On September 16, an estimated 300 guests joined Breguet for a gala to celebrate the opening of an historic exhibition at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. This is the largest exhibition of historical Breguet timepieces ever shown in America. Honored guests also enjoyed a preview of what is arguably the largest collection of timepieces by a single brand ever to be curated by a major museum.
In the afternoon, journalists from around the world were treated to guided tours of the exhibition lead by Martin Chapman, curator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and by Emmanuel Breguet, a direct descendant of Abraham-Louis Breguet and the Vice-President of Patrimony for Montres Breguet SA.
The exhibition is divided into fifteen sections, each dedicated to an innovation and representing a slice of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s life. Items on display cover the period from the beginnings of the firm in 1775 to the Art Deco period of the mid 1900s. Here are some highlights:
Breguet N°178, a quarter-repeating travel clock made for Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte, finished in 1796 and sold in 1798. The clock features a gilt bronze case with Doric columns, silver dial with large window for phases of moon three windows for date, month, and day of week, and an eight-day movement of gilded metal with a straight-line lever escapement and a two-pitch striking mechanism.
Breguet N°2667, a thin “resonance-type” watch. Made on chronometer (garde-temps) principles, two movements, each housing barrel and lever escapement, guilloché gold case, silver dial with two chapter rings: one to left with Arabic numerals and small seconds at numeral 12, and one to right with Roman numerals and large central seconds hand. This watch measures 64mm in diameter. It was sold in 1814.
Breguet N°1176 is a gold pocket watch with tourbillon. It features an engraved gold case, gold dial with Roman numerals for hours, three subdials for running seconds (on left), for seconds on demand (on right), and for power reserve (below), gilt metal 24-lignes half-plate movement with inverted fusée, natural escapement fitted in two-armed carriage performing one turn every four minutes. This watch was sold in 1809.
Breguet N°449, a pyramid clock with bronzes by Pierre-Philippe Thomire and Nicolas Delafontaine, decorative gilt-bronze mounts, enamel dial, eight-day twin-barrel movement, constant-force escapement with compensating half-second pendulum, passing strike mechanism for hours and quarter hours. Work on this clock began in 1805, and it was sold in 1827.
The star of the show, at least for me, is the so-called Marie-Antoinette, and it has what must be, by some distance, the most fascinating and intriguing story in horological history. In 1783, A.-L. Breguet received a commission to make a watch for the queen that incorporated every complication and refinement known at the time, with no limit to the cost. The queen never saw the watch, as it remained unfinished when the French Revolution broke out in 1789. The watch, bearing reference number 160, was finally completed in 1827 under the direction of Breguet‘s son, Antoine-Louis.
No. 160 was eventually acquired by the collector Sir David Solomon. Upon his death in 1925, his daughter established the L.A. Meyer Memorial Institute in Jerusalem to house Solomon’s collection of Islamic art and antique watches and clocks. The Marie-Antoinette was stolen from the museum in a daring robbery on April 16, 1983. In 2005, Breguet decided to create an exact replica of the lost piece, using materials and techniques from the time of A.-L. Breguet. The contemporary recreation was unveiled at Baselworld in 2008, only a few months after the original was recovered.
The Marie-Antoinette features a perpétuelle, or self-winding movement, along with a minute repeater, perpetual calendar, equation of time, jumping hours, independent seconds (a forerunner of the chronograph), running seconds, a 48-hour power reserve display, and a bimetallic thermometer.
Read more about the Marie-Antoinette at the official Breguet website.
In the evening, guests were welcomed to a gala in a glorious setting inside an enormous clear tent erected in the famous courtyard of the Legion of Honor. The tent also housed Rodin’s sculpture, The Thinker. A band, and mother nature, provided the entertainment. Guests broke into applause when a storm blew in, dropping much-needed rain. The sumptuous dinner concluded with the most exquisite Breguet pocket watch cakes.
“This is the first time that Abraham-Louis Breguet’s work is the subject of a retrospective in a major American art museum,” says Marc A. Hayek. “It is a natural fit for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco to host this exhibition. After all, what better place can one imagine than the Bay Area to highlight the work of a genius who’s creations were as revolutionary as the products devised today in Silicon Valley? Throughout his life, Breguet constantly tested new technological instruments, methods, and solutions.”
The exhibition runs through January 10, 2016.
Here are some images from the evening:
For more information on the exhibition:
For tickets and more information on the Legion of Honor: