Breguet: Probably the best watch for royalty
LIFE & STYLE - Millet M. Mananquil (The Philippine Star) - November 24, 2015 - 9:00am

If Marie Antoinette were alive today, I wish she'd just say: “Let them have watches!”

Cake is good, but a watch is better, especially if it is the brand that Marie favored: Breguet, which began in 1775.

“Breguet is not a household name here,” says Martin Ganz, the ebullient and charming vice-president of Breguet, a Swiss brand that is owned by The Swatch Group, along with others like Omega, Harry Winston, Blancpain and Longines.“But in Russia, Breguet is a household name because it has been worn by Russian royalty for centuries now. If you look closely at photographs of Russian president Vladimir Putin, you will see that he wears a Breguet.”

Don’t get him wrong, though. Ganz is not one to namedrop leaders or celebrities who wear Breguet. He mentioned Putin only because I pressured him to name at least one Breguet user. “Breguet doesn't pay endorsers to wear its watches. Celebrities wear it because they like it.”

And he quickly says that Breguet’s best endorsers would be people in history — Napoleon Bonaparte and Marie Antoinette who ordered Breguet watches and clocks for themselves. “Marie Antoinette even ordered one — perhaps it was her fifth watch — even while she was in prison. At that time, there were no watch stores. If you wanted a watch, you had to order from the watchmaker.” Breguet is a watch with a lot of history. And uniqueness. No two watches are really alike, because each piece is handmade in Switzerland.

Breguet has a cult following among avid watch collectors and people who have a sense of history, those who want to own a heritage piece that they can pass on to their children. Of course, it is the choice of achievers and captains of industry who want to reward themselves with the best. “Yes, Breguet is among the best watches in the world today,” says Ganz. “I don't want to brag by saying it is the best. In fact, I like the Carlsberg classy line that says: ‘Probably the best beer in the world.’”

At the Raffles Residences Lounge, Ganz and Emerson Yao — the managing director of Lucerne, Breguet’s distributor in the Philippines —  hosted a  brunch  fit for princesses, made lovely with a profusion of pink roses. One of Breguet’s watches for ladies, Secret de la Reine, is covered with a rose carved in cameo. It is beautiful.

“This is the first time we are hosting an event just for ladies,” explains Ganz. “When you think  Breguet, you think historic, classy and expensive. And you usually think it is a watch for men. Ladies have been asking why complicated watches are made only for men. In the olden days, ladies didn't want to ruin their fingernails. But now, we have several Breguet mechanical watches especially designed for women.”

 On the next page, Breguet presents the story of Breguet and how it became the favorite of royalty. And why it is becoming the favorite of modern-day princes and princesses.

Swiss luxury watchmaker Breguet is best known for its pioneering innovations in watch technology, but it is not only men who appreciate the brand’s horological prowess. Over the course of its history, women have also been ardent admirers, and two of its most prominent female patrons inspired some of the fabulous creations that grace Breguet’s present-day jewellery watch collection.

Back in 1770, a 14-year-old Austrian archduchess arrived in France to be married to the royal heir. By all accounts, the young Marie Antoinette was something of a high-spirited tomboy, but the delicate beauty of her ash-blonde hair and large gray-blue eyes initially charmed her adopted country. Four years later — a year before Abraham-Louis Breguet set up his watchmaking business — Louis XVI ascended to the throne and Marie Antoinette became Queen of France.

As the history books relate, the new queen was surrounded by the ultimate luxury from the royal court, especially on lavish wardrobe and exquisite jewellery. However, she also supported scientific innovations, and when Breguet was introduced to the French court, she recognized the work of a master. She became fascinated with his unique perpétuelle self-winding watches, and over the years acquired a number of his timepieces.

Breguet’s records for October 1782 show that he “invented, perfected and completed” watch No. 2.10/82 for Queen Marie Antoinette. It was a self-winding perpétuelle repeater with a calendar indicator. The following year he received an astonishing request: to make, as a gift for the queen, a spectacular pocket watch, incorporating all the known horological complications and inventions. The order stipulated that wherever possible, gold should replace other metals. Cost and time were apparently no object — a dream commission for a watchmaker.

