Aug 262014

After 10 years, the 18th century decorative arts display at the Louvre Museum in Paris reopens after undergoing restoration with the support of Swiss watch manufacturer Breguet.

Known as the Age of Enlightenment, the period of philosophers and whiz kids like Newton, the 18th century was also the last one to produce artisan furniture. The Age is depicted as many things in many films — a candy-colored party central in Marie Antoinette, a period of superfluity, extravagance and appearances in Amadeus, and a also a dangerous time to be out at night in Perfume. My gross and un-French pop references aside, the period is always remembered as one that was ruled by meticulous, creative people, when even a cabinetmaker was an artist and an otherwise utilitarian object like the cabinet, a work of art.

Recently, Martin Ganz, vice president for the Breguet division of the Swatch Group, presented us with a bit of a crash course on the period over lunch, along with news of the brand’s most recent endeavor. A lesson in French history is not something that always comes with the menu at the Peninsula, which is why, when it is served, you have to take it. Swiss watch manufacturer Breguet proved its link to 18th-century culture — the period in which the brand itself was born — alive and strong, by being part of what has been a project of epic proportions with the Louvre Museum in Paris. The project, in which Breguet is a major patron, involved the resurrection of the 18th-century decorative arts wing in the museum, allowing for the reopening of 33 galleries holding handmade furniture, tapestries, ceramics, clocks and silverware that once were housed in royal residences. The galleries, their contents preserved and protected by their value, remained unseen for over 10 years, until last June when the wing finally reopened.

The patronage project amounting to several million euros was launched in 2009 by the late Nicolas Hayek, co-founder of Breguet. It reached completion under the eye of his grandson, president and CEO Marc Hayek. The restoration encompassed 2,500 square meters of the Grand Louvre, an area that is now completely revamped. Museography and educational presentations have also been revised, and the collections have been redeployed so that they are now integrated with the museum’s unique palatial architecture.

Breguet as a brand was admired in all the royal courts of Europe and was the principal watchmaker of the elite in the worlds of diplomacy, science, military and finance. Its founder, Abraham-Louis Breguet, a Swiss who spent most of his life in Paris and inventor of the first “traveling clock” (sold to Napoleon Bonaparte), created special pieces for prestigious clients, including King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette.

Ganz recalls a particular project that involved the restoration of another site, this time at Versailles: “It’s an actual thing for Breguet to be involved in European culture. We started with the favorite quarters of Marie Antoinette, Le Petit Trianon, which is part of Versailles. That was completed in 2008, but the final phase of that renovation was in 2010. That started out as a simple thing — then president and ceo of Breguet, the late Nicolas Hayek, instructed the engineers in Breguet to remake the Marie Antoinette watch, which was the most complicated watch to be made in the 18th century. The watch was lost. In order to have that watch housed in a proper-looking case, the idea was to approach the management of Versailles to get a piece of the Queen’s favorite oak tree, that they could carve into a special box — then someone found out that the tree had already fallen over because it was too old. So it started there. It wasn’t a targeted effort; it just came from the close relationship between Marie Antoinette and Breguet at that time. She was one of our very important clients.

“The personal relationship between Breguet and the Louvre forged plans for future projects,” continues Ganz. In the 19th century, the Louvre was provided with a selection of watches by Abraham-Louis Breguet — Souscription watches, repeater watches, and other inventions that sealed his reputation as a prime horologist. Also among the 18th-century art collection at the Louvre is a huge watchmaking range that includes Breguet creations, and in 2009, then president and director of the Louvre Henri Loyrette organized an exhibition entitled “Breguet at the Louvre: An Apogee of European Watchmaking.” “When Mr. Hayek bought Breguet at the end of 1999, they had a small museum, but there were actually very few pieces there. The idea behind collecting our oldest pieces is showing it to the public. It’s fantastic to have the real piece, to have that story to tell the public. It’s about heritage,” he says.

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Breguet continues its ties with the Louvre to this day through the project, toying with the hands of time and restoring history, while remaining relevant to its market — a very specific one at that. “Every royal family is still around today — and they still have Breguet. There are also a lot of heads of government that have Breguet. How do we know? When they have a speech. When they wave their hands we can see the Breguet,” he shares. “Breguet is not necessarily a household name, but it is recognized in those circles that are knowledgable about watches or luxury.”

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In the Philippines, Breguet is exclusively distributed by Lucerne Jewellers, available at the Breguet boutique at Shangri-La Plaza.

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