The story is well known: in 1812, Caroline Murat, the Queen of Naples and the sister of Emperor Napoleon I, received a watch made for her by Breguet in his Paris workshops.
The watch was an unusual and historically important one in many respects –it was a small but quite complicated watch, in an oblong case, with a thermometer, lever escapement, and minute repeater. It was also a very early example of a wristwatch. The original watch, Breguet No. 2639, has unfortunately since been lost –the last record of the watch in the Breguet archives is from 1855 when Caroline Murat’s youngest daughter, the Countess Rasponi, brought No. 2639 in to have two new keys –one for winding and one for setting –provided; the present location of the watch is unknown.
However, we’re in Paris this week and we had the opportunity to meet with Emmanuel Breguet, Director in France for Montres Breguet and as well the gentleman responsible for the Breguet archives, some of the most valuable of which are located in a walk-in, temperature controlled safe above Breguet’s boutique in the Place Vendôme.
Emmanuel Breguet with horological journalist and author Elizabeth Doerr
There, M. Breguet (a 7nth generation descendant of A. L. Breguet) showed us the actual entry, in a Breguet ledger from 1812, the record of the creation of this remarkable watch for a remarkable woman.
The entry gives the number –2639 –and as well the type of watch —repetition de forme obloungue pour bracelet; a minute repeater in an oblong case on a bracelet. The entry also lists the major components of the watch, and the names of the specialist craftsmen who made each part.
Today, although the fate of the original No. 2693 is still a mystery, it’s inspired what we think is one of the most truly original ladies’ watches designs –not an imitation or miniaturization of a man’s watch, today’s Queen of Naples watches carry on the original inspiration of the resolutely feminine and irresistibly memorable No. 2693.
Special thanks to M. Emmanuel Breguet, as well as Montres Breguet North America’s Michael Nelson and Liliana Chen for the opportunity to view this remarkable piece of horological history first hand. All images by Jack Forster for Revolution Online and Revolution Magazine.