Breguet Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection

Mark Bohannon

TimeZone recently joined a special tour of Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, hosted by Breguet, a major sponsor of the exhibition. Among our hosts were Charlotte Vignon, Associate Curator of Decorative Arts, and Michael Nelson, Breguet U.S. Brand Manager. After just over a year, and at least one extension, the exhibit is drawing to a close.

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Portico Gallery of The Frick Collection

Installation view, looking west at Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, now on view in the Portico Gallery of The Frick Collection, New York; photo: Michael Bodycomb

Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) was an industrialist, philanthropist, and art collector. He collected one of the greatest privately held art collections in existence. On his death, he left his home on 71st Street just off Fifth Avenue and Central Park in New York and his collection of paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts to the public “for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a gallery of art, [and] of encouraging and developing the study of fine arts and of advancing the general knowledge of kindred subjects.” The Frick Collection contains an amazing collection of works of by masters such as Renoir, Monet, Manet, Goya, El Greco, Turner, and Whistler, as well as French eighteenth-century furniture, Italian Renaissance bronzes, and Limoges enamels.

Winthrop Kellogg Edey (1937-1999), came from a wealthy family and developed a passion for, among other things, horology, Egyptology, and photography. From the age of 12, he collected timepieces, and perhaps most amazingly, kept detailed journals of his acquisitions. Over a period of close to five decades, he acquired, sold, and traded clocks and watches, until he finally held a small, but amazing collection of timepieces from 1500 to 1830. He consulted for, among others, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and The Time Museum, Rockford, IL. He was the author of two books on French clocks. On his death, he left his collection to the Frick, giving the Collection an exceptionally impressive set of privately owned timepieces.

During our tour, Charlotte discussed the evolution of timepieces from the Renaissance. The oldest clock in the collection dates from 1530 Aix-en-Provence, and was made by Pierre de Fobis.

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Pierre de Fobis, The Frick Collection

Pierre de Fobis (15061575), Gilt-Brass Table Clock, c. 1530, The Frick Collection, New York, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Michael Bodycomb

Germany, and especially Augsburg, went on to become an important center of clockmaking. This example is from approximately 1580, and is not attributed to a specific maker.

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Pierre de Fobis, Ausburg Tower Table Clock, The Frick Collection

Augsburg Maker, Gilt-Brass Tower Table Clock, c. 1580, The Frick Collection, New York, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Richard di Liberto

A later example, a true “masterpiece” signed by the master clock maker David Weber and made in approximately 1653, shows the highly decorative style popular in that period. The tower has two tiers and is almost two feet tall. It is topped by a female figure representing the Roman goddess Fortuna.

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, David Weber, Astronomical Table Clock, The Frick Collection

David Weber (active 1623/241704), Gilt-Brass and Silver Table Clock with Astronomical and Calendrical Dials, probably 1653, The Frick Collection, New York, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Michael Bodycomb

The exhibition continues through the development of the watch, made reliable when the balance spring was introduced in 1675. The exhibition includes some wonderful examples of early pocket watches.

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Henry Arlaud, Pierre Huaud, pendant watch, Winthrop Kellogg Edey, The Frick Collection

Henry Arlaud (16311689), enameling by Pierre Huaud II (1647c. 1698), Gold and Enamel Pendant Watch, c. 1685, The Frick Collection, New York, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Michael Bodycomb

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Chavannes le Jeune, Pierre Huaud, pendant watch, Winthrop Kelogg Edey, The Frick Collection

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Chavannes le Jeune (active c. 16501660), enameling attributed to Pierre Huaud (16121680), Gold and Enamel Pendant Watch, c. 1660, The Frick Collection, New York, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Richard di Liberto

The Edey collection contains three amazing examples of the work of Abraham-Louis Breguet and his son, Antoine-Louis Breguet. One of the most unique pieces is a “decimal clock”, dating to the French Revolution. This piece shows decimal time, which was decreed in 1793 and lasted 18 months, on one side and a standard 12 hour clock on the reverse. Decimal time divided time units into 10ths; a 10 hour day, 10 minutes in an hour, etc.

