THE LEADING SWISS WATCH & JEWELLERY MAGAZINE

Stolen Time: Marie Antoinette’s Breguet
The first shocking heist in our “Stolen Time” series involves the famous, incredibly complicated N° 160 watch, the “Marie Antoinette” by the Parisian watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet.

The dial was made of rock crystal to reveal the complicated movement of the “Marie Antoinette” (replica of the original).

During her lifetime, Queen Marie Antoinette of France was probably one of the most dedicated admirers of Breguet’s work. She owned a whole range of the watchmaker’s creations, and continued to expand her collection until shortly before she was executed by guillotine. One such addition was the “Montre perpétuelle”, which featured a self-winding mechanism developed by Breguet.

Marie Antoinette never got to see the “Marie Antoinette” watch

However, the queen would not live to see the completion of Breguet’s greatest masterpiece, the famous N° 160 watch, known as “Marie Antoinette”. In 1783, an officer of the royal guard, who remains unknown to this day, personally commissioned the watch from Breguet. The order had no financial or time constraints, but required that the watch include all the refinements and complications that could be made at that time. Accordingly, Breguet did not finish the watch until 1820 – many years after the French Revolution and after Marie Antoinette’s beheading.

The large pocket watch with the most complicated movement in the world, valued at 30,000 gold francs, passed to Madame Breguet, who later sold it to Sir Spencer Brunton for 600 pounds sterling. It was inherited by Murray Marks, who in turn sold it to Sir David Salomons. After his death, the collection went to the L.A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art in Jerusalem. It was stolen in 1893 and initially remained missing.

The queen of watches returns

Nicolas G. Hayek, a particular admirer of Breguet’s masterpiece, decided to commission an exact replica of the “Marie Antoinette”. Ten Breguet watchmakers spent almost three years working on the reconstruction of the original – based on archival materials and original drawings. Hayak presented the “New Marie-Antoinette Grande Complication N° 1160” for the first time at Baselworld 2008.

The “New Marie Antoinette” is also one of the most complicated watches of all time. It features perpetual winding and a minute repeater. A perpetual calendar shows the date at two o’clock on the dial, the day of the week at six and the month at eight o’clock. The difference between apparent solar time and mean solar time appears at 10 o’clock. While small seconds are shown at six o’clock, the jumping hours and minutes are joined by an independent seconds hand in the centre as a precursor to the seconds of a stopwatch. Opposite the power reserve display at 10.30 is a bimetallic thermometer at 1.30.

Baselworld 2008: Nicolas G. Hayek presents the “New Marie-Antoinette Grande Complication N° 1160”.

Handwritten inscription of quarter repeater, gold case and enamel dial of No. 160 watch.

The queen’s watch reappears

In 2007, a year before the replica was completed, the original watch reappeared as if by magic and has been on display in Israel for the public to admire ever since. Its value is now estimated at over 10 million US dollars.

And the moral of the story?

While Abraham-Louis Breguet, a native of Neuchâtel, created a monument at that time, the Breguet brand has succeeded in reimagining a legend for the modern age. One more thing: You can get a Breguet the legal way here: