By Breguet Blog
October 14th, 2020
It is fair to say that no collection is complete without Breguet’s influence.
—George Daniels, 1979, Foreword to The Belin Collection
ON THE FIRST of December, 1978, Sotheby’s, London, hosted an auction of the Edward Hornby Collection of Rare and Important Watches. Almost exactly one year to the day, Sotheby’s would play host to another “large, important and virtually unknown private collection of watches for sale” (foreword to the catalogue) – The Belin Collection. The auction took place on Thursday, 29th November, 1979, at 11am and 2.30pm precisely.
The Belin Collection was of enormous high quality and the foreword was written by none other than George Daniels, master watchmaker and an authority on antique clocks and watches. The following are key extracts from Daniels’ foreword to this magnificent collection:
“The Belin Collection, illustrated and described in this catalogue, was founded in this great period of watch collecting between the two world wars. It covers all aspects and periods of watchmaking with many interesting and rare examples.
Ferdinand Lammot Belin began collecting watches in 1917 in Peking, where he was Secretary to the Minister at the United States Legation. It was the period of the dissolution of the last dynasty of the Chinese Empire and the more portable contents of the Palaces were beginning to appear in the curio shops and bazaars. The smoky crystal-cased watch (Lot 51) was purchased at this early period in the formation of the Collection. During his career in the Foreign Service, his frequent travels provided many opportunities to add to the collection; thus, for example, it was inevitable that a stay in Paris during the early 1920’s should result in the acquisition of several watches by Breguet. In pursuit of his many interests, he travelled increasingly after retirement, and always his return home would result in additions to the Collection. […]
It is fair to say that no collection is complete without Breguet’s influence. Of particular interest in this collection is the ring watch (Lot 192) the Première Classe lever repeating watch (Lot 194) and the early virgule repeater (Lot 190). Première Classe repeaters are Breguet’s highest grade watch for civil use and are capable of very close timekeeping. Their shock-proof balance suspension, precision lever escapements and easy to read dials make them eminently suitable for every-day wear. They were first manufactured in about 1810 and no better watch for civil use has been made since.
The virgule watch was made shortly before Breguet expanded his business in 1787. Such watches are now rare and their numbers are not recorded in the surviving Breguet archives. They represent work done in the most intriguing period of Breguet’s career, about which virtually nothing is known. As with many Breguet watches, the dial has been changed in his workshops prior to resale. The ring watch is an alarum which alerts its wearer by pricking the finger with a pin. This idea would have been particularly appealing to Lucrezia Borgia who, with the addition of a little bella donna, could have disposed of her victims with improved precision. An interesting feature is the form of keyless winding which is very advanced for the date of the watch.
No good collection is complete without a fake and if it can be said that the skull (Lot 53) is such, it must surely be one of the most desirable. It is implied by the inscription on the forehead that it belonged to the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots. Legend has it that on the eve of her execution she gave the watch to her Lady-in-Waiting, Jane Seaton. If there is any truth in the legend, it clearly does not apply to this watch which was made at a later date. Even so, it is a spectacular watch of considerable interest and exactly the thing to attract the curiosity of the antiquarian with a taste for macabre mystery.
Throughout this catalogue there are illustrated many interesting watches that took over seventy years to collect. F. L. Belin, the founder of the Collection, was a man of many and varied interests. He lived much of his life in Washington society where his taste and judgement were widely respected. These qualities are apparent in a remarkable collection which has something to attract everyone with an interest in horology.”
The Belin Collection included seven pocket watches by Breguet. Though the number of watches from Breguet in this collection is small, the pocket watches acquired by F. L. Belin represent fine and complete examples of Breguet’s work. All of the Breguet pieces were sold during the auction and six out of seven watches fetched mostly double the auction estimate, testament to the enduring appeal of Abraham-Louis Breguet among collectors.
