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What does a Guard’s officer do when he is in love with his queen? He commissions a clock for her from the master watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet.
The Marie Antoinette Clock is one of the most famous and most precious clocks in the world. Some call it the King of Clocks. The clock is a work of design and technological majesty and incorporates an automatic winding mechanism, which was a new development in the 18th century. The accepted story relates that an anonymous officer, from the Queen’s guard, ordered it in 1783. Others say that it was Swedish nobleman Hans Axel von Fersen who, it was rumored, was Marie Antoinette’s loyal lover, right up to the events surrounding the French Revolution. It took more than 30 years to complete the assembly of the clock. It saw the light of day in 1827, years after Marie Antoinette was executed (1793) during the French Revolution, and after the death of Breguet himself.
823 Tiny Parts – And All Made of Gold
How did the clock at the Museum for Islamic Art become famous? The body of the clock, 60 cm. in diameter, is entirely made of gold. The front and back covers are made of rock crystal and you can see the immaculate finishing of the mechanism through them. However, what makes the Queen’s clock so special is its great sophistication: The clock comprises 823 tiny parts (made of gold, platinum and even sapphires, which insulate against static electricity within the mechanism), and allows a variety of operations and displays: self-winding, comparison of local time with the actual solar time, display of the days of the week, an automatically winding calendar (with the necessary adjustment for leap years), chiming on the quarter hour and on the hour, marking of quarter hours and minutes, a second hand which can be turned on and off, a thermometer which works off the expansion of the metal in heat, the days of the month and even a panel that shows how many hours are left before the mechanism is re wound.
Quite a few of these inventions exist in the majority of digital chip-based clocks and watches. However, in the 18th century all the clocks operated with mechanical mechanisms which were completely innovative. Only Breguet, with his singular approach to the art of watchmaking, could design and produce such a special model. Over time, he correctly believed that the clock would serve as a sort of monument to 18th century watchmaking.
The Epitome of Perfection in the World of Watchmaking
Most of his life Abraham-Louis Breguet worked on inventing cutting edge mechanisms solely designed to overcome technical limitations. The mechanisms of the clocks he created were the epitome of perfection and logic. Since then, up to this very day, no one has been able to better them. The watchmaking industry still operates based on their standards.
Breguet, who became a renowned expert in precision mechanics, produced thousands of clocks for all kinds of everyday and scientific uses, and the mechanisms of his clocks – simple and sophisticated alike – were known for their high level of reliability. Each clock was marked with serial number and, in order to protect his works from forgeries he used to engrave a tiny signature on the side (which is only legible using a magnifying glass).
Besides his perfect mechanisms Breguet’s clocks were also known for their elegant and charming designs. It is no wonder that the besotted officer commissioned a clock from him for the adored queen, as Breguet supplied different kinds of clocks to kings, princes and aristocracy from across Europe.
After the great clock heist in 1983 the Breguet company wanted to produce as accurate a copy as possible of the Marie Antoinette clock. To this end it drew on the wealth of knowledge of the Salomons collection. After the copy was completed it was sold at an auction for $3 million. In 2008 the original, which had been stolen, was retrieved. Here it is.