In 1783, an admirer of Marie-Antoinette placed an order with Breguet, horological purveyor to the French Court for a pocket watch fit for the queen. The watch was to be spectacular with gold replacing any metals and complications as numerous and varied as possible. There was no time limit or budget set for the work. Just the instruction that this was to be the most magnificent watch ever produced. And watch number “160” as it was named, fulfilled that request completely.
Unfortunately the piece was finished in 1827, 34 years after her death by guillotine, 4 years after Breguet’s and 44 years after the original order.
(It may be useful to note at this time that any available to order pieces from Official Watches arrive within 8 weeks.)
For two hundred years the Marie-Antoinette 160 has fascinated the watch world. It was stolen from a museum in Jerusalem in 1983 and not recovered until 2007. While it was missing in 2004 Nicolas G. Hayek asked Breguet’s watchmakers to build an exact replica of the watch faithfully recreating it from the original schematics.
The modern reproduction is Breguet’s “1160” which was completed in 2008 and can be seen in this video.
In 1868 Antoni Patek and Countess Koscowicz of Hungary created history and made the first Swiss wristwatch. It was intended as a jewellery piece and as such was intricately carved and set with a diamond centrepiece, a far cry from the modified trench watches that began to be produced for men to wear on the wrist during wartime shortly after in the 1880s.
In 1927 Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex watches asked stenographer and English Channel swimmer Mercedes Gleitze to wear his newly developed waterproof watch the Rolex “Oyster” while swimming the channel to test and promote its water resistance. The Oyster performed flawlessly and Gleitze sent the following testimonial to Wilsdorf:
“You will like to hear that the Rolex Oyster watch I carried on my Channel swim proved itself a reliable and accurate timekeeping companion even though it was subjected to complete immersion for hours in sea water at a temp of not more than 58 and often as low as 51. This is to say nothing about the sustained buffeting it must have received. . . The newspaper man was astonished and I, of course, am delighted with it.”
Rolex began to take out large scale newspaper advertising to launch the Oyster line.
This could be considered the dawn of the “sports watch” era, one that is still the focus of many collections almost a hundred years later.
In the last century watches have evolved at a tremendous pace. New materials, new complications, a constant pursuit for aesthetic perfection blended with the ability to survive the harshest environments.
However, it is only in the last few years that women have once again broken the horological boundaries and began to enjoy wearing these pieces.
There was a distinctly dry spell where the only watches offered were small (20-30mm), delicate, quartz powered, gem-set pieces designed for “ladies”. Not anymore.
We’ve come a long way.
Women are wearing bigger “men’s” watches, and they look GREAT.
Serena Williams regularly wears an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore 42-44mm.
Charlize Theron with the behemoth of the Rolex line up – the 44mm Sea-Dweller Deepsea
Kim Kardashian going full gold with a 41mm Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph.
Ingrid Hoffman is often seen wearing a Rolex Submariner 16610LV. A 40mm steel dive watch which has recently quadrupled in value since its discontinuation. (Argh!)
Stana Katic, Heidi Klum and Selma Hayek sport Panerai watches which range in size from 38mm to 47mm. Although these have traditionally been oversized statement watches, the “Due” line has recently offered slimmer and more compact cases while still retaining the brand’s trademark shape and Luminor crown guards.
235 years after Marie-Antoinette’s Breguet it’s absolutely wonderful to see women rise once again as educated collectors and fearless wearers.
After all, who knows where Rolex would be if Gleitze killed the Oyster.