Breguet Crafts a Watch Fit for a Queen
by roberta naas
Breguet is a watch brand synonymous with technical excellence and innovation. Last fall, in honor of its commitment to the arts, the brand unveiled a new clock designed for New York's Carnegie Hall Morse Lobby and in January, it unveiled five additional clocks. One is a Reine de Naples replica, meaning its design inspiration comes directly from the early 19th century and is fashioned after the famous watch created for Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples.
Many know Breguet for its superb complicated timepieces or for the incredible historical watch inventions made by its founding father, Abraham-Louis Breguet, who is credited with creating the world’s first tourbillion (a watch with an escapement that compensates for the errors in timekeeping due to the effects of gravity when the watch is in certain positions), which he patented in 1801. What many may not realize is that Breguet created the first known wristwatch.
In 1810, Napoleon’s younger sister, Caroline Murat, wife of the King of Naples, wrote to Abraham-Louis Breguet requesting he create a watch for her wrist with a bracelet made of hair and thin threads of gold. Considered the forefather of many great watchmaking inventions, Breguet had an exceptional reputation amongst the European elite due to his tireless thirst for perfection in horology. “It is unclear if the wristwatch was Abraham-Louis Breguet’s idea or the queen’s,” says Emmanuel Breguet, Breguet’s descendant and today, the historian for the brand. “Hence, we say that we are cocreators of the first wristwatch.”
The concept of actualizing a woman’s wristwatch kept Breguet and 17 artisans busy for more than two years, until it was delivered in 1812. Although the first watch has since been lost, Breguet’s archives have documented it well. According to Emmanuel Breguet, the watch was fashioned in an oval shape and required 34 operations during construction. It was built as a quarter repeater regulator watch (that chimed on the quarter hour) and came in at a pricey sum for the time: 4,800 French francs—200 francs under budget.
Recently, Breguet celebrated the 200th anniversary of that creation with a festive soirée held at Caroline Murat’s former summer home in Reggia de Capodimonte, Naples (the elaborate Bourbon palace has been transformed into the world-class National Museum of Capodimonte). To honor the momentous anniversary, Breguet created a one-of-a-kind anniversary Reine de Naples watch and jewelry suite that are distinctively unique while nodding to the brand’s regal past. “We are committed to respecting the Breguet legacy,” says Marc A. Hayek, president and CEO of Breguet. “The new Reine de Naples creations stand as a statement from Breguet of our dedication to women and complications.”
The coordinated suite of jewelry that complements the singular watch includes a ring, necklace, tiara, and earrings—all crafted in 950 platinum. Each piece is set with a center oval-cut blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds. The ring alone has nearly 10 carats of diamonds and a center sapphire weighing 9.50 carats. The entire jewelry suite retails for approximately $800,000—or $1 million if you incorporate the watch. Alternately, each piece can be purchased separately
Like the original, the new Queen of Naples watch is a repeater with two chimes in the striking mechanism. Its superb high-tech self-winding caliber utilizes several silicon parts. Instead of hair and gold threads, the new piece is crafted in 18k white gold and meticulously set with a bracelet of precious gems. Nearly 600 diamonds and blue sapphires in graduated colors bedeck the watch (which retails for $204,800). According to Hayek, the decision to use blue sapphires as well as diamonds is a nod to the past and the present—blue is a royal color and Breguet’s signature shade.
For those not lucky enough to possess this rare timepiece, Breguet has been offering watches inspired by the 1812 original in its Reine de Naples collection for the past decade. Introduced in 2002, the collection is made expressly for women and features a superb egg-shaped case. The watch’s mechanical movements feature an offset crown at 4:00, a ball-shaped decorative lug at 6:00, and fluted case sides.
Breguet’s commitment to quality and innovation remains strong. “The spirit of watchmaking is about using modern technology to our greatest advantage in as many watches as possible,” says Hayek. “You have to know how to take technology to tomorrow, not be content with what is there today.”
Over the past decade, Breguet has registered 120 patents, many of which would not have been possible without the technological advancements of today. These include two patents in 2003 pertaining to alarms and three patents in 2005 for Breguet’s new detent escapement. Breguet continues to pioneer and create according to the legacy of its founding father, but with a keen eye to the future. It is fairly certain that Breguet will utilize the chiming repeater of the unique new watch in additional Queen of Naples watches moving forward.
photography by ROBERTO SALOMONE