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Breguet No. 759. A very fine silver hump-backed carriage clock with perpetual calendar, moonphase, grande sonnerie striking and alarm, sold to Ettore Bugatti in 1931. In the original fitted box, with certificate No. 3278
The silver hump back case surmounted by the original chain link handle, over a repeat button and solid sides, the rear door opening with a secret screw system released only by the winding key, raised on button feet.
The silver engine turned dial with outer dotted minute band (with slightly larger to mark every five minutes) framing the Roman numerals and finely engine turned centre; just below XII sits the subsidiary dial for running seconds (marked in Arabic quarters and again with the dotted band) over an alarm-setting dial (titled on a gold plaque) at III; the moon's age given on a subsidiary dial at IX, via a gold and blued steel rolling moon disc set over an engraved cloudy sky. With fine blued steel hands throughout. All set within a finely engine turned gilt mask with two applied gold signature plaques Breguet and No. 759 above four rectangular apertures offering the day (in French), date, month and year.
The eight day movement wound through the rear panel (each winding aperture protected by a gilt ball stopper, one polished, the other matted joined by a gilt chain), with frosted gilt arched plates and highly polished steel work. A blued steel selection lever allows the owner to choose between full grande sonnerie striking (i.e. the hours and quarters announced on a pair of gongs every fifteen minutes); petite sonnerie (just each quarter announced every fifteen minutes) or silence. The quarters and hours struck on a pair of polished steel gongs, the alarm is struck on a third shaped steel gong. The escapement with fine quality cut and compensated bimetallic balance to a jewelled lever escapement. Ticking, striking and repeating. Together with the original fitted travel case with gilt-tooled edges and turnbuckle catches to the side, the front door with sliding cover that allows the dial to be either protected or revealed during transit; the interior fitted to accommodate the hand setting and winding key, the latter ingeniously mounted with a pair of steel pins in the handle to allow the rear door to be opened. 15.5cms (6.25ins) high. (4)
Originally sold to Ettore Bugatti on 30th May 1931.
Later sold back to Breguet and then sold by them to the vendor's grandfather on 30 December 1970. Thence by descent.
Ettore Bugatti (1881-1947) was one of those rare men in history who have an intuitive understanding of mechanics coupled with an innate sense of timeless design. Another was clock and watchmaker, Abraham Louis Breguet (1747-1823). Both created eponymous companies that were at the cutting edge of form and function in their respective worlds, their output revered centuries later, standing as relevant today as the day they were made.
Ettore was the first son of the celebrated furniture designer Carlo Bugatti (1856-1940). Carlo had come from a line of traditional cabinetmakers but was born with a uniquely creative bent, which he passed on to his children. He particularly wanted both sons to follow an artistic career, and Ettore's younger brother, Rembrandt, went on to become one of the finest sculptors of his day. Ettore's passion, however, lie with the machine. In 1898, against his father's wishes, he joined the engineering company, Prinetti & Stuchi, manufacturing sewing machines and the latest motor tricycles. As an unpaid apprentice he learned everything from the initial design process through to precision machining and foundry work. Ettore always credited this firm for his introduction to mechanics and his comprehensive understanding of the various manufacturing processes.
With this accumulated experience, Ettore designed and built his first car in 1900, aged just 19. He was becoming well known in the motoring world through his racing of motor tricycles. His first car caused considerable interest and was generally thought to be comparable to a Panhard, then considered the leading manufacturer of the day.
After working for other manufacturers over the following years, in 1909 Ettore took the inevitable step to establish his own factory, based at Molsheim in Alsace. Ettore owned the entire business. He never took a partner or set up a company of shareholders. His inventive talents embraced a wide mechanical world with seemingly endless designs for things as diverse as the hinges of the factory doors, the machinery, and his famous bench vices. Aswell as his car designs, he is also responsible for aeroplane engines, and both diesel- and steam-engines for locomotives, the latter being particularly influential, even to Nigel Gresley, designer of the A4 Atlantic. There were further ideas in the maritime world including motor torpedo boats, hydroplanes, and a multitude of innovations in yachting. He was a leviathan of the wider design world, his output ranging from bicycle seats, fishing reels, gloves, guns, glazing systems, nuts and bolts, pasta making machines, pumps, razors, seats, torpedos, tractors, water jackets and a multitude of other areas.
