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Measuring time in crores

Have a few figures tailed by several zeros to spare? You could buy yourself a Breguet watch right here in Bangalore


WATCH OUT! From Breguet's special collection for women.

Do I dare or don't I dare? After much hesitation, I muster the courage to approach the brown leather case. Two black-clad men who flank the case seem to have eyes all the way to their toes. Inside the case on an off-white cushion lies the glittering little thing. Apparently on its own orbit, and yet keeping pace with my palpitating heart.

In one flash, I remember all the famous heist scenes I have ever watched — from our good old desi light-goes-out-and-diamond-goes-missing scenes to the angrezi ones riddled with laser beams and multi-tier alarm systems.

And just when I almost touch it, a man in white gloves warns: "Please don't touch it, madam." All the screen images crowding my mind melt away and I meekly return to my humble chair.

But to think I almost held an object worth (gulp!) Rs. 3.6 crores in my palm! Yes, I counted the zeroes right. The innocuous-looking pocket watch is part of the priceless Montres Breguet collection which does come with that many zeroes on the price tag. Not that it has a real price tag, considering that those who bother with frivolous details such as price tags obviously can't afford to buy it.

Prestige brand

At the premier of the Breguet collection in Bangalore — where the cynosure of all eyes was the Tourbillion Pocket Watch 1907 guarded by black-clad men — someone actually had the gumption to ask: what makes the little pocket watch worth that much money? Rodolphe Schulthess, Vice-President International Sales of the luxury brand of watches now opening shop in Bangalore, explained that it came with 40-odd jewels and is, of course, made in gold. It is entirely hand-made and by 12 teams of ultra-skilled craftsmen and engineers over a period of five years. And ahem... it's the kind of product the worth of which is not really equal to the gold it contains. "Breguet isn't a luxury product, it's a prestige product." As one horology expert puts it, Breguet is to watchmaking what Leonardo is to painting. And does anyone dare ask what "really" is the worth of an original Da Vinci?

And if you have any doubts about the prestige attached to this world's top brand, you just have to consider some of the personages whose wrists Breguet has adorned in its 200-odd years of history. Napoleon Bonaparte, Marie-Antoinette, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Tsar Alexander I, Winston Churchill...

The most colourful among the Breguet customers was the French queen Marie Antoinette (see box). A series of watches made by the founder of the company A.L. Breguet ticked on her fair wrist in the course of her short and tempestuous life, and the story goes that she had got a "relatively simple" one made even as she was counting her days in prison 1792.

In its special issue on Breguet in Watchtime, a special magazine on fine watches, Norma Buchanan tells the gripping Breguet story teeming with kings and queens and intrigues. The watchmaker, who was way ahead of the horologists of his time both in terms of his inventions and artistry, held "middle of the road" views on the French Revolution.

This Tourbillion pocket watch comes at a cool Rs. 3.6 crore apiece

So, when the monarchy fell, he was friends enough with Jacobins to survive. He served at "deposed royals and revolutionaries alike." But at the height of the battle between moderates and radicals, Breguet left Paris for Switzerland. The Breguet supporters in Paris finally brought him back to homeland arguing that he was an exemplary patriot and was the envy of their traditional rivals — the British.

Fascinating to think that you can actually view the Revolution through the small aperture of a watchmaker's life! But at the Breguet premier in Taj West End in Bangalore, someone chose to mix the impeccable imperial history with that of the "naked fakir" who had looked askance at the mighty imperial power: "Do you know that pocket watches are called Gandhi watches in India because he used them all the time?"

An embarrassed pause before Schulthess reply: "No, I didn't know that."

The pocket watch that Gandhiji wore on his khadi dhoti (come to think of it, a pretty incongruous combination!) served him well and he was known for his punctuality as he was for unwavering faith in truth and freedom. We sure have come quite a way since the days of the Father of the Nation, and you can now buy a Breguet in an outlet in Ethos Luxury Boutique in Shivajinagar, a locality once called Black Palli by imperial masters.

Urging you (more likely, the IT czars of the city) to head there, the glossy Breguet brochure says: "Applying techniques that pre-date machines, they work quickly and precisely to create instruments in harmony with the most demanding score of them all, the silent music of time."

It sure is a demanding score and it's demanding across the board. The Taj West End event started about 15 minutes behind schedule. One presumes the Rs. 3.6 crore jewel (do I dare call it a mere watch?) that I almost held in my palm would have counted every microsecond of that with absolute precision.

Watch, it's the costliest ever

When Marie-Antoinette was guillotined, A.L. Breguet was making her a watch that "incorporated every complication that was then in existence". It was commissioned by a noble, apparently her secret lover. The watch, completed years after her death, passed through many hands and finally reached a museum in Jerusalem. It was from here that it was stolen in 1983, never to be traced again. If it is ever recovered, this Breguet product would be worth over 11 million U.S. dollars — the costliest timepiece ever!


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