Originally owned by King George III, it was discreetly sold by Abraham-Louis Breguet to the King of England in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars
June 19, 2020: Demanding a live auction in these current, unstable times, Sotheby’s London will unveil one of the most important watches created by Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) on July 14, 2020. Discreetly sold to King George III in 1808, in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, Mr. Breguet’s gold four-minute tourbillon watch will be offered as part of a single-owner auction with an estimate of £700,000 to 1 million (US$ 895,000-1.3m).
Daryn Schnipper, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby’s Watch Division, said, “This watch not only captures Breguet’s genius – the ability to conceal layers of complexity behind apparent simplicity – it also encapsulates why historic timepieces are so relevant today. They transcend the function of mere timekeeping to tell us the history of the modern world. This notion was the driving force for the connoisseur who owned this watch: he painstakingly assembled one of the finest collections of horological treasures, whimsical automata, objects of vertu and unpublished letters by the great visionaries of modern history.”
Engraved with King George III’s royal cypher and the letters G & R, the watch is most probably the first tourbillon Breguet sold commercially and is groundbreaking from many points of view.
An avid supporter of the sciences, King George III (1738-1820) was also passionate about horology and assembled a remarkable collection of clocks and watches. This passion led the king to brave the blockade isolating Britain from the rest of Europe in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) to purchase what was then considered cutting-edge technology. For King George III to purchase a French watch during this period would have seemed unthinkable. To prevent the chance of its seizure, the watch appeared from the outside to be unsigned: Breguet only signed the tourbillon carriage inside the watch. The piece – recorded as No. 1297 in Breguet’s archives - was sent to Recordon, Breguet's London agent for the King on 29 June 1808 and sold for FF 4,800, a huge sum at the time. George III actually never fully paid for the watch. The Georgian Papers archive contains a bill ‘reminder’ from 1812 which is addressed to the Prince Regent and lists four Breguet pieces for which payments remain outstanding. The first in the list is no. 1297.
The watch created a sensation when it appeared for sale at Sotheby’s from a private collection in November 1999, selling for £551,500. Carefully stored since 1999, the watch has survived in extraordinarily original condition.