The Duc d'Orléans Breguet Sympathique
LOT SOLD. 6,802,500 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)
The Duc d'Orléans Breguet Sympathique
LOT SOLD. 6,802,500 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)

Details & Cataloguing

Important Watches & Clocks

New York

The Duc d'Orléans Breguet Sympathique


Ferdinand Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, then by descent in his family

Time Museum, Rockford Illinois, Inv. no. 355- 1974-1999

Sotheby’s New York, Masterpieces from the Time Museum, lot 22, December 2nd, 1999

Private Collection


Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie, Paris, 1839.

The Time Museum, Rockford, Illinois, 1974-1999.

The Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva, 2001 - 2005.


Atwood, S.G. & Andrewes, W., The Time Museum: An Introduction, Rockford, 1983, pp. 21.

Brusa,G., L’Arte Dell’Orologeria in Europa, Bramante, 1978, figs. 783-4.

Daniels, G., The Art of Breguet, London, 1975, pp. 289-291, 356-360. 

Dion, A., “Un Age d’Or des Arts Décoratifs: 1814-1848”, Dossier De L’Art, December 1991- January 1992, Paris: Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, pp. 339, fig. 2.

Dion, A., “Le Duc d’Orléans: Mècène Prestigiuex et Novateur”, Dossier de l’ Art 5, December 1991-January 1992, pp. 43.

Dion-Tenenbaum, A., “Le Sanctuaire du Pavillon de Marsan”, Le Mécénat du Duc D’Orléans, 1830-42. Hervé Robert, ed. Délégation à l’Action Artistique de la Ville de Paris, 1993, p. 78, fig. 82, p. 85.

Catalogue Note


BREGUET, NOS.128 AND 5009, DATED 1835


No other horological invention has been as consistently associated with the palaces and grand houses of the European Royalty and aristocracy as the Breguet Sympathique. The present example, named “the Duc d’Orléans” after its patron, has the most complex Sympathique mechanism of all the known examples. The complexity of the mechanism is only rivalled by the clock’s sumptuous case. The d’Orléans is the only Sympathique known to wind, set to time and regulate its watch via the integrated cradle mounted on the clock’s pediment.

Originally commissioned by the Duc d’Orléans for his Parisian home the Pavillon de Marsan, nearly a century later the clock found its way into one of the world’s most important horological museums, the Time Museum of Rockford, Illinois. The clock remained on display at the museum until 1999 when it was sold to a private collector at the ground-breaking Sotheby’s auction “Masterpieces from the Time Museum.” Following its sale at auction, the clock was displayed at the Patek Philippe Museum, from 2001 until 2005.

The Duc d’Orléans Sympathique exemplifies Breguet’s genius and demonstrates what can be achieved when the vision of patron, designer, artisan, and horologist seamlessly fuse with one another to create a true work of art. Breguet’s horological genius and the Duc d’Orléans’ remarkable eye resulted in the clock’s creation, expressed through his talented designer, Charles Auguste Questel (1807-1888), bronzier, Guillaume Denière, and ébéntiste, Louis Alexandre Bellangé.

The Clock

Five-inch dial with enamel chapters and outer silver rings, signed Breguet MDCC-CXXXV, two train square plated movement signed Breguet No. 128, with eight-day Graham-type deadbeat escapement, the escape wheel teeth pierced for oil retention, jeweled pallets and beat adjustment on the crutch, quarter striking on two bells with cadrature mounted on the backplate, a tandem wheel on the striking barrel drives a separate train for winding the watch, the gridiron pendulum with gilt lenticular bob insert with an inlaid silver center, the Sympathique mechanism with three control wires rising above to the watch holder, the richly decorated case veneered overall with red tortoiseshell inlaid with gilt-brass and pewter scrolls, strap work and cornucopia, the watch holder set on the “tiled” cresting above lion masks holding a garland of fruit, the angled corners with studious winged putti finials above a satyr mask and shell frieze, the angled corners with Corinthian-capped pilasters inhabited by musical putti, the slightly out-swept base with decorated moldings and raised on gadrooned feet, the sides and back inlaid with the Duc d’Orléans’ cypher surmounted by a crown, the glazed front door bordered with ormolu roundels depicting the signs of the Zodiac. 

height 23 in (59.1 cm)

The Watch

No. 5009, with silvered dial signed Breguet, finely engraved foliate center with sectors for state of wind and regulation, the movement with lever escapement, half-quarter repeating on a single gong, two-armed compensation balance with parachute suspension and spiral steel spring with terminal curve, the gold engine-turned case with concealed winding and setting in the band, with a gilt roundel applied with the Duc’s cypher to occupy the vacant watch aperture during the day, gold Breguet ratchet key for the watch.

