A new display containing timepieces by one of the greatest watchmakers of all time, Abraham-Louis Breguet, is to open in the Clockmakers’ Museum at the Science Museum on Tuesday 12 September 2023.
ABRAHAM-LOUIS BREGUET: THE ENGLISH CONNECTION has been created to mark the bicentenary of Breguet’s death on 17 September 1823, and brings together a selection of his remarkable pieces, united by their connection to England. This new display will be the first in a programme of annually changing displays which will showcase extraordinary objects from public and private horological collections.
The display will feature 25 important items seldom seen in public before, including an exceptionally rare gold four-minute tourbillon watch made for George III in 1808. This cutting-edge pocket watch was ordered for the King who notably had a great interest in the sciences and had his own collection of instruments in his private observatory at Kew.
The exquisite timepiece features a gold case and dial with multiple contrasting finishes and blued steel moon hands, and includes the rare feature of a thermometer. The watch is labelled as a ‘Whirling About Regulator’, another literal translation from the French ‘Régulateur à Tourbillon’, meaning ‘whirlwind’. The radical and now-famous tourbillon mechanism was developed by Breguet to help pocket watches keep good time and its invention in 1801 is considered one of the greatest technical achievements in watchmaking. Its legacy, alongside Breguet’s many other innovations, can still be found in modern wristwatches today.
Born in 1747 in Switzerland, Breguet travelled to France as a teenager to study the field of watchmaking, eventually establishing himself as a leading master craftsman in Paris. He counted Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette amongst his clients, alongside other international nobility, and the elegance and technical innovations of his designs were considered the height of style and fashion. His English clients read as a who’s who of Georgian Britain and during the late 1700s, he frequently visited London, becoming friends with one of the country’s finest chronometer makers, John Arnold, and later recruited English craftsmen to work for him in France.
Other Breguet items with English connections on display will include the ‘Simple à 2 aiguilles equation’ pocket watch made for politician Thomas Noel Hill, 2nd Baron Berwick of Attingham. The elegant gold timepiece contains an ingenious mechanism which can tell mean time (indicated by a silver star) and true solar, or sundial time (indicated by a gold sun disc on the dial). Also on display will be the gilt bronze carriage clock ‘Pendule de voyage petite’ originally belonging to Robert Henry Herbert, the 12th Earl Pembroke, with ‘flaming torch’ columns, and the silver watch with one-minute tourbillon No. 2571 which was originally bought from Breguet by the Princess de Valançay in 1812 for 1600 francs and which subsequently formed part of the well-known Sir David Lionel Salomons Bt Collection.
The new display will provide an opportunity for visitors to see some extremely rare, technically remarkable watches and clocks up close alongside other incredible items from the Clockmakers’ Museum – the oldest collection of clocks and watches in the world. These items, assembled by the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers which was founded in 1631, includes, amongst other items, some 600 watches, 90 clocks and 30 marine timekeepers and spans the period from the 15th century to the present day.
ABRAHAM-LOUIS BREGUET: THE ENGLISH CONNECTION marks the start of a significant loan collaboration with the Science Museum.
For more information, please visit: https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/clockmakers-museum