It was a mix of history and modernity at the reopening of the redesigned Breguet boutique in Beverly Hills on Thursday.
The luxury watch line -- which dates back to 1775 and has counted royal figures such as Louis XVI, his wife Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Talleyrand, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Tsar Alexander among its clients -- first opened its Rodeo Drive boutique in 2006.
But its months-long remodel reveals an open, contemporary feel retaining a royal aura with blue and gold trim, decorative frosted glass enhanced by guilloche designs, which were introduced to the brand's watch dials by creator and innovator A.L. Breguet (1747-1823), one of history's great horologists.
Guests -- who included actress Michelle Krusiec and Fox 11's Susan Hirasuna -- sipped champagne on the cobblestone street at Via Rodeo, listening to a musical troupe called String Theory, who features invented instruments and sonic sculpture in their performances. The medieval-inflected music featured a tribal beat and a giant harp, played by one of the group's founders, Holly Rothschild, with strings that soared through the darkness to an attachment on a nearby rooftop.
The evening's big treat for watch collectors was a close-up look at the original watchmaker Breguet's work in a collection entitled "Breguet: The Innovator, Inventor of the Tourbillon." One of his many achievements was creating what is believed to be the first wristwatch ever made. (The watch was made for Caroline Murat, the queen of Naples in 1812.) Breguet also created the first tourbillon watch, with a unique mechanism to counteract the effects of gravity on timekeeping.
Several guests were enthralled by horological history lessons extracted from Rodolph M. Schulthess, Breguet's vp international sales. His tales included the fact that Marie Antoinette never got a chance to wear a watch specially designed for her by Breguet. Before it was completed, she lost (literally) her head to a guillotine. Her watch was later stolen from a Jerusalem museum in 1983 but was eventually recovered in 2007, after the thief's wife found the treasure hidden among her late husband's possessions.
Also on view: the 1812 Tourbillon repeater chronometer, antique tourbillon movements, a rare tourbillon pocket watch and an ultrathin tourbillon just introduced this year.
The collection has finished its global tour and will be on display at the 280 N. Rodeo Drive boutique through Saturday, Oct. 19, before hitting Breguet boutiques in Chicago and New York.
Avid collectors or mere amateur admirers, be not dissuaded by all the royal customers. Today, Breguet watch prices actually start at a modest $18.000 -- though some special pieces in its collection can soar to three quarters of a million.