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Abraham-Louis Breguet, Breguet Frick Collection, Double-Dial Desk Watch Showing Decimal and Traditional Time, Winthrop Kellog Edey, The Frick Collection

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Abraham-Louis Breguet (17471823) and Antoine-Louis Breguet (17761858), Gold and Silver Double-Dial Desk Watch Showing Decimal and Traditional Time, c. 1795 after 1807, The Frick Collection, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Michael Bodycomb

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Abraham-Louis Breguet, Antoine-Louis Breguet, Breguet Frick Collection, Double-Dial Desk Watch Showing Decimal and Traditional Time, Winthrop Kellogg Edey, The Frick Collection

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Abraham-Louis Breguet (17471823) and Antoine-Louis Breguet (17761858), Gold and Silver Double-Dial Desk Watch Showing Decimal and Traditional Time, c. 1795 after 1807, The Frick Collection, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Michael Bodycomb

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Abraham-Louis Breguet, Antoine-Louis Breguet, Breguet Frick Collection, Double-Dial Desk Watch Showing Decimal and Traditional Time, Winthrop Kellogg Edey, The Frick Collection

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Abraham-Louis Breguet (17471823) and Antoine-Louis Breguet (17761858), Gold and Silver Double-Dial Desk Watch Showing Decimal and Traditional Time, c. 1795 after 1807, The Frick Collection, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Michael Bodycomb

Note the amazing simplicity of the movement. Minimalistic, undecorated, and effective!

Next is a gold pocket watch with tourbillon. Breguet’s invention of the tourbillon is well documented, and its original purpose was to improve the accuracy of the watch in varying positions.

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Abraham-Louis Breguet, Antoine-Louis Breguet, Breguet Frick Collection, Pocket Watch Tourbillon, Winthrop Kellogg Edey, The Frick Collection

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Abraham-Louis Breguet (17471823) and Antoine-Louis Breguet (17761858), Gold Pocket Watch with Tourbillon, c. 1820, The Frick Collection, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Michael Bodycomb

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Abraham-Louis Breguet, Antoine-Louis Breguet, Breguet Frick Collection, Pocket Watch Tourbillon, Winthrop Kellogg Edey, The Frick Collection

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Abraham-Louis Breguet (17471823) and Antoine-Louis Breguet (17761858), Gold Pocket Watch with Tourbillon, c. 1820, The Frick Collection, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Michael Bodycomb

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Abraham-Louis Breguet, Antoine-Louis Breguet, Breguet Frick Collection, Pocket Watch Tourbillon, Winthrop Kellogg Edey, The Frick Collection

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Abraham-Louis Breguet (17471823) and Antoine-Louis Breguet (17761858), Gold Pocket Watch with Tourbillon, c. 1820, The Frick Collection, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Michael Bodycomb

Again, notice the simplicity of the movement! This is a practical invention for the person who wants the most accurate timepiece available!

And finally, an amazing carriage clock made in about 1811.

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Abraham-Louis Breguet, Antoine-Louis Breguet, Breguet Frick Collection, Carriage Clock with Calendar, Winthrop Kellogg Edey, The Frick Collection

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Abraham-Louis Breguet (17471823) and Antoine-Louis Breguet (17761858), Gilt-Bronze Carriage Clock with Calendar, 1811, The Frick Collection, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Michael Bodycomb

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Abraham-Louis Breguet, Antoine-Louis Breguet, Breguet Frick Collection, Carriage Clock with Calendar, Winthrop Kellogg Edey, The Frick Collection

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Abraham-Louis Breguet (17471823) and Antoine-Louis Breguet (17761858), Gilt-Bronze Carriage Clock with Calendar, 1811, The Frick Collection, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Michael Bodycomb

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Abraham-Louis Breguet, Antoine-Louis Breguet, Breguet Frick Collection, Carriage Clock with Calendar, Winthrop Kellogg Edey, The Frick Collection

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Abraham-Louis Breguet (17471823) and Antoine-Louis Breguet (17761858), Gilt-Bronze Carriage Clock with Calendar, 1811, The Frick Collection, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey; photo: Michael Bodycomb

And, an amazing video showing the clock in action, from the Frick Collection.

Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, Abraham-Louis Breguet, Antoine-Louis Breguet, Breguet Frick Collection, Carriage Clock, Winthrop Kellogg Edey, The Frick Collection

Important watches and a carriage clock by Breguet, in Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, now on view in the Portico Gallery of The Frick Collection, New York; photo: Michael Bodycomb

All in all, an amazing opportunity to see an incredible collection, and thanks to Breguet and the Frick Collection, especially Michael Nelson of Breguet and Charlotte Vignon of the Frick for the opportunity to see this special exhibit and share it with the TimeZone community.

Installation view, looking east at Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, now on view in the Portico Gallery of The Frick Collection, New York; photo: Michael Bodycomb

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