A decade on: Marie Antoinette's fineries restored by Breguet

After ten years in darkness the legendary watch brand has completed it's overhaul of the Louvre's Royal Collection

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08 July 2014

Nearly ten years after its closure, the Louvre's 'Louis Rooms' finally opened their doors to the public in June, following the completion of a $30 million renovation project sponsored by Breguet. From Marie Antoinette's exquisite chocolatier, intricate tapestries, furniture and coffee cups to Louis XIV's travel trinkets and plethora of paintings, the 18th century decorative arts wing houses a huge number of precious articles belonging to the finest royal court in European history.

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The museum has been the official home to some Breguet originals since the 1800s and to celebrate the opening, 300 of Paris's cultural elite were invited to a gala dinner hosted by the Hayek family, who lead the Swatch group and hence also Breguet.

Breguet's relationship with the French aristocracy has a long and complex history. Born in Neuchâtel, Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet moved to Paris, and in 1783 was commissioned to build a watch for the then Queen of France Marie Antoinette. The timepiece would become one of the greatest horological masterpieces of all time, once called 'the Mona Lisa of the watch world,' despite it never actually reaching her wrist. It was not completed until 34 years after she was executed. The watch was to contain every watch function known at that time, including a clock, perpetual calendar, thermometer, chronograph, pare-chute and a chime.

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In the late 1980s, Breguet's late CEO Nicolas Hayek Sr became interested in the watch's history; it had been stolen from a museum in 1983. His passion to preserve the memory of Breguet's work for the French Aristocracy eventually led him to fund a renovation project at Versailles as well as the luxury watch company's patronage of the Louvre's Royal Collection.

After a decade in the dark the royal collection has been restored to its original beauty: rich coloured lounges are adorned with exceptional pieces of furniture in gilt and bronze, snuff boxes, jewellery, scientific instruments and porcelain dating from the reigns of Louis XIV to Louis XVI.

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Back in 2009, the watch brand and the Louvre held the exhibition 'Breguet and the Louvre, an Apogee of European Watchmaking,' featuring several historical Breguet timepieces from private collections and institutions such as the British and French Royal Collections, the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris, the Kremlin Museum and the Swiss National Museum.

Despite this it was not until 2014 that the partnership felt fully cemented, "I think everybody who is a little bit involved in the history of Breguet, in the history of the Louvre, knows that we are all sitting here because of one person: my father," said Swatch Group chair and daughter of Nicolas, Nayla Hayek. "I'm sure he's here with us, and I'm sure he's very proud of everybody who was involved in this project."