Breguet. An outstandingly fine, rare and historical important 18K gold, enamel and diamond-set hunter case petite souscription à tact watch, made for Josephine Bonaparte, Empress of France, and given to Hortense de Beauharnais
Breguet. An outstandingly fine, rare and historical important 18K gold, enamel and diamond-set hunter case petite souscription à tact watch, made for Josephine Bonaparte, Empress of France, and given to Hortense de Beauharnais


Breguet. An outstandingly fine, rare and historical important 18K gold, enamel and diamond-set hunter case petite souscription à tact watch, made for Josephine Bonaparte, Empress of France, and given to Hortense de Beauharnais
Signed Breguet, No. 611, made for Madame Bonaparte and sold to her in 1800
The cal. 7''' gilt-finished souscription calibre ruby cylinder movement with central barrel, plain three arm brass balance, the small silver dial with Breguet numerals, the circular case with translucent royal blue enamel front on engine-turned striped background, decorated with the applied white gold and diamond-set initial H surmounted by a crown for Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen of Holland and daughter of Josephine Bonaparte, the reverse with translucent royal blue enamel on engine-turned chevron decoration, the revolving white gold and diamond-set arrow-shaped pointer indicating the hours on the twelve old-mine-cut diamonds held within a curved engine-turned gold frame, suspended from a short length of gold chain, case numbered R 527, movement signed Breguet
The watch with a diameter of 39 mm., overall diameter 52 mm.
Josephine Bonaparte, Empress of France
Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen of Holland
Anonymous until 1990
The present owner, 1990 to this day

Lot Essay

Accompanied by Montres Breguet Certificate No. 3927 dated 2 July 1990 confirming the sale of the present petite souscription à tact watch on 29 Pluviose An 8 (January-February 1800) to Madame Bonaparte for the amount of 3,000 Francs.

According to Breguet's workshop records, the present watch was the property of Hortense de Beauharnais. On 6 November 1835 it was returned to Breguet for repair by the Duchesse de Raguse on behalf of the Duchesse de St. Leu, Hortense's new title under the Treaty of Fontainebleau (1815). The watch remained with Breguet until 23 April 1836, the repair cost amounted to 100 francs. The watch was again taken to Breguet on 23 August 1837 and returned repaired one month later. Hortense, who was at the time exiled in Switzerland, however never received it as she died of cancer two weeks later. The repair charges of 50 francs are left open in Breguet's books.

The records from the workbooks furthermore confirmed that the case of the present watch was made by Tavernier at a cost of 150 francs. The "Medaillon Bonaparte" was valued at 88 francs, the diamonds at 700 francs. Shortly after 1804, the medaillon was obviously changed and the addition of a crown reflected the new imperial rank acquired by the family once Napoleon had been crowned.

When Josephine ordered the present watch in 1799, Breguet was unquestionably the best watchmaker in the world, counting members of the world's most prestigious Royal and Noble families amongst his faithful clientele, notably the Bonaparte's.

The Bonaparte family is an extraordinary example of loyalty to Breguet's watches. Indeed, beginning with Napoleon, almost all members of the family were keen collectors of his creations.

Josephine de Beauharnais (nee Marie Josephe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, 23 June 1763 - 29 May 1814) was the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte and thus the first Empress of the French. Through her daughter, Hortense, she was the maternal grandmother of Napoleon III.

Born in the West Indies on Martinique as Marie-Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie, daughter of Joseph-Gaspard de Tascher and his wife, the former Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sanois, Josephine was raised on a slave plantation.

On 13 December 1779 she married Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais and they had two children: Eugene de Beauharnais, 1781-1824, later viceroy of Italy, and Hortense de Beauharnais, 1783-1837, later queen of Holland, who married Napoleon's brother Louis Bonaparte in 1802.

In 1794 during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, Josephine and her husband were arrested and imprisoned in Carmes Prison. On 23 July 1794 Alexandre was guillotined, however she survived.

As a widow Josephine reportedly was mistress to several leading political figures including Paul Jean Nicolas Barras. In 1795 she met General Napoleon Bonaparte, who was six years younger than her, and they married on 9 March 1796. Until meeting Napoleon, she had always been called Rose. Instead of using this name Napoleon called her "Josephine", which she adopted from then on.

In 1802 Josephine's daughter Hortense married Napoleon's brother Louis Bonaparte, and became Queen of Holland when Napoleon made his brother King in 1806. Even though the marriage was not a happy one, the couple had three sons; one of which (Charles Louis Napoleon) became Napoleon III, Emperor of the French.

Josephine had regular dalliances with other men, in particular Lieutenant Hippolyte Charles, a dashing young army officer. Divorce was narrowly avoided and Bonaparte and Josephine were reconciled and crowned Emperor and Empress of France in 1804 in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. However it became clear that Josephine was unable to have any more children and so she agreed to a divorce as the Emperor's need for descendants of his own was imperative to secure succession to the crown. The divorce took place on 10 January 1810. The same year Napoleons brother Louis abdicated and settled in Germany whereas Hortense returned to France with her sons.

After her divorce, Josephine lived at the Château de Malmaison, near Paris and devoted time to the gardens and her love of botany. She remained on good terms with Napoleon throughout the rest of her life, although he once said that the only thing to come between them was her debts. Napoleon however never got over having to divorce her and his last words purportedly were: "France, the army, Josephine".

Josephine died in 1814 and was buried not far from Malmaison, at the St. Pierre and St. Paul church in Rueil.

Hortense's loyalty to her stepfather Napoleon never wavered and she supported him during "Les Cents Jours" in his unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne in 1815. This final defeat led directly to her banishment from France.

Hortense died in 1837 and was interred next to her mother.

Montre à tact
The "montre à tact" or "tactful watch" was 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.

The present watch, sold in early 1800, is one of the earliest examples of a "montre à tact", which Breguet introduced in spring 1799. 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 present watch, 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.

For a comparable montre souscription à tact, number 694, see Breguet - Watchmakers since 1775 by Emmanuel Breguet, pp. 162 & 163.

More from Important Pocket Watches and Wristwatches

View All
View All