Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) is counted among the finest horologists of all time. George Daniels has written of him: 'During the four hundred years that horology has been accepted as a separate art only a dozen or so men have made a positive contribution to its direction of progress. Included in this little group of masters is the illustrious name of Abraham-Louis Breguet, the arch-mechanicien in an age of mechanics. His contribution was as brilliant as it was original' (Daniels, p. 3).
Born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, he was sent in 1762 to work with a watchmaker in Les Verrières. By the end of the year he had moved close to the French court at Versailles. After some two years he moved to Paris, where he benefited from his relationship with the great clockmakers Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807) and Jean-Antoine Lépine (1720-1814), before setting up business in 1775 at Quai de l'Horloge in Île de la Cité.
Among the many technical innovations of Breguet's early career were the perpetuelle (self-winding) watch, an improvement to Mudge's lever escapement by the addition of a ruby pallet and a three-wheel clock. As Emmanuel Breguet writes: 'Through these inventions and technical innovations of the early part of his career, Breguet emerged as one of the most creative clockmakers of his generation' (Breguet, p. 40). Later inventions included the sympathique, a clock which resets the time on a watch resting on it and the montre a tact, which allows the wearer to tell the time by touch. The Duc d'Orléans sympathique sold Sotheby's New York, Masterpieces from the Time Museum, 2 December 1999, lot 22 for $5,777,500.
His first recorded client, the Comte de Lort, bought a watch in 1778 and in 1780 the Duc d'Orleans, one of the wealthiest men in France, became the first client to buy a perpetuelle. In October 1782 he completed a repeating calendar watch for Marie-Antoinette and that same year was presented to the King and Queen. Louis XVI bought a watch from Breguet in December 1784 for 1680 livres. Before long, Breguet numbered some of the greatest names of France among his clients. In time they would span Europe. During 1785-90 he extended his reach to England, receiving commissions from George III, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York. Later notable clients would include Napoleon Bonaparte (see below), the King and Queen of Spain, the Kings of Prussia and Bavaria and the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II, to whom a sympathique clock which cost 35000 francs (the most expensive single item made by Breguet) was presented in 1812.
Breguet's best client was Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples, younger sister of Napoleon Bonaparte and wife to Joachim Murat, who reigned as King of Naples from 1808-1815. For Caroline Murat, Breguet created the first watch specially designed to be worn on the wrist. A silver hump-back carriage clock, No. 2655, sold to her in 1812 for 4000 francs was sold Christie's Geneva, 11 May 2009, lot 59, for CHF 723,000.
For other clocks by Breguet see lots 99, 102 and 103.
BREGUET AND THE CARRIAGE CLOCK
Breguet invented the travelling timekeeper which came to be known as the carriage clock and which he called variously pendule portative, pendule de carosse, pendule de voyage and pendule portique. In 1796 he built his first carriage clock, No. 178, and this was sold on 5 Floreal an 6 (24 April 1798) for 1500 francs to Napoleon Bonaparte just a few weeks before he set off for his Egyptian campaign. Described by Breguet as 'Pendule Portative tres petite a Almanach' this clock was sold again at Hapsburg Antiquorum, Geneva, 'The Art of Breguet', 14 April 1991 for CHF 792,000. Today it is in the Swiss National Museum, Zurich.
Therefore No. 179 is only Breguet's second carriage clock. The Breguet certificate (see below) accompanying it states that its construction dates from l'An 4 of the Republic (1796) and that it was sold in 1804. Stylistically the case is more sophisticated than that of No. 178 and it seems likely that it was completed after 1800. This is supported by the 'Breguet & Fils' signature on the dial, which appeared on some items in 1801 and was applied to the firm's entire production from 1803-1805 (Breguet, p.165). It has features not seen on No. 178 such as a blued steel moon (No. 178 has a silvered moon), year indication and an alarm train. Although described as perdue ou egaree (lost or misplaced) in 1810, Breguet subsequently established that the clock had been sold for 4000 francs in 1804.
Carriage clocks of closely related design to No. 179 are few (and none so early) but include: No. 2644, sold in 1811 to M. Giovanni Battista de Sommariva for 2400 francs, now in a private collection (see Breguet, pp. 225-227); No. 2678, dated 1811 and sold to General Henry William Paget, Earl of Uxbridge in 1813, now in the Frick Collection, New York; No. 2607, sold 1811 for 2880 francs (Daniels, p. 220 and Tardy, French Clocks, Vol. II, Paris, 1981, p. 315); and No. 2898, sold in 1816 to M. Gerugross for 4000 francs and then sold Antiquorum Geneva, 24 April 2004, lot 42 (SFR 553,500)
THE BREGUET CERTIFICATE
The first certificates of authenticity were supplied by Breguet in 1808. In that year certain clients who bought watches or clocks were given a 'bill', on which were given the name of the purchaser or agent, the date of sale or supply, a description of the piece and its full specifications. For the most part the certificates were intended for prestigious clients or for those living abroad who might be vulnerable to counterfeiters (throughout the 19th Century watches intended for Russia or Turkey were always accompanied by a certificate). After 1860 certificates were produced to accompany earlier pieces and provided to collectors on request. This authentication process is made possible by the Breguet archive. Thus, No. 179 is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity numbered 2889 and dating from 8 October 1945.
THE KING OF NAPLES
Ferdinand IV of Naples (also Ferdinand III of Sicily 1759-1816) reigned from 1759 to 1805 (with a brief interruption by the Parthenopaen Republic in 1799), when he was deposed by Napoleon Bonaparte and replaced by the latter's brother Joseph. Joachim and Caroline Murat (see above) subsequently reigned as King and Queen of Naples from 1808 to 1815, when Ferdinand was restored to his throne. In 1816 he merged the thrones of Naples and Sicilies and reigned as King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies until 1825, when he was succeeded by his son as King Francis I (b.1770-d.1830).
Ferdinand of Bourbon-Two Sicilies was married to Maria Carolina von Hapsburg, sister to Queen Marie-Antoinette of France. Queen Maria Carolina was de facto ruler of her husband's kingdoms during his reigns. Their son, Prince Francis, Duke of Calabria married first Maria Clementina of Hapsburg-Lorraine (1777-1801) and then Maria Isabella of Bourbon (1789-1848). He reigned as King Francis I of the Two Sicilies (1825-1830).
Emmanuel Breguet writes, 'In 1804, it was the turn of the King of Naples in person, Ferdinand IV de Bourbon, husband of Marie-Caroline of Austria, sister of Marie-Antoinette, to buy a calendar clock' (p. 223, italics ours). Although the Breguet certificate of 1945 refers to the clock having been sold to S.M. François de Bourbon, Roi de Naples, this seems to be a transcript error. A further reference in the Breguet archive of September 1890 to the clock having been sold to the duke of Marchena probably in fact relates to the then ownership of the clock, as the dukedom of Marchena was created in 1885. Francisco (François) de Borbon y de Borbon (1861-1923), Grandee of Spain and first duke of Marchena, was a descendant of Ferdinand IV of Naples through both lines of his family. The address on the underside of the travel box is 12 Rue de la Paix. Maison Breguet were at this address 1870-1912 and it seems likely that the duke of Marchena took No. 179 to Breguet circa 1890, probably for servicing, and received a replaced or reconditioned travel box.