Nonetheless, Breguet’s breathtaking “grande complication” masterpiece, watch No.160, was eventually completed by his son in 1827, 34 years after Marie Antoinette’s death, four years after Breguet’s, and 44 years after he had accepted the order.

There was still another twist to come in the tale of the “Marie Antoinette,“ as this watch is known. In 1983, it was stolen from a museum in Jerusalem by renowned master-thief Na’aman Diller. It was finally recovered in 2007, but not before the late president of Breguet, Nicolas G. Hayek, had challenged Breguet’s watchmakers to build an exact replica using archives from the Breguet Museum. After three years, they produced a timepiece faithful in every way to its fabled ancestor, No.1160 was presented in a case made of wood from Marie Antoinette’s favorite oak tree in the château, Le Petit Trianon, Versailles.

Today, Breguet has since created a series of fabulous high-jewellery watches that pay homage to its first royal patron. Secret de la Reine takes its inspiration from a 1783 portrait by Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun in which Marie Antoinette is depicted holding a rose. Its paved diamond dial is encircled with petals, and the watch is covered with a hand-carved rose motif in shell cameo. The bow decoration on the case and the watch straps, in satin or pleated gold mesh fabric, are also reminders of the gorgeous gowns worn by the French queen.

Marie Antoinette no doubt would have approved the very idea of a secret watch, given her constant quest to escape the formality of court life in the privacy of her château, Le Petit Trianon. Breguet’s high-jewellery watch named after this château references its opulence and neoclassical pillars.

In Vigée-Le Brun’s painting, Marie Antoinette’s elegant dress is lavishly trimmed with lace, and this sumptuous fabric provides the motif of Breguet’s Marie Antoinette “Dentelle” timepiece. The queen’s passion for fashion — she allegedly ordered 300 dresses a year — also inspired the brand’s Les Volants de la Reine (lit: The Queen’s Ruffles), while the quill theme of the decadent Plumes high-jewellery watches is a nod not only to her fanciful feathered hair adornments but also to her prolific letter writing.

The demise of the French monarchy paved the way for the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, and several of the women associated with the emperor would also become faithful customers of Breguet, including his wife Joséphine and his younger sister, Caroline.

Caroline began purchasing timepieces from Breguet in 1805, at the age of 23. However, it was after this ambitious and very beautiful lady became Queen consort of Naples, where her husband Joachim Murat reigned from 1808 to 1815, that she became one of Breguet’s best clients. During this time, she amassed a collection of 34 watches and clocks, not to mention thermometers, barometers and dozens of more modestly priced commercial watches bought as gifts.

In 1810, based on an order from this watchmaking enthusiast, Abraham-Louis Breguet developed a model that was truly unprecedented at the time: the world’s first-known wristwatch. Delivered in 1812, the exceptionally slender, refined, oval-shaped watch was distinguished by its entirely original and ingenious architecture. It is described in the Breguet archives as an “oblong-shaped minute repeater watch (…), the said watch being fitted with a wristlet made of hair intertwined with gold thread.” No difficulty was too great for Breguet to overcome in his desire to satisfy the queen, and he was to be duly rewarded. During the summer of 1813, when the European crisis was at its most acute and the firm had lost many clients, Caroline bought 12 watches (eight repeating and four simple) from her favorite watchmaker, thus providing a much-needed financial boost at a moment when it was the least expected.

Now, Breguet’s special relationship with Caroline Murat is celebrated in its Reine de Naples watch collection. The luxurious ovoid-shaped timepieces, anthems of praise to femininity, are inspired by the legendary 1810 wristwatch and suffused with its inimitable sense of refinement. Breguet masterfully combines the high watchmaking with the jewellery, bringing together noble metals and precious stones in exquisitely poetic creations.

After more than 200 years, Breguet continues to give recognition to the royal women who played such an important role in its history, and in so doing succeeds in capturing the hearts of a new generation of women with the irresistible charms of its unique timepieces.





* * *

Breguet is exclusively distributed in the Philippines by Lucerne.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with