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Fit for a Queen
BREGUET’S REINE DE NAPLES COLLECTION CELEBRATES THE FIRST WRISTWATCH ON RECORD AND THE WOMAN WHO WORE IT.
In 2001, Breguet had the wild idea of launching a collection of high-end, highly decorated timepieces with mechanical movements for ladies and calling it Reine de Naples. The result was a watch that was both ahead of its time – Breguet was one of the first elite watchmakers to identify the ladies’ watch as an ideal venue for the Metiers d’Art of watchmaking – and at the same time a nod to the history of watchmaking. The Reine de Naples was inspired by a watch Breguet made in 1812 for Caroline Murat, the Queen of Naples and sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. Historians believe it to have been the first wristwatch ever made.
The Reine de Naples set a new standard in ladies’ luxury timepieces, both when it was first presented in 1812 and when it was reinvented nearly 200 years later. The collection has become an authentic platform for Breguet’s expertise in complicated movements for ladies watch. Successive models have not only pushed the limits of design, including all of the metiers – sometimes all on a single watch – but in watchmaking, with complications designed and decorated for women, including a day/night indicator, moon phase and a “sonnerie au passage” (hour strike). Every watch in the collection has a decorative dial, with many hand engraved on a rose engine, and most set with diamonds. All have mechanical movements.
Caroline Murat was a member of France’s ruling Bonaparte family, whose members were true patrons of the arts, including watchmaking, an art form the family introduced to the aristocracy of France. Breguet’s archives reveal the names and titles of several of Caroline’s siblings, including her brother, Napoleon, who acquired three timepieces from Breguet. Caroline bought her first Breguet in 1805, and by 1814, had acquired a total of 34 watches and clocks from the company, including the famous wristwatch of 1812. She placed the order on June 8th 1810, actually requesting two unusual timepieces: a grande complication carriage watch and the wristwatch with a repeater function. The order appears in Breguet’s manufacturing register, along with a complete summary of every stage in the making of the piece. Breguet has service records for the watch right up until 1855. It has not been seen since.
From a design point of view, the collection’s ovoid shape and decorative personality are provocative compared to the rest of Breguet’s classic oeuvre, yet the watches are accentuated by elements that are signature Breguet: coin-edged or fluted casebands, Breguet-style numerals and Breguet open-tipped hands. The liberal application of guilloché is also typically Breguet, as is the fact that each watch in the collection contains a superb movement. The original Reine de Naples was after all a double complication, a repeater combined with a thermometer function, and the Reine de Naples has included at least two models with striking functions, which is very unusual for a ladies’ watch. The original also had an oval case, not necessarily a Breguet signature, but certainly a shape the company can claim as its own, given that the Reine de Naples was the world’s first wristwatch.
In 2012, Breguet introduced a special anniversary edition Reine de Naples that combined high jewelry with fine watchmaking. It included a striking mechanism that marks the top of each hour with two chimes repeated three times. The design and decorations of the bridges and rotor form the image of a garden pavilion in the Mediterranean style, evoking the historic Naples residence of Caroline Murat. The hammers that strike the chimes appeared above the dial at 11 and 1 o’clock flanking a gold engraved rose with a diamond in the center that indicates whether the hour striker is engaged. It was set with approximately 300 diamonds and 300 blue sapphires of various shades.
Other masterpieces of the collection include the Jour Nuit, with it’s novel use of the balance wheel to represent the sun, the daytime indication, and the utterly unique Ref. 8958, with a cameo carved out of seashell serving as the dial, centered by 58 brown diamonds.
In the Imperial Europe of Caroline Murat’s day, where borders changed frequently, Napoleon had conquered many papal lands. He entrusted the rule of these lands only to his various family members and, 1806, offered Caroline the principality of Neuchâtel. She declined, on the grounds it was too small, but had she accepted, Caroline would have reigned over a country of watchmakers, a fitting responsibility for the owner of the very first wristwatch.
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Atom Moore is a professional photographer who specializes in watch photography. He is the resident photographer for the Red Bar Crew in NYC and the man behind the camera at analog/shift.
Jan Tegler is a writer/author with his work appearing in a variety of international publications on subjects ranging from military affairs and aviation to business and finance, motorsports, wristwatches and automotive reviews.
Nancy Olson has been writing about watches, jewelry and writing instruments for the last twenty years and has contributed to a variety of international magazines on these topics. She has a particular interest and expertise in women and mechanical watches.
Angus Davies is a self-confessed horological addict with his passion leading him to the launch of his own website, Escapement. He now regularly writes articles for other websites and magazines.