Vintage Breguet Timepieces On Display at New York’s Frick Collection (Video)


Breguet Carriage ClockNew York City’s Frick Collection, the art museum founded by Henry Clay Frick, is hosting an exhibition of historic timepieces, sponsored by luxury watch brand Montres Breguet and featuring several clocks and pocketwatches created by its namesake, legendary horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet and his son Antoine-Louis Breguet.

The exhibit, titled “Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at the Frick Collection” opened on January 23 in the museum’s Portico Gallery. Curated by Charlotte Vignon, associate curator of decorative arts at the Frick Collection, it features 11 clocks and 14 watches from the bequest of noted timepiece collector Winthrop Kellogg Edey, as well as five clocks lent by another collector, Horace Brock Wood. (The latter five have never before been seen in New York City.) In its press release, the Frick describes the exhibition as “explor[ing] the discoveries and innovations made in the field of horology from the early sixteenth to the nineteenth century.”

Frick Collection in NYC
Exterior of the Frick Collection, New York City (All photos: Monica Schipper/Breguet)
Breguet Frick Collection Watches
Frick Collection director Ian Wardropper (left) and Breguet U.S. brand manager Michael Nelson with the three historic Breguet timepieces

The collection includes three timepieces made by the Breguets, all from the Edey bequest. Writing in 1982, Edey described the elder Breguet as “a phenomenon without parallel. He was the genius of his age, perhaps the most outstanding horologist of all time.” Perhaps the most notable of the pieces is the “Gold and Silver Double-Dial Desk Watch Showing Decimal and Traditional Time,” one of the very few watches or clocks to include both traditional and “decimal” dials. During the French Revolution, the decimal or Metric system affected not only weights and measures, but also time, dividing the day into 10 hours and the year into 10 months. This system, however, proved impossible to enforce. The French Republican calendar, introduced on the autumnal equinox in 1792, was in place for only 13 years, and the decimalization of the day, decreed in 1793 decree, was abandoned in less than 18 months. The Breguet watch was probably made shortly before or after Abraham-Louis returned to Paris from Switzerland in April 1795. The watch’s traditional 12-hour dial was made after 1807, when his son joined the business. The provenance of the watch is notable as well: it belonged to the influential politician and art collector Antoine-César Praslin, duc de Choiseul.

Breguet Decimal desk watch
Gold and Silver Double-Dial Desk Watch Showing Decimal and Traditional Time

The other Breguet pieces are the “Gold Pocketwatch with Tourbillon,” made by the father-and-son team around 1820; and an ornately crafted, incredibly complicated “Gilt Bronze Carriage Clock with Calendar.” Photos of the timepieces, and a video produced by the Frick Collection explaining the workings of the carriage clock, are below.

Breguet Tourbillon pocketwatch
Gold Pocket Watch With Tourbillion, c. 1820
Breguet Carriage Clock
Gilt Bronze Carriage Clock with Calendar, 1811; side view below

Breguet Carriage Clock - side

In addition to the Breguet pieces, the exhibition includes a rare gilt-brass table clock by French clockmaker Pierre de Fobis, one of the earliest extant spring-driven timekeepers; a gilt-brass and silver table clock by German clockmaker David Weber with astronomical and calendrical dials; pocketwatches by British horologists George Smith and Thomas Mudge; and other important pieces. “Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at the Frick Collection” will be on display through February 2, 2014.

Leave a Reply