Other highlights from the collection include a late 16th century, oval clock watch by Nicolas Volant of Paris, a masterpiece of engraving; a fine gold and enamel cylinder watch by Jaquet Droz of London; and several rare pieces such as an early 17th century, silver and gilt metal cruciform watch by Abraham Cusin of Nevers; a quarter repeating, gold, pair-cased pocket chronometer by Thomas Earnshaw; a gold, cased quarter, repeating keyless lever montre à tact by Patek Philippe & Co.; an early small, quarter repeating, virgule watch by Breguet; a small gold and silver cased, half quarter repeating Première Classe lever watch by Breguet; plus a possibly unique small gold, keyless ring watch with alarum by Breguet.
The auctioneer was then known as Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co. and the auction was held at their large galleries at 34 & 35 New Bond Street, London. The estimates are shown for each lot as well as the hammer price, which was subject to a 10% premium.
All images are from The Belin Collection, Sotheby’s 1979. Catalogue (lot) notes by Sotheby’s. Fair use for educational and research purposes only.
51 JERG ERNST. A SMOKY QUARTZ AND CRYSTAL OCTAGONAL CASED WATCH, the oval movement originally with striking work, now with short pendulum and verge escapement, later set-up ratchets and count plate covers etc. applied to the backplate as decoration, silver champleve enamel dial with roman numerals, single hand, framed within a domed, finely pierced and engraved gilt surround, forming the front part of the case frame, the back cover opening for the winding and secured between finely pierced and engraved brackets with applied silver grotesque masks, the upper holding a pendant with loose ring, length over pendant 82mm., 17th Century, and with watch stand.
52 JOHAN JACOB MIESSLIN, ZUG. A RARE FALLING BALL CLOCK, the movement with verge escapement, turned pillars, elaborate worm set-up for the regulating and winding spring, suspended by a chain with fusee to compensate for the winding spring, the case in the form of a glass sphere with gilt metal chapter ring at the equator, and gilt metal dial beneath with roman numerals, pierced and engraved centre with single hand, 95mm. diam., last quarter of the 17th Century.
53 A RARE AND INTERESTING SILVER GILT SKULL WATCH, the oval verge movement with alarum mechanism, gut fusee, pierced and engraved balance cock and set-up ratchet, the backplate with decorated border and with the signature Jehan Moisant a Bloys, silver dial with roman numerals and central alarum disc, revealed by opening the hinged lower jaw, the cranium engraved overall with scenes of Adam and Eve, the Crucifixion and Instruments of the Passion, with appropriate inscriptions, the Arms of Scotland and France engraved at the temples, and on the forehead the figure of Death demonstrating his impartiality and with the inscription Ex Dono Frs R. Fr. Ad. Marias De Scotorum Fr. Regina (The gift of François King of France to Maria Stuart Queen of Scotland and of France), pendant from a chain and with a screw projecting for mounting a crucifix with silver Christ, and contained in silver mounted fishskin case, 77mm., attached crank key.
⁂ A similar watch is in the Collection of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers and there is a legend that such a watch was given by Mary, Queen of Scots to Mary Seaton just before her execution in 1587.
The earliest reference to a skull watch belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots is by Henry Wansey Esq. of London 1822, who although he described the watch of “silver, thickly gilt” added further descriptions which do not accord with this watch, or that in the Clockmaker’s Collection which is silver.
The style of construction and engraving would seem to indicate a date between about 1790 and 1830 and it is probable that this watch was made as a romantic manifestation of the earlier legend. It is well made and of good quality and is certainly a rare example of the arts of the silversmith and engraver.
The watch is described in detail in Britten Old Clocks and Watches, Fifth Edition p. 130.
56 SEBASTIAN LEHR, NUREMBERG. A GILT METAL CASED GERMAN STACKFREED STRIKING TABLE CLOCK WITH ALARUM, the iron movement with verge escapement with dumb-bell, iron trains, exposed springs, nag’s head strike release and count wheel beneath the dial, the backplate signed Se: Le: Nor, the striking and alarum sounding on a bell in the back of the case, the alarum hammer can be locked by a sliding gate and spring catch, two wheels replaced in brass in the going train, backplate furniture restored, gilt dial with roman numerals, star indications for the half hours, touch pieces at the edge, alarum disk with roman numerals and centred with a sunburst, single hand, the band back and front covers decorated with an engraved strapwork and leaf border, 103mm. diam., mid-16th Century.
