The Strange Story of Marie Antoinette's watch

Famed Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet made a beautiful and complex watch for Marie Antoinette. The works were mostly gold, and its value is hard to estimate not only because of its history, but because of its workmanship. But Marie Antoinette never wore the watch that eventually became known as the Queen.  

The watch ultimately took 44 years to complete. In the interim, the French Revolution and the resulting European upheaval led to the death of both the man who likely commissioned the watch and its intended owner. (Marie Antoinette, of course, fell under the guillotine. Seventeen years after her death, an incensed crowd, convinced that von Fersen had conspired to assassinate Sweden’s would-be king, beat him to death in a Stockholm square.) Breguet died in September 1823. His son, a talented horologer in his own right, finished the masterpiece in 1827. It traveled in the coat pockets of a French nobleman and later ended up in the collection of Sir David Lionel Salomons, a British polymath who brought the first car shows to England and patented an idea for buoyant soap. Salomons left his watch collection to his daughter Vera, a globe-trotting nurse who settled in Jerusalem after World War I and later used her father’s money to build the museum—and to house his collection of watches.

What made Breguet’s work so significant was his skill as both a watchmaker and a designer. His creations have pristine faces, delicate hands that end in apple-shaped tips, and movements that appear as complex as a computer circuit. The Queen was at once immensely complicated—it had all the features of a cathedral clock in the space of a pocket watch—and beguilingly elegant. Breguet even made a clear crystal face that allowed the owner to see the movement of the gears underneath.

Skip ahead to 1983, and the watch is stolen from the museum, along with other valuable watches. The investigation led nowhere for 23 years. But then, it gets really interesting again. Read the saga of the watch Wired. Link


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