Ettore had an intuitive insight to mechanics, as well as that sense of a line or curve that defines the artist. All the drawings by his own hand were in soft pencil marked with his EB logo, these were then sent over to the drawing office to be interpreted by his draughtsmen. The sketches were accompanied with numerous annotations specifying materials, working methods etc. The draughtsmen carefully noted the date of the drawings because 'Le Patron' was forever introducing new modifications, finally searching for the scribbled response from him, "Excellent, definite".
Like all great innovators, Ettore always kept himself informed of the latest technology. His capacity for work was phenomenal, working at night, producing a never-ending avalanche of new ideas. Few in the world of Bugatti's stature created so much with so few engineers and draughtsmen. He relentlessly pushed boundaries and took risks. In a letter to his son, Jean in 1932 he says "I look deeply into the problem, the more I find that it is necessary to do something sensational and to bring out something entirely new – never look back, always following a well thought path, never tire."
It is now all too evident that Ettore had an interest in horology. In 1925 he commissioned the watchmaking company, Mido to produce a number of watches in the shape of the famous Bugatti radiator.
When Ettore needed instruments for his ultimate luxury motor car, the Royale, in 1928, he turned to the house of Breguet, a firm that echoed his own design and manufacturing philosophy. Although Abraham Louis Breguet had died in 1823, the relationship between the two was undoubtedly a meeting of remarkable minds.
Clock number 759, which took three years to make, was sold to Ettore Bugatti on 30 May 1931 for the sum of 60,000 Francs, roughly comparable to the price of a Type 46 Chassis. Likely purchased to celebrate his 50th birthday, this remarkable clock would have been his constant companion as he steered the company over the following years, making some of the most successful – and beautiful - racing cars of the 20th century.
Ettore Bugatti was born in Milan in 1881, the eldest son of Carlo Bugatti and Therèse Lorioli. Ettore's younger brother, Rembrandt, was born in 1884. Carlo's work ranged across a variety of mediums, including ceramic, wood, paint, and textiles. He eventually focused on furniture making, with some of his pieces winning awards at various expositions. At some point after Rembrandt's birth, the family relocated to Carlo's workshop in Paris. The children received the bulk of their education in Paris.
It has been suggested that Carlo's work shows an appreciation and delight in the natural world, indicating that Carlo was inspired by the organic forms and beauty nature produced. If this was the case, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Therèse was similarly inclined, and that the couple passed on this love of nature to their three children. The family maintained an open house in Milan and Paris, frequently entertaining artists and writers in their home. Apparently, Leo Tolstoy's visit to the family's Parisian home was one of the most memorable of such visits, leaving a lasting impression on all the family.
Rembrandt and purportedly Ettore were enrolled in art school in Paris, though there is some question as to whether Ettore was ever enrolled. Ettore later remarked that, as young children, Rembrandt had always wanted to manufacture locomotives, whereas he (Ettore) wanted to be a famous artist. Ettore described that, once Rembrandt showed such promise at art, particularly in sculpture, Ettore abandoned his artistic aspirations, remarking to his mother that there couldn't be two Bugatti artists in the same field.
What is definitely known, is that around 1895, Ettore tried a De Dion tricycle manufactured by Prinetti & Stucchi, and this set him on a different career to the rest of his family. Three years later, Ettore had returned to Milan to apprentice with Prinetti & Stucchi. During his apprenticeship, Ettore built and raced two-engine tricycles, apparently winning nine out of the ten races he entered at the time, only coming second once. His racing culminated in his winning the 1901 Grand Prix.
During holidays around this time, Ettore would visit his childhood friend, Barbara Mascherpa Bolzoni. Barbara was also born in 1881, into an aristocratic family. Barbara's mother was good friends with Ettore's mother, and it has been noted that, apparently, when both women were tired of looking after their own baby, they would occasionally swap babies for a bit, eventually returning them when the novelty wore off.
It seems that around 1901/1902 Ettore and Barbara began courting, though it is not clear when they were married. In 1902, Ettore moved from Milan to Niederbronn, to manufacture cars for the Swiss Baron Eugène de Dietrich's company, De Deitrich & Co. The car line was to be called De Dietrich-Bugatti, and the Baron and Ettore would share the sales rights to the cars, except for in Italy, where Ettore would maintain all the rights. The actual cars would be manufactured in Alsace-Lorraine, in a converted metallurgic factory, the oldest such factory in the region. This factory would become one of the world's first car factories.
He continued inventing at this time, and later claimed that, between 1905-1908 he had applied for and been granted more patents in Germany than anyone else. He also continued racing, using the cars he made for De Deitrich & Co. In 1902, he was mentioned in a race report, and it appears that this is the first time he is reported racing in a car that has his name on it. The following year, he attempted to enter the Paris-Madrid race with a specially designed car; the seat was set low and positioned over the rear axle. The car was refused authorisation on safety grounds and wasn't allowed in the race. The same year, 1903, the couple's oldest child, L'Ebé, was born.