⁂ Sebastian Lehr worked as town clockmaker of Nuremberg during the 1st half of the 16th Century.
57 NICOLAS VOLANT, PARIS. A RARE GILT METAL OVAL CASED CLOCKWATCH WITH ALARUM, the oval movement with tapered square pillars, gut fusee, florally pierced striking spring barrel, steel alarum train, ratchet set-up, pinned-on balance cock, unaltered, later brass balance with hair spring, the cock, set-up ratchet and covers for the locking plate and stop-work all finely pierced and engraved with stylised scrolling foliage, the backplate signed N. Vollant a Paris, bell in the back of the case, the gilt dial plate engraved with grotesque figures, rabbits and foliage, chapter ring with roman numerals, touch pieces, rotating disk with arabic numerals for the alarum and fleur-de-lys pointer, the covers plain, the band beautifully pierced with birds, animals and flowers, the inside of the front cover with sun dial with folding gnomon and a compass length over pendant 75mm., late 16th Century.
59 CHARLES BOBINET. A RARE GOLD AND ENAMEL PAIR CASED VERGE WATCH, the movement with turned pillars, gut fusee, three-wheel train, scrolling blued steel brackets for the worm and wheel set-up with engraved silver dial, finely pierced and engraved cock with long foot and large symmetrical table, signed Charles Bobinet within an oval reserve surrounded by engraved decoration, white enamel chapter ring with roman numerals, inner polychrome enamel wreath of flowers, the centre of green translucent enamel over chiselling, single hand, the back of the case with a polychrome enamel band of flowers in relief, against a ground of green enamel, the centre with a miniature of Minerva, the inside of the back with a polychrome enamel landscape scene with figures in the foreground, in original outer leather covered case with gold pique decoration, 39mm. diam., 1st half of the 17th Century.
⁂ For a similar watch but with blue enamel see Baillie, Watches, 1929,
p. 138 pl. XXXV which is also in the Victoria & Albert Museum.
For similar watches with high relief decoration see Chapuis & Gelis La Montre Suisse, 1945 Pl. 20 and Colour Pl. 11.
60 ABRAHAM CUSIN, NEVERS. A GOOD, RARE AND IMPORTANT SILVER AND GILT METAL CRUCIFORM WATCH, in the form of the badge of the Order of the St. Esprit, the applied silver band decorated with engraved scrolling foliage, both silver covers centred with applied blue enamelled gold doves, the one on the front surrounded by the Emblems of the Evangelists, that on the back with angels, the bezels decorated with cherubim, scrolling foliage and the Instruments of the Passion, the inside of the covers gilt, the front engraved with the Annunciation the back with the Nativity, the gilt metal dial panel engraved with reclining figures and rabbits, the applied gilt metal chapter ring engraved with the Adoration of the Magii, the verge movement formed to fit the case with eight triangular pierced pillars, fusee with gut, the balance cock pierced with an irregular edged floral pattern, the pendant in the form of addorsed dolphins, pendant from the original rope-twist ring, 45mm., early 17th Century.
⁂ Abraham Cusin was working in Nevers in 1593 to 1666. This is a watch of exceptional quality and was most probably made to order to mark a special occasion.
It is also unusual to find such a watch being made in a relatively unknown centre. It could well have been produced as a special order, perhaps for John Casimir, one time King of Poland who returned to the Abbeys of Nevers and St. Germain de Pres, after his abdication.
Sold in these rooms 10 July 1967 lot 116.
96 A FINE GOLD AND ENAMEL CYLINDER WATCH, by Jaquet Droz of London, the signed movement with pierced cock table with diamond endstone and formally engraved backplate, gold dust band, white enamel dial with roman numerals the quarters marked with arabic numerals for the minutes, sub-divided for the centre seconds, the back of the case finely enamelled with a conversation piece, contained within a wreath of blue paillonne enamel, the bezels and scalloped frame decorated with enamel and split pearls, 65mm. diam., circa 1790.
