Breguet with Russian Provenance to the Hermitage, St. Petersburg
This exquisite pocket watch is remarkable in its completeness, retaining its original red leather keep box with spare crystal, original certificate and further historical documents relating to its most fascinating provenance. This complete ensemble gives us a fascinating insight in to the House of Breguet, how this watch was sold and to whom, along with its subsequent succession up to the twentieth century.
THE WATCH – When seeing this watch for the first time one is immediately struck by its simple elegance. The stark white enamel dial is encircled by the thin gold bezel such that the time is easily read without any unnecessary decoration to distract the eye. The Arabic numerals and gold hands are to Breguet’s design, having an outer minutes chapter, blued steel dial retaining screw above ‘6’ with the name BREGUET below, together with his ‘secret signature’ below 12, an ingenious method of signing dials with a pantograph such that they could not be faked. The case is of 18 carat gold and beautifully engine turned, the back hinging open to reveal the plain gold cuvette signed in cursive script, Breguet and bearing the French hallmarks. The quarter repeat function acts on two gongs and is activated via the piston concealed in the stem. The movement is all that one would hope for from a fine Breguet and has survived in excellent condition. The various cocks and bridges are gilt, it has a ruby cylinder escapement with three-arm balance, parachute suspension and a bi-metallic temperature compensation curb. The mirror finish to the steelwork is outstanding. The watch is contained within its original red leather, silk and felt lined keep box together with its gold key and a concealed spare crystal glass. The vibrant colour of the box is still extant and its overall condition is by far the finest we have ever seen.
BREGUET: Abraham Louis Breguet (1747-1823), the founder of the firm, was born in Neuchatel, Switzerland and in 1762 was sent to France to commence his apprenticeship in Versailles. Very little is known of his early life up to 1787 when the books of the firm began and continue to the present day. His extraordinary ability in all branches of horology achieved for him the reputation of a genius, the patronage of kings, and most prized of all, the respect of the horological world. Among his clients Breguet could number most of the crowned heads of the world including those of England, Russia, Spain, Tuscany, Holland, Naples, Bavaria and Westphalia. The heads of many aristocratic families were also patrons including Marie Antoinette, Napoloeon and the Duke of Wellington. Breguet’s legacy was continued by his son, Louis Antoine, and grandson, Louis Clement who was the proprietor of the firm when this watch was made.
PROVENANCE:- The watch comes with its original, beautifully handwritten certificate, a remarkably rare survival from which much information may be learnt. It states that the watch was sold to Monsieur de Labensky for the sum of 1260 francs ‘after deduction of 40 francs for the gold chain which has been withdrawn’. Furthermore, mention is made of the red presentation box containing a spare crystal, as well as a full description of the watch. The back of the certificate lists eleven international cities with the relevant adresses of Breguets agents where the watch could be sent ‘in case of accident‘ together with highly detailed instructions on how to wind the watch, regulate it, set the hands and operate the repeat. Although the certificate is undated, Breguet’s records confirm that this watch was sold on 14. Nov. 1843.
Francois de Labensky was Director of the Imperial Hermitage in St. Petersburg from 1797-1843 (interestingly, the date when the watch was purchased). His remarkably long service in this most prestigious position saw him oversee the acquisition of many fine works of art during both turbulent and prosperous times as well as bringing him into contact with the Russian Royal Family. On Francois’ death the watch was bequeathed to his nephew, Camille de Labensky, Russian ambassador at the Court of Hesse Darmstadt and faithful servant of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia. Camille de Labensky left it to his grandson, Count Axel Alexander Camille Rudolf Klinckowstrom (1867-1936) who was a Swedish zoologist, author of poems, books related to travels and the history of art. Count Axel, in turn, left the watch to his son Harald Klinckowstrom.
Further documents included with this watch are an envelope inscribed in Swedish, ‘Belongs to Harald fine gold pocket watch which he got from his father Axel and he received as a memory from grandfather Camille de Labensky who received it in heritage from his Uncle de Labensky. Very valuable! Keep with care!’ Contained within the envelope are the upper part of a letterhead inscribed, ‘Charles Grottendieck, Horologerie fine‘ with a handwritten note to the reverse, ‘Tillhor Harald’ (Swedish for ‘belongs to Harald’), together with a second part of a letterhead of a watchmaker in Stockholm marked ‘14 Dec 18 – Labens’ and ‘Harald’ to the reverse. There is also a further envelope dated 2nd September 1896 and addressed in Swedish to ‘Olof Gylden, Lieutenant in the Royal Swedish Navy, H.M. Canonboat Urd, Karlskrona.‘
Olof Gylden led the Swedish relief expedition to Otto Nordenskjold’s Antarctica expedition from 1903-1904, a venture during which Axel Klinckowstrom (the third owner of the watch) made ornithological observations at Hope Bay. Contained within this envelope is a pressed clover leaf and a handwritten note in French reading, ‘For my grandson Axel Klinckowstrom, I bequeath him this precious souvenir of his grandfather with the hope that he will appreciate it as well as the affection for him and for his mother who led my choice for the donation that I wanted to leave to him. Stafsund. August 1897′.
This exquisite watch has been greatly cared for by the same prestigious family over five generations. We hope that its beauty and historical importance will continue to enchant and fascinate those who are fortunate enough to own it in the future.
‘To carry a fine Breguet watch is to feel that you have the brains of a genius in your pocket’ – Sir David Salomons, Breguet connoiseur.