• Important Watches Including A  auction at Christies

    Sale 1372

    Important Watches Including A CONNOISSEUR'S VISION PART II

    10 May 2010, Geneva

  • Lot 36

    Breguet. A very fine and rare 18K gold, silver and enamel ruby cylinder "montre à tact"


    Price Realised  


    Breguet. A very fine and rare 18K gold, silver and enamel ruby cylinder "montre à tact"
    Signed Breguet, No. 418, case no. 3531, sold to Madame de Betancourt in 1799
    Gilt-finished souscription calibre ruby cylinder movement with central barrel, plain three arm brass balance, circular engine-turned case with engraved Breguet hour markers to the coin-edged band, front with an inlaid translucent royal blue enamel arrow-shaped pointer on engine-turned sunburst decoration, later engine-turned back centred by a circular revolving gold plate decor ated with translucent royal blue enamel floral motif, opening to reveal the winding hole, case numbered 3531, movement signed Breguet and numbered 418
    37 mm. diam.

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    According to the Archives of Montres Breguet, the present "montre à tact" with gold case by Gros, silver band and small souscription calibre movement was made for Madame de Betancourt in 1799, the wife of Agustín de Betancourt, Abraham Louis Breguet's oldest and perhaps best friend.

    Agustín de Bétancourt y Molina (Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, Spain, 1758 - Saint Petersburg, Russia, 1824)
    De Bétancourt, a famous hydraulic engineer, was a descendant of the Norman navigator Jean de Béthencourt who had discovered the Canary Islands in 1402. Agustín de Bétancourt had been a frequent visitor to Paris since 1784 and had during this time become one of the closest friends of Breguet and his family. It was a deep, loyal and constant friendship, and throughout his career de Bétancourt remained the most faithful promoter of Breguet's genius, first in Spain and then in Russia. This advice and contacts undoubtedly helped Breguet to sell watches in Spain from 1787 and perhaps earlier (see Breguet - Watchmakers since 1775 by Emmanuel Breguet, pp. 53,59-60,77,86,108, 129-132,152,167,170,176,202-204,206,209,213-214,218,271,357. For a portrait of de Bétancourt, short note on him and illustration of his "montre à tact" no. 960 sold to him in 1802 see Breguet and the Louvre - An Apogee of European Watchmaking, pp. 141-143).

    De Bétancourt's work ranged from steam engines and balloons to structural engineering and urban planning. While on a short journey to St. Petersburg in 1807, he had met the Czar who had encouraged him to come to Russia in order to found a Corps of Hydraulic Engineers, promoting him to the rank of General.

    As an educator, de Bétancourt founded and managed the Spanish Corps of Engineers and the Saint Petersburg Institute of Communications Engineers. Additionally, he supervised planning and construction in Saint Petersburg, Kronstadt, Nizhny Novgorod and other Russian cities as an urban planner and construction manager.

    During his time in Russia, he maintained a cordial relationship with Lazare Moreau, the manager of Breguet's branch in St. Petersburg, and apparently advised him on various issues.

    Pre-Lot Text

    The following two lots, 36 and 37, are fine examples of the "montre à tact" or "tactful watch", invented by Abraham Louis Breguet in the late 1790s during an epoch when it was unseemly to read the time in public. The "à tact" system helped to tactfully tell the time in polite society without taking the watch out of your pocket.

    It is also known as the "watch for the blind" as the exposed pointer and markers on the band allow the wearer to determine the time by touch.

    Breguet officially introduced the "montre à tact" in spring 1799, the same year as lot 36 was sold. These watches were also called "médaillon à tact" and destined to be worn on a chain around the neck which explains the absence of a bow.

    Breguet's à tact watches were fitted with a so-called variation of the "souscription" movement, classified as "petite" (small), "moyenne" (medium) and "grande" (large). It is thought that a total of around 915 of these movements were made, out of which about 35 "petites", such as the following two lots, are known. These exclusive watches were quite costly, priced between 1,000 and 2,000 francs, those fitted with a jewelled case would cost as much as 5,000 francs.

    Different examples of à tact watches are illustrated in Breguet - Watchmakers since 1775 by Emmanuel Breguet, pp. 138-139, 144-145, 154-155, 160-164, and in Breguet and the Louvre - An Apogee of European Watchmaking pp. 42-45, 86, 89, 110, 115, 123, 137, 141-143, 166-167, 190-191, 226 and 237.