99 A FINE, RARE, GOLD AND ENAMEL CASED PERPETUELLE by Jaquet Droz, the full plate movement with cylinder escapement, the balance visible under a recessed cock on the back plate with rack and pinion regulator, gold winding weight signed Jaquet Droz, London, white enamel dial with roman numerals, outer circle of arabic minutes, sub-divided for the centre seconds hand the back of the case with a finely enamelled rural scene over circular guilloche, the bezels set with split pearls and rubies, the pendant punched with the number 11552, and the casemaker’s punch mark IM3, 56mm. diam., circa 1790.
⁂ Jaquet Droz was a celebrated maker of automaton and self winding watches and made the complex automaton figures exhibited in the
He had a business in London for fifteen years from 1775.
100 WILLIAM ANTHONY, LONDON. A GOOD GOLD, ENAMEL AND PEARL SET OVAL WATCH, the oval movement with fine engraved decoration overall, cylinder escapement, polished steel balance with spiral spring and regulator, the gilt cuvette signed William Anthony, London No. 1705, white enamel dial with roman numerals, subsidiary dial for seconds above and quarter seconds below, the articulated gold hands expanding and contracting within the long and short axi of the dial, the back of the case of translucent royal blue enamel over engine turning, the bezels and pendant set with split pearls, the back with rose diamond set motif within an oval frame of split pearls, 88mm. circa 1810, and with key.
163 A GOLD OPEN FACED CYLINDER WATCH, signed on the gold cuvette Breguet a Paris and numbered 25969, the movement of Lepine calibre, silver guilloche dial with roman numerals, the case engine turned, rubbed, 50mm. diam., circa 1820.
170 THOMAS EARNSHAW No. 3973. A FINE AND RARE QUARTER REPEATING GOLD PAIR CASED POCKET CHRONOMETER, the gilded movement signed Thos. Earnshaw Invt. et Fecit, London No. 3973, Earnshaw balance with blued steel helical spring with terminal curves, free sprung, white enamel dial with roman numerals, subsidiary dial for seconds, signed and numbered, both cases plain and hallmarked 1819, 58mm. diam. with short chain and key.
⁂ From the Kalish Collection. Sold in these rooms 13th July 1964, lot 56.
172 THOMAS CUMMINS No. 14=26. A FINE RARE ENGLISH LEVER WATCH, the movement signed Thos. Cummins, London, Inv. et Fecit, the foot of the cock engraved No. 14=26, the cock table engraved H. L. Goater AD 1827, Cummins form of Massey lever escapement with steel roller with large inset ruby stone, gold lever, polished steel escape wheel with slotted teeth, adjustable bankings, heavy compensation balance, helical steel spring with terminal curve, gold engine turned dial with sweep centre minutes, chapter for the hours below seconds above, the case with engine turned band and back cover, rubbed, hallmarked 1825, 55mm. diam.
⁂ Cummins was the first English maker of high quality watches using the detached lever escapement with the renaissance of the escapement in about 1820. He always used a double form of numbering of which the first part is the series number of the watch, and the second part the date of completion. The name and date on the cock table is that of the first owner who purchased it in 1827. The case would certainly be in the making before the completion of the watch and this would account for the earlier hallmark.
From the Kalish Collection, sold in these rooms 13th July 1964, lot 60.
173 A GOLD OPEN FACED QUARTER REPEATING CYLINDER WATCH, the unsigned Continental movement with gilt cuvette with concealed automaton of a scène grévoise, white enamel dial with arabic numerals and winding aperture, the band reeded, the back with radiating guilloche from a plain oval reserve, 54mm. diam., early 19th Century.
174 SIGISMUND RENTZSCH. AN UNUSUAL GOLD CASED RUBY CYLINDER WATCH the movement with steel balance with spiral spring, regulator with compensation curb, the train fully supported in blind jewelled holes the mainspring surrounding the movement and wound by rotating the back of the case, white enamel dial with arabic numerals for the hours, with central hand, subsidiary dial above for the minutes, sector for the regulator below, the case with reeded band and engine turned back, 45mm. diam. circa 1830.
⁂ Formerly in the S.E. Prestige Collection.
