It may come as a surprise to those who assume that the world of appreciation of fine watchmaking is exclusively a male domain to find out that one of the greatest collectors of watches by one of the greatest of watchmakers was actually a woman.
The lady in question was no ordinary lady, and the watches she collected were just as extraordinary. The younger sister of Napoleon, Caroline Murat, reigned as the Queen of Naples from 1808 to 1815 during which period this remarkable woman bought no less than thirty four clocks and watches from the workshops of A. L. Breguet, who was even then arguably considered one of the great watchmakers of the age.
One watch, especially, is of interest to modern Breguet enthusiasts: Breguet no. 2639, ordered by the Queen in 1810 and requiring two years to complete. A search of the Breguet archives reveals much about this extraordinary watch. It was an oblong, minute repeating timepiece, equipped with a thermometer, and was delivered in 1812 on a strap made of hair and gold thread. Unfortunately no. 2639 has been lost, but perhaps we can still hope that like Breuguet no. 160, made for Marie Antoinette but lost for decades between 1983 and 2007, will someday reappear.
In the meantime, those who covet a watch made in the spirit of Breguet no. 2639 may enjoy a number of timepieces for ladies in the current collection named for the Queen of Naples. One of the most spectacular of these was introduced just this year: the “Reine de Naples” Gold Thread Bracelet reference 8908. It is a spectacularly elegant watch; most lady’s watches even from some of the most venerable watch firms seem mere afterthoughts, but the Reine de Naples watches are gorgeously distinctive, with the feminine egg-shape of the case lending itself to a most graceful presence on the wrist; demure, but still devastatingly seductive. Unlike most watches made for women, it is not merely an emasculated men’s watch, it’s a woman’s watch in its very essence, and on the flexible bracelet of gold threads not only a limpid joy to have on the wrist but also a subtle homage to the method of attachment of the original reference 2639, made just this year 200 years ago for a queen.
The Breguet Reine de Naples Gold Thread Bracelet Watch Ref. 8908: Price available upon request from Breguet. Black Tahitian mother-of-pearl dial with central hours and minutes; small seconds at 7:00. Indication of the age and phase of the moon; indication of the power reserve. Movement: the selfwinding Breguet calibre 537 DRL1 with in-line lever escapement, 40 hour power reserve and adjusted to five positions. Egg shaped 18 karat white gold; bezel set with 117 diamonds; 28.4 x 36.5 mm.
Photos courtesy Breguet website.