diameter 2.24 in (57.1 mm)

The Breguet Certificate

Accompanied by a facsimile of Breguet certificate no. 4182 dated September 13, 1999, and Breguet certificate no. 4383 dated October 24, 2012, recording the sale on July 16th, 1836 to “Son Altesse Royale le Duc d’Orléans le No. 128 ‘Pendule Sympathique à quantieme de mois remontant et remettant la montre à l’heure quelque distance que celle-ci soit de la pendule; blanc commencement d’ouvrage: Winnerl; blanc finissage cadratures mécanise de remontoire, roué de quantieme; Charles Couëte, echappement et ouvrage: D. Lebrun.’ Avec le No. 5009 chronomètre d’or, repetition au demi-quarts, cadran argent avec indicateurs de reserve de marche et d’avance-retard; echappement à ancre, balancier compensateur. Pour le prix de 10,000 Fr.”

The Patron

Ferdinand-Philippe, Duc d’Orléans (1810-1842)

Ferdinand-Philippe, Duc d’Orléans was born in Palermo in 1810. The eldest son of Louis Philippe and Marie Amélie, Princess of the Two Sicilies, Ferdinand-Philippe assumed the title of Duc d’Orléans in 1830 when his father became King of France. In 1837, he married Hélène Louis Elisabeth of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1814-1858) with whom he had two sons, the Comte de Paris and the Duc de Chârtres. The Duc d’Orléans was well-educated, with a distinguished military career and a clear passion for the arts. He regularly spent more than one-tenth of his annual one million franc income on art and cultural patronage. He had broad collecting interests, which ranged from medieval works of art to Chinese porcelain and furniture. Each piece in his collection was of the highest quality. He was passionate about contemporary painting, favoring the Barbizon school in particular. His collection boasted landscapes by Camille Corot and Theodore Rousseau, as well as paintings by Eugène Delacroix. In addition, the Duc commissioned Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres to paint the work, Antiochus and Stratonice and his own portrait in 1840. 

In 1832, the Duc d’Orléans began to redecorate his Parisian apartments at the Pavillon de Marsan surrounding the Louvre. Ferdinand-Philippe’s financial wealth was such that he was able to employ the finest architects and craftsmen. The Duc was a young man of 22 when he appointed his contemporary Charles-Auguste Questel (1807-1888) as architect for his apartments. Questel demonstrated precocious talent, and the Duc was eager to patronize his artistic efforts. Questel went on to design the extraordinary case of the present lot while still in his twenties.

Ferdinand-Philippe, the Duc d’Orléans died in a tragic carriage accident in 1842 at the young age of 32 whilst on his way to a military review in the countryside. Historians often consider Ferdinand-Philippe to have been the glue that held the July Monarchy together. His father, Louis-Philippe, was so distraught by the sudden loss that the event may have been a significant factor in the fall of the monarchy in 1848.

The Commission

In commissioning his Sympathique, the Duc d’Orléans sought to combine the latest horological technologies with a decorative design that would befit the sumptuous aesthetic of his royal apartments in the Pavillon de Marsan. Unsurprisingly, the Duc was no stranger to the House of Breguet. The d’Orléans family had been faithful patrons of Breguet since the horologist’s beginnings in 1775. Ferdinand-Philippe’s grandfather, Louis Philippe II, purchased one of Breguet’s first self-winding watches called the perpetuelle in 1780. Breguet had long been established as the preferred watch and clock maker for the French Royal family, including Marie Antoinette, as well as many other European monarchs and nobility. Therefore, it was fitting for Ferdinand-Philippe to continue his family tradition by commissioning Breguet to make the technologically advanced Sympathique.

It was essential that the design of the clock case complement the interior of the newly-decorated apartment at the Pavillon de Marsan. As Anne Dion Tennenbaum, Chief Curator of the Department of Decorative Arts at the Louvre in Paris, notes, Questel was the ideal candidate for the clock case’s design. Questel hired bronzier, Guillaume Denière and ébéniste, Louis-Alexandre Bellangé to complete the execution of the case. According to Anne Dion Tennenbaum, it appears that the clock was later chosen by Dernière to be exhibited at the 1839 Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie in Paris.  

