This lovely painting of a young Marie Antoinette comes from the blog of Catherine Delors, who writes extensively on the life and times of the tragic queen. For more information about the painting, and to explore Catherine's fine blog, click here.
We're still intrigued, sometimes morbidly so, by Marie Antoinette's spiraling life, by the tumultuous time in which she lived, and even by those who crossed her path in good times or bad.
One such person was an ancestor of mine, Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823), considered by many to be the greatest watchmaker of all time.
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were enthusiasts of Breguet (pronounced Bray-gay) because in their time, he revolutionized everything that had to do with watches and timekeeping. Breguet's inventions made watches shock-proof, balanced and self-winding (perpétuelles). Breguet developed the tourbillon, which allowed watches to counter the effects of gravity. He invented gongs for repeating watches, the Breguet key (which could only be turned in one direction), and the very first wristwatch (designed for Queen Caroline Murat of Naples).
Other patrons included George Washington, Talleyrand, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, King George III, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Dumas, Queen Victoria and Sir Winston Churchill. At the Battle of Waterloo, both Napoleon and Wellington were wearing Breguet watches.
|Sotheby Parke Bernet|
Besides taking the mechanics of watchmaking to new heights, Abraham-Louis Breguet was responsible for a new aesthetics — the high-tech look of his time — and a look which is still very contemporary. Breguet's attention to detail included guilloche faces and his distinctive watch hand design, a trademark of the company to this day. The above image is a carriage clock sold in 1826. It's an eight-day clock and calendar that repeats on the quarter hour.
Breguet's most famous watch was one he created for Marie Antoinette, and today it's known simply as "The Marie Antoinette." This handsome piece was designed to include every conceivable watch function known at the time, and was not completed until years after the queen's death. Today it is valued at $30 million.
Breguet made numerous marine chronometers, and in 1815 was named official chronometer maker to the French navy. He was admitted to the Academy of Sciences in 1816, was awarded the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by Louis XVIII in 1819, and in 1888, 65 years after his death, Breguet's name was one of 72 inscribed on the Eiffel Tower.
I'll end this posting with a little family story. My grandfather Breguet was a psychiatrist, and when I was about five, he gave me a cheap alarm clock to play with. "Go ahead and do anything you want with it," he said. "You can even open it up and take it apart." Many years later I remembered getting the clock, and I realized that he was of course trying to determine whether an aptitude for horology could be genetic. I told the story to my mother, and she said, "Oh, yes, he gave me a clock when I was that age, too."
We must have disappointed him sorely because we both dutifully took apart our clocks, and then seeing piles of loose parts, moved on to more gratifying entertainment!