The mordant comment was derived from a century ago by Sir David L. Salomons (1921), whose collection of 87 Breguet’s original masterpieces were dubbed the largest and most varied of the kind
When browsing those well-preserved vintage pieces in Antoine de Macedo’s watch store at the heart of Paris, Salomons’ observation seems still relevant even a century later.
L’horlogerie Antoine de Macedo was a magnet to the vintage horology Aficionados. The founders Antoine has been running his watch business for over 30 years. What’s very particular about this store is its extensive and well-curated collections of vintage watches. Almost every watch in the store has seen and chosen by Antoine himself. “All the watch we buy I check the watches, and give it a service, repair it and to display it in the window.” Said Antoine. And he only chose watches that are interesting, that are of excellent quality and are very special in some way.
Antoine’s offers more than vintage pieces. Having a dedicated vitrine in the antechamber to display Laurent Ferrier’s masterpieces, Antoine de Macedo’s watch boutique is an official retailer of Laurent Ferrier, one of the greatest independent watchmakers in the world. Antoine also has a very close relationship with Mr Ferrier, who would come to the store roughly every year to hold events and meet his clients.
In his Rue Madame boutique, you will see the shelf full of drawers. Antoine has been collecting vintage watch parts since the 70s, the large stock of original manufacturer spare-parts of vintage watches was laid in those drawers. And the extensive restoration work they can do is because of those drawers. It was almost impossible to acquire such a full collection of vintage parts nowadays, as Wayne, a Rolex specialist in Antoine’s shop, have told me.
During our conversation, Antoine showed me some of the archive pictures. Amid them are portraits of senior watchmakers who have worked in Antoine de Macedo’s boutique. Some of them have worked with Antoine for 25 years. One watchmaker has already passed away, who had 40 years’ experience with Rolex – a real expert in that brand.
Among the younger generation watchmaker at Antoine’s, I met a lady from Geneva. She had studied in Patek Phillipe watch schools for three years, after which she worked in Rolex before joining Antoine’s. On her working desk, aside from a bunch of tools, she writes Korean characters on a paper. It turns out that she was mesmerised by Korean pop culture, and wish to move to live in Asian countries. Antoine is trying to persuade her to stay for three years longer. Compare with working in a watch brand, Antoine believe his store is a better place to polish a watchmaker’s skills: “Today you work on a Cartier, tomorrow you make a Patek, and another day a Rolex.” Another young watchmaker Wayne agreed with Antoine. Wayne came from Vancouver, he used to work for a retailer of Patek and Rolex for the after-sells services for Rolex. “It’s much more interesting to work in the vintage store like here, there are so many different calibres to see.” By the time I visited, there are 9 in-house specialised watchmakers working in Antoine’s.
As we continued our conversation, Mr Antoine showed me original paperwork dated back to the French Revolution issued by French army with Breguet’s name on it. It was an anniversary gift given by Mr Emmanuel Breguet, the Head of Patrimony for Montres Breguet and the seventh-generation descendant of Abraham-Louis Breguet.
Without a doubt, this gift amply demonstrates Antoine’s preeminence in his business. Yet the equivocal content on this ancient paper draws my attention even more.
The date of this paper was right in the darkest hour of The Reign of Terror (1793~1794) when every Frenchman between the ages of 18 and 45 was obliged to serve the Revolution. “The individual becomes more than just a peasant or an artisan; they were now tools to be used by the state”. Breguet was no exception, the paper was issued by Revolutionary Army (Armée Révolutionaire) asking him to serve his duty on February 20th, 1794 (2er Ventôse AN II). However, at the end of the paper, we can see a few lines of handwriting, to replace Breguet by someone else, and Breguet has never served this recruit.
Why would Breguet’s name be replaced in 1794?
Because, in August 1793, Abraham-Louis Breguet had already escaped to Switzerland, and did not make the return to Paris until May 1795.
During his time back in Switzerland, Breguet managed to keep his Paris shop on Quai de l’Horloge opened. Without surprise, in 1794, when the furious revolutionary army found Breguet did not respond to their recruit, they “ransacked and evicted” Breguet’s Paris workshop by force.
Sir David L. Salomons’ book Breguet (1747-1823) (1921) was among the first in the history to put together various facts and details about the life and work of Breguet. In terms of Breguet’s escapement in 1793, Salomons provides an allegation:
In 1762, at the age of 15, Breguet went into an apprenticeship under a watchmaker at Versailles. Since 1780, following his first major invention of the self-winding mechanism (he calls it Perpétuelle), the patronage came mainly from the court of Versailles and throughout European aristocracies. During the French Revolution, many of his patrons are destined to the guillotine, amid them are names including Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI of France.
During that time, According to Salomons, Breguet’s was befriended with Jean-Paul Marat, whose death in 1793 has been transformed into a world-renowned painting by Jacques-Louis David. Marat was an influential journalist and politician during the French Revolution, and he has learned in advance that Breguet was also singled out for the guillotine. Which was possibly due to his close relationship with the French court and befriended with Abbé Marie, his mathematics teacher in Collège Mazarin. Before Marat been assassinated in the same year, he obtained for Breguet a “safe-pass”, allowing him to the escapement.
As one of the Breguet official dealer, Antoine described Breguet as classic and timeless. “What’s interesting about Breguet is the design is from the 18th century. You can find vintage Rolex or Cartier, but the design is from the beginning of 20th. Breguet is one of the most French watchmakers because he made his career in France”. Antoine also told me that Breguet was married in the catholic church Église Saint-Sulpice, just on the other side of Antoine de Macedo’s watch shop.
An article with a great historical depth!
Dear Giovanni, Thanks for the kind comment!