The Innovation of the Sympathique

During the French Revolution, Abraham-Louis Breguet returned from exile to Switzerland where he conceived the ingenious idea of the Sympathique.  The Sympathique was primarily designed to demonstrate Breguet’s craftsmanship and capabilities, and to further enhance his reputation as the most distinguished and innovative horologist of his time. In a letter to his son dated June 26th, 1795, he wrote:

“I have great pleasure my friend, in telling you that I have made a very important invention, but about which you must be very discreet, even about the idea. I have invented a means of setting a watch to time, and regulating it, without anyone having to do it… Then every night on going to bed, you put the watch into the clock. In the morning, or one hour later, it will be exactly to time with the clock. It is not even necessary to open the watch.  I expect from this, the greatest promotion of our fame and fortune.”

Three types of Sympathiques were manufactured over the following twenty-five years.  The earliest known Sympathique was made in 1812 by Louis Rabi, one of Breguet’s most adept pupils, and featured the rewinding mechanism. However, the majority of the clocks are dated after Breguet’s death in 1823. Due to the exorbitant cost of these masterpieces, many were sold to European Royalty.

 The Sympathique Mechanism

 In The Art of Breguet (p. 90), Dr. George Daniels writes of the Duc d’Orléans Sympathique:

The technical development of the mechanism of this example is… remarkably advanced… and may be regarded as the complete mechanical solution to Breguet’s self-imposed problem of maintaining a watch without touching it… To have the watch set and wound it is necessary only to put it in the cradle and at three o’clock in the morning [the watch] will be set and… fully wound.”

 The complexity of the Sympathique mechanism was such that construction could take up to 20 years to complete. Although the Duc d’Orléans Sympathique is numbered as part of a series that began ten years after Abraham Louis Breguet’s death in 1823, the watch itself belongs to a series that began in 1794. And though the sale of the d’Orléans Sympathique was in 1836, thirteen years after Breguet’s death, it is likely that Breguet was the mastermind behind its conception due to the amount of time it took to complete his most complicated pieces. Indeed, the present lot has all the characteristics of Breguet’s horological philosophy. Dr. Daniels wonderfully sums up the Sympathique thus:

“The Sympathique is an ingenious and amusing toy such as only Breguet could conceive. Certainly no one but Breguet could have produced them, for they need the most skillful workmen to make them and the financial burden would have been considerable. They can hardly be described as useful or necessary, but great artists are not always motivated by such considerations. Sometimes fine work is done just for its own sake, or because it contains a challenge undertaken and overcome, or perhaps simply because it is amusing and demonstrates a remarkable talent in full flight of fancy.

The Sympathique is a jewel of misplaced ingenuity in a forest of scientific horological endeavors and their very existence is sufficient reason for their manufacture for they never cease to amaze and mystify… The mechanism is thoroughly ingenious and fascinating to watch in action.  It can hardly be justified on practical grounds, for a watch with lever escapement and compensation balance will run accurately and not need regulating and setting each day… Such considerations however, were of little consequence to Breguet who simply wished to demonstrate his extraordinary ability as the supreme mechanic.”

Excerpted and reprinted with the kind permission of Daniels London Ltd., from The Art of Breguet, London, 1974, pp. 91.

Dr. Daniels was especially mesmerized by the action of the d’Orléans time-setting mechanism, noting on page 91 of his book that “the [watch’s] hand setting mechanism is fascinating to watch and quite startling to the uninitiated for… [at the allotted hour, if necessary] the hands will cross paths as the hour hand turns forward to three and the minute hand turns backwards to twelve.”

For a full description, including Dr. Daniels’ technical drawings explaining the function and action of the Sympathique mechanism, see The Art of Breguet, pp. 356-360.

Dr. George Daniels, MBE, CBE and the Breguet Sympathique no. 128

The celebrated horologist, master watchmaker, and Breguet scholar, Dr. George Daniels (1925-2011), was responsible for bringing the present lot, Sympathique no. 128, and its companion watch no. 5009, back to life. Seth G. Atwood (1917- 2010), the American collector and founder of the Time Museum in Rockford, Illinois, enlisted Dr. Daniels in 1974 to help him find one of the rare Sympathiques for his museum.

Dr. Daniels and Mr. Atwood first met in 1974. Atwood, already a well-known horological collector, was on a mission to expand the Time Museum’s collection. He and Will Andrewes, the museum’s curator at the time, drew up a list of “must have pieces.” In the Sotheby’s New York auction, the “Fine Watches from the Atwood Collection”, December 11th, 1986 catalogue, Dr. Daniels wrote of Mr. Atwood:

His method was to approach every known and established horologist whatever their specialty and describe the pieces he wanted in order to build a complete picture of the development of the timekeeper… Nothing but the best would do and everything contributory, especially unique and extremely rare pieces, were sought.” 