175 A GOLD DOUBLE GLAZED POUZZAIT-TYPE CENTRE SECONDS LEVER WATCH, the full plate fusee movement with large balance, bridge cock and circular regulator for the spiral balance spring, chipped white enamel dial with roman numerals, outer circle of arabic numerals, reeded band to the contemporary styled case, 55mm diam.
176 E. BUFFAT. AN EXTREMELY INTERESTING GOLD CASED TOURBILLON WATCH, the wheel bridges arranged in the form of the letter N, four-armed two minute tourbillon carriage with duplex escapement requiring four vibrations of the balance per impulse to advance the carriage by one-second intervals, compensation balance, spiral steel spring with terminal curve, the disk of the carriage engraved overall with a floral design, the main plate of the watch engraved E. Buffat, Fec. & Inven. and with crest, crown and sceptre of Napoleon III whose victories at Alma and Inkerman and the words Exposition Universelle are inscribed on the letter N, white enamel dial with the hour markings spelling Napoleon III, the ten-minute indications on the seconds dial spelling La Glo[ir]e, the band of the case reeded, the back guilloche and with the Imperial Coat of Arms, 52mm. diam., in original box stamped with the letter N surmounted by a crown.
⁂ Reputedly given to the Emperor by the maker at the Paris Exhibition in 1867.
187 PATEK PHILIPPE & CO. A GOOD AND UNUSUAL GOLD CASED QUARTER REPEATING KEYLESS LEVER MONTRE A TACTE, No. 19850, the gilded bar movement fully jewelled with Geneva lever escapement, compensation balance, spiral spring with regulator, white enamel dial with roman numerals, inner circle of red arabic numerals for 24 hours, subsidiary dial for seconds, the case with knurled crown for the winding, with pull-out hand-setting, reeded band, the back cover engraved with a coat of arms, surmounted by a coronet engraved tacte hand, touch pieces for the hours and half hours at the edge, 51mm. diam.
189 A GOOD GOLD AND ENAMEL AND DIAMOND SET SCARAB KEYLESS LEVER RING WATCH, the jewelled Swiss lever movement with silvered dial and arabic numerals marking the quarters, the body of the beetle decorated with black enamel and gold stripes, the wings of translucent green enamel over a stippled ground and decorated with diamonds, the head of black enamel set with ruby eyes, the shoulders of the ring also set with diamonds, length of scarab 23mm.
⁂ To expose the dial release the wings by pressing down on the hind legs.
To wind, lift the diamond shoulder at 3 o’clock and turn.
190 BREGUET No. 15412/85. A RARE EARLY SMALL QUARTER REPEATING VIRGULE WATCH, the full plate movement with fusee, pierced bridge cock and balance, spiral spring, rack and pinion regulator with silver dial and steel hand, silver engine turned dial with roman numerals, aperture for winding, signed Breguet a Paris, No. 15412/85, the case engine turned, piston pendant for the repeating, the inside of the back with the 1785 Paris hallmark and charge and discharge marks of Henri Clavel, with short chain and Breguet key attached, 32mm. diam.
⁂ The numbering system used by Breguet prior to the establishment of the 1787 books was in the form of a fraction as with the number of this watch; the upper figure is believed to represent the month for the completion of the watch, and the lower figure representing the year of completion, which in this case is supported by the casemark.
191 BREGUET No. 3008. A FINE GOLD AND ENAMEL PAIR CASED RUBY CYLINDER TIMEPIECE, the Lepine calibre movement with free standing barrel, plain gold balance with parachute suspension, spiral spring and regulator, white enamel dial with Turkish numerals and secret signature repeated in arabic, signed Breguet et Fils below, centred with a gold star, steel hands, gold cuvette signed and numbered, the inside of the back cover numbered B 3008, with the casemaker’s punch T 3511 the bezels of the inner case enamelled in turquoise and framing on the back cover a red and white enamel spiral design centering on a turquoise motif, the outer case with the punchmark B 3008 and enamelled with red, white and turquoise enamel decoration over circular chiselling, 45mm diam., with Breguet short chain and key in fitted Desoutter box with alternative silver engine turned dial signed Breguet, and with Certificate No. 2761 stating that the watch was sold to Leroy of Constantinople in September 1817.
