 160 "Marie Antoinette" and its modern replica No. 1160 testify the exceptional genius of the greatest watchmaker of all time, Abraham-Louis Breguet, as well as the capability of the brand he created to perpetuate over time a truly exceptional watchmaking prowess. The complete history of the Mona Lisa of watchmaking: the Breguet No.160 "Marie-Antoinette" Marie Antoinette watch
Time and Watches
https://www.timeandwatches.com/p/the-complete-history-of-breguet-no160.html
https://www.timeandwatches.com/
https://www.timeandwatches.com/
https://www.timeandwatches.com/p/the-complete-history-of-breguet-no160.html
true
7479538179671063502
UTF-8
Loaded All Posts Not found any posts VIEW ALL Read more Reply Cancel reply Delete By Home PAGES POSTS View All RECOMMENDED FOR YOU LABEL ARCHIVE SEARCH ALL POSTS Not found any post match with your request Back Home Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat January February March April May June July August September October November December Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec just now 1 minute ago $$1$$ minutes ago 1 hour ago $$1$$ hours ago Yesterday $$1$$ days ago $$1$$ weeks ago more than 5 weeks ago Followers Follow THIS PREMIUM CONTENT IS LOCKED STEP 1: Share. STEP 2: Click the link you shared to unlock Copy All Code Select All Code All codes were copied to your clipboard Can not copy the codes / texts, please press [CTRL]+[C] (or CMD+C with Mac) to copy