The discussion about what was the first timepiece for the wrist, and what watchmaker produced it, has typically involved a handful of well-known contenders, chiefly Cartier, with its Santos-Dumont from 1904, and Patek Philippe, with its Countess Koscowicz watch from 1868. Breguet, however, has the historical documents to make a compelling case for the honor. The brand’s namesake, legendary watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, delivered a wrist-worn timepiece, commissioned by Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples and sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, as early as 1812.
This year, of course, marks the 200th anniversary of that milestone, and Montres Breguet, the brand that today carries on Breguet’s name, is commemorating it with an exhibit of historical interest and import to watch aficionados, called “1810-1812: Breguet Makes the First Wristwatch, Fit For a Queen.” First launched in Geneva, the exhibit begins a worldwide tour starting this week at Breguet’s Fifth Avenue boutique in New York City. Among the attendees at the opening night gala for the exhibit were Breguet U.S. president Michael Nelson; Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, for which Breguet is a sponsor; and the Young New Yorkers of the New York Philharmonic.
The original Reine de Naples watch, which has been lost to history since 1849, was commissioned by the queen, a noted collector of timepieces, in 1810 and delivered on December 21, 1812. An unprecedented product in an age when most timekeepers were pocketwatches or clocks, the watch, known in records as No. 2639, was a thin, oblong repeater watch with a silver dial and Arabic numerals, and was mounted on a wristlet of hair woven with golden threads.
In his welcome speech, Nelson pointed out that Breguet is actually celebrating two anniversaries in 2012: the bicentennial of the original Queen of Naples watch, and the 10th anniversary of the brand’s own Reine de Naples, its flagship ladies’ model, which was inspired by the historical piece. The exhibit includes, among other items, several of the Reine de Naples models introduced over the past decade.
The exhibit will be hosted at Breguet’s Fifth Avenue boutique until May 13, after which it will move to the Breguet boutique in Las Vegas from May 17 through June 3. Click on the slideshow below for images from the exhibit and the opening night cocktail event.