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Breguet unveils its Marie-Antoinette watch
History & Masterpieces

Breguet unveils its Marie-Antoinette watch

Friday, 04 April 2008
By Florence Noël
Florence Noël

Read More

6 min read

After three and a half years, a dream comes true for Nicolas G. Hayek as Breguet unveils its replica of the pocket watch made for France’s most famous queen. Interview.

It was commissioned from Abraham-Louis Breguet by one of Marie-Antoinette’s admirers, but neither he nor the queen would see it in its final glory. The Marie-Antoinette pocket watch was completed in 1827, 34 years after the queen was guillotined and four years after Breguet‘s death. A masterpiece of complications, this timepiece traversed the centuries swathed in mystery until it was stolen from a museum in Jerusalem.

Nicolas G. Hayek, owner of Montres Breguet, one day got it into his head to make a replica of the watch at his Manufacture’s workshops in L’Abbaye, and set it inside a box sculpted from the queen’s favourite oak at Versailles. Breguet pledged to help restore the Petit Trianon in Marie-Antoinette’s private estate and, in exchange, was given the wood from her tree. Now work could begin.

And what a task this would be! With only a few rare documents to guide them, Breguet‘s watchmakers spent long months reproducing this exceptional timepiece’s ultra-complicated movement. “And now it’s finished,” enthuses Nicolas G. Hayek, Chairman of Swatch Group and Montres Breguet, his eyes sparkling with joy. Unveiled to the world at the 2008 Basel fair, the replica Marie-Antoinette pocket watch stands out as an extraordinary work of art, in every way true to the original with its myriad complications including jumping hours, full perpetual calendar, minute-repeater, thermometer and equation of time. In total, the Marie-Antoinette watch is an assembly of 823 parts, each finished to the most remarkable degree of perfection. An interview with Nicolas G. Hayek.

La réplique de la Marie Antoinette © Breguet
La réplique de la Marie Antoinette © Breguet
Would you say reproducing the Marie-Antoinette watch had become an obsession?

More of a challenge, and one more that I was advised to forget given the seemingly insurmountable task that lay ahead. Now when I look at this work of art, I know I was right. The result is simply superb. It’s a huge source of pride.

How long did this project take?

Three and a half years in all. A mammoth task.


All we had to go on were a rare few archive documents and a small number of photos of the watch, which give no detail of the complications. Breguet’s watchmakers have pulled off an extraordinary feat to create an exact replica of the original watch. Proof of their immense talent. Their research even uncovered a complication that had never before been mentioned in relation to the Marie-Antoinette.

Which one?

The jumping hours. Yet another of Breguet’s inventions!

A few months ago, it was rumoured that the original Marie-Antoinette watch had been found in Jerusalem. Have you been able to formally identify it?

It’s an incredible story. In January 2007, an antiques dealer contacted me, claiming to have recovered the watch by chance. I asked to see it. We then spent several weeks negotiating for me to authenticate the watch, during which time it was recovered by the museum in Jerusalem and is now locked in one of its vaults.

So you still don't know if it's the original Marie-Antoinette watch?

Unfortunately not. I’ve been asked to pay a substantial amount of money to have the right to see it, which I didn’t agree with. However, before being deposited in the museum’s vault, the watch was shown to a handful of journalists who were able to take photos with their cellphones, which they then sent me. Despite the poor quality of these shots, it is my belief that this is indeed the original Marie-Antoinette watch.

Except that you now have one of your own…

True, but I can’t help feeling this is such a shame. This watch is part of Breguet’s heritage.

How much is it worth today?

This is an inestimable piece and it’s impossible today for anyone to realistically put forward a figure. One day I’ll have our replica Marie-Antoinette watch valued. For the moment though, I’m happy just to admire it!

A homage to the queen

Marie-Antoinette was a true admirer of Breguet’s work. For him to take wood from the queen’s favourite oak tree in Versailles to make a box that will house the replica watch is an ultimate tribute to her. The box that will contain this masterpiece is a composition of 3,500 pieces, sculpted from the royal oak’s wood. The exterior is an exact reproduction of the parquet floor inside the Petit Trianon. It opens to reveal a second, smaller box, the top of which could be mistaken for a masterpiece in oils. It is in fact a handcrafted marquetry of over a thousand pieces depicting Marie-Antoinette’s hand holding a rose, inspired by a famous portrait of the queen. As for the watch itself, nestled inside, it is as imposing for its size as for its myriad complications… and of course for all that it represents for eighteenth-century French culture. Quite simply superb.

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