⁂ Exhibited at the International Art Treasures Exhibition 1962 Catalogue No. 411, p. 51.
From the Courtenay Ilbert Collection sold in these rooms 28th October 1963 lot 89.
192 BREGUET No. 180. A VERY SMALL GOLD KEYLESS RING WATCH WITH ALARUM, the movement with cylinder escapement, the mainspring wound by a knurled crown with concentric button to disengage the winding and engage the hand set, the opposite side with a further small crown for alarum setting, when the alarum is released a small pin will tap the back of the finger, gold dial with roman numerals subsidiary dial for seconds, signed Breguet, steel hands, the back engraved with the monogram of Alexandre Demidoff surmounted by a coronet, a slide in the shank of the band to switch off the alarum, diam. of dial 13.5mm.
⁂ Xerox copies of Breguet’s records accompany this lot and state the watch was sold to Prince Demidoff in 1836 for F.5,500. The price makes an interesting comparison with the price of about F.3,500 for a Breguet Perpetuelle.
193 BREGUET No. 3964. A RARE SMALL GOLD AND SILVER CASED HALF QUARTER REPEATING PREMIERE CLASSE LEVER WATCH, the movement with five-wheel train fully jewelled, straight line lever escapement pierced escape wheel teeth, compensation balance with parachute suspension, spiral spring with terminal curve and regulator, silver engine turned dial with eccentric chapter ring with roman numerals subsidiary dial for the day of the week, aperture below in the outer zone for the date of the month, regulator to the right signed Breguet in an oval cartouche to the left, the case engine turned with repeating slide in the band and sliding cover for the hand setting, the winding aperture revealed by rotating the back stamped on the inside with the numbers B 3964 and the casemaker’s punch T 3954, with long chain and double ended key, 35mm diam.
194 BREGUET No. 3259. A VERY GOOD GOLD AND SILVER CASED PREMIERE CLASSE HALF QUARTER REPEATING LEVER WATCH, the Lepine calibre movement with five-wheel train fully jewelled, straight line lever escapement compensation balance with recessed screws, spiral steel spring with terminal curves, and regulator, parachute suspension, gold cuvette signed Breguet Horger. de la Marine Royale No. 3259 and with regulator aperture, jump hours, silver engine turned dial with eccentric chapter ring with roman numerals, subsidiary dial for seconds signed Breguet in an oval cartouche in the outer zone, the case engine turned, rubbed, the inside of the back with the numbers B 3259 and the casemaker’s punch T 3711 the repeating in the band of the case, with Breguet short chain and key, 47mm. diam., in fitted box with Breguet trade stamp and containing a certificate numbered 3099, a copy of the Notice No. 605.
⁂ Watches of this type represent the highest quality work by Breguet and the recessed balance is Breguet’s most expensive form.
195 BREGUET No. 452. A GOLD CASED TWO BARREL LEVER WATCH, the gilt movement fully jewelled, both barrels wound from a single female square, lever escapement with twenty-toothed wheel, long lever, compensation balance with recessed screws, spiral spring with terminal curves and regulator, signed Breguet 452, silver engine turned dial, eccentric chapter ring with roman numerals, aperture for the age and phase of the moon above, regulating sector to the left, oval cartouche signed Breguet 452 to the right the band and back of the case engine turned, winding and set-hands apertures revealed by rotating the back, with Breguet short chain and double ended gold hexagon key, 52mm. diam.
⁂ This watch is based on an ébauche from an earlier series of watches and was finished in the mid-19th Century. The present number is part of a later series. Such watches require the highest skill from the watchmaker and were Breguet’s most accurate watches for general use. The recessed compensation balance was Breguet’s most expensive type used only in the highest grade watches. For an example of a similar movement from this series see George Daniels, The Art of Breguet, London 1975, p. 283 fig. 356b.
SOTHEBY’S, Catalogue of Watches: The Belin Collection, Thursday, 29th November, 1979, at 11 am and 2.30 pm precisely, London: Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co. (1979). Illustrated catalogue in colour with a foreword by George Daniels. The catalogue lists seven pocket watches by Breguet.
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