The Time Museum was considered the most important horological collection in the world until it closed in March 1999. Its contents were sold by Sotheby’s between 1999 and 2004. The initial sale on December 2nd, 1999 included the Sympathique no. 128.

Locating a Breguet Sympathique was not an easy feat, given that all known examples were already held by institutions. Dr. Daniels wrote in his autobiography All in Good Time (2006):

"I had located the piece in Paris through a French Antique dealer in 1974. The whole self -winding mechanism was missing, probably because, as so often happens with complex mechanisms, a repairer couldn’t reassemble it properly. But only a half dozen or so Sympathiques were ever made, so Atwood was pleased to be able to purchase it. My task was to replace the whole of the mechanism while filling all vacant holes and without making any new ones. At that time, I was filled with a passionate love for Breguet’s work and was at the peak of my understanding of his philosophy. The work presented no difficulty and was tremendously enjoyable."

The restoration performed on the Sympathique is historic given that Dr. Daniels, considered the ‘modern day Breguet’ by virtue of his horological genius, had carried out the work. It is also significant that Dr. Daniels carried out the work for horological patron, Seth Atwood, who was instrumental in the early development of Dr. Daniels’ crowning achievement, the invention of the Co-Axial Escapement.  

Dr. Daniels published The Art of Breguet in 1975. The monograph on Breguet’s work was the result of a cumulative 15 years of study, thousands of miles traveled with camera and tripod, numerous collectors met, and hundreds of Breguet watches examined and photographed.

In the preface, Dr. Daniels describes the role that restoring Breguet watches and clocks played in his own development as a horologist. He writes, “I began to specialize in the restoration of Breguet’s work with a view of making a detailed study.” Indeed, Dr. Daniels’ mastery of the most complicated technical elements is made evident in his thorough and academic description and illustrations of the d’Orléans Sympathique.

Dr. Daniels’ interest in Breguet began in earnest following his restoration of a complicated Breguet pocket watch for his mentor and friend, Cecil Clutton, with whom he co-authored his first book in 1965 titled, Watches. In 1964, Daniels accompanied Clutton to Paris to research the newly restored watch in the Breguet record books. Dr. Daniels was then introduced to George Brown, then the owner of the Breguet firm. Mr. Brown and Dr. Daniels forged a lasting friendship, which provided Dr. Daniels with unparalleled access to the extensive Breguet archives. Dr. Daniels wrote in his book that “this information was important to [his] personal Breguet records in that it helped to give perspective to Breguet’s system of manufacture.”

In 1967, Mr. Brown conferred upon Dr. Daniels the title of Agent de Breguet à Paris for London, a significant posting that had been vacant in London since 1920. Amongst Dr. Daniels’ earliest works were two replicas of Breguet’s Three Wheel Skeleton clock. Brown, excited by the quality of Dr. Daniel’s work, insisted that the two pieces be entered into the record books of Breguet, assigned a Breguet number and given Breguet certificates. Dr. Daniels retained one of the two Three Wheel Skeleton clocks until his passing in 2011. The clock was eventually sold in the Sotheby’s London sale of the “George Daniels Horological Collection”, November 6th, 2012, lot 3.

Known Sympathiques

Approximately 12 Sympathiques are known at this time. Of the existing Sympathique clocks, three were made for the Spanish Crown; four were made for the Russian Crown; one was commissioned by Napoleon as a state gift for the Turkish Sultan, Mahmut II; and one was made for the British King George IV at the time of his Regency. Of the entire group, eight are retained by national museums. Only four have been offered at public auction, one of which is now in the Beyer Clock and Watch Museum in Zurich. The others, including the present lot, were purchased by private collectors. Of the known clocks, few have remained in their original state and some no longer possess their original watches.

In researching his 1982 article in Alte Uhren, Helmut Mann accounted for ten clocks, and published their dates of manufacture and buyers. (Mann, H. “Breguet Pendule Sympathique”, Alte Uhren, July 3rd, 1982, pp. 177-184). Following the publication of this article, an additional two Sympathique clocks were discovered. The first was clock no. 257, made for Francis Barring, currently in a private collection. The second was clock no. 421, made for Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain, for 6,000 Francs and constructed between 1795 and 1808. However, it is not confirmed that clock no. 421 was sold with a watch, despite the fact that one was recorded in Breguet’s books. It was sold in 1994 and is now in the collection of the Beyer Museum, Zurich. The final Sympathique clock, No. 222, was made for Grand Duke Constantine Nicholaievich (missing its original watch), was sold at Sotheby’s, Geneva, November 18, 1997, lot 257.

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