In 1904, De Deitrich & Co. stopped manufacturing cars, and Ettore relied on making individual models for clients. By 1907, he had secured a job as Head of Production with Deutz Gas Engine Works, who were based in Cologne. Ettore, Barbara and L'Ebé moved to Cologne, where another child, Lydia, was born in 1907, followed by her brother Jean in 1909. As part of his contract with Deutz Gas Engine Works, Ettore was allowed to work on other commissions or side projects at his discretion. In 1909, one such side project became the first Pur-Sang model car he would make. In December of that year, he bought an old dye workshop in Molsheim and established Bugatti cars. In 1910, his family joined him in Molsheim, and a total of five cars were built that year, by the company's 20 employees. The following year the workforce swelled to 65, reaching 200 employees in 1913, and a total of 175 chassis being built for the year.
At the start of WWI, the factory was closed, and the family fled to Italy. Barbara brought 50,000 marks from her savings and a few jewels from her collection to support the family financially during the war. A month later, Ettore returned to the factory, buried three racing car engines he was developing, and returned to Milan with two other racing cars. It appears that some of Ettore's family joined them in Milan; in a letter to a friend in November 1914, Ettore mentions that Rembrandt was there and 'saw some terrible things in Antwerp'. This may be a reference to Antwerp Zoo euthanizing many of their animals at the start of the war. Rembrandt based many of his sculptures on these animals, and apparently went to the zoo quite often. This event is frequently cited as a contributing factor to Rembrandt's suicide two years later, in 1916.
During WWI, Ettore made many devices related to aircrafts, including several engines which were later used in airplanes for the war effort. At the end of the war, the family returned to Molsheim and Ettore was able to resurrect the three engines he buried, allowing them to be refined further. The factory officially reopened in January 1919. Throughout the 1920's, the family prospered, and Ettore was able to continue racing in his spare time and develop his lifelong love of horses. Ettore and Barbara maintained an open, convivial house as his parents had, encouraging artists and customers to visit. Barbara designed and commissioned much of the furniture in the house, streamlining and simplifying them to achieve maximum efficiency. As soon as he was old enough, the couple's son Jean began to personally test drive all the car models the workshop made, and was said to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bugatti catalogue. In 1922, Ettore and Barbara had another child, Roland, who would be the couple's youngest.
In 1931, Ettore turned his attention to rail locomotion. His models were bought by the French Railways, meaning he began to spend a lot of time in Paris, at a flat the family had there. While he was in Paris, Jean began to manage the daily running of the workshop. Deanice, Ettore's sister, died in Milan in 1932, followed three years later by Therèse, Ettore's mother. Ettore's parents had lived in Pierrefonds since 1910, with Carlo serving as the mayor of the town between 1914-1918. This double loss is cited as the reason Carlo moved to Molshein from Pierrefonds en Oise, to be closer to his last living child. Carlo died shortly after the move, in 1940. One of Carlo's specialties of furniture-making was to cover a wooden frame with decorated parchment. Interestingly, the chemical composition of the adhesive he used to attach the parchment was a closely guarded secret, apparently shared with only one person before his death, his granddaughter Lydia. Lydia was a prolific artist in her own right, employing several different mediums, from watercolours to bronzes. Her works seemed to deal mainly with the association between nature and machine; whether depicting a horse racing stretched, sleek cars and trains or boxy racing cars overlaid with the figures of haunted looking women. Lydia's art appeared to bridge her father's mechanical realm with the more natural, organic worlds inhabited by her grandfather and uncle.
By 1936, Ettore had all but handed the workshop and 1,500 workers over to Jean to run, while he spent almost all of his time in Paris. Jean seemed quite pleased with this arrangement, and continued to test every new model as it was finished. In 1939, Jean was killed when such a test went wrong. At the beginning of WWII, Ettore evacuated the factory to Bordeaux, though this was a temporary reprieve. When Germany invaded France, the Bugattis were forced to sell the factory for 150 million francs, almost half of what it had been valued at. Barbara died shortly before the end of the war, in 1944, though it appears she may have been ill for some time, at least since before Jean's death.
At the end of the war, Ettore petitioned the French government to return his factory to him and his family. There was reluctance on the part of the French government, citing the fact that Ettore was technically still an Italian, not French, citizen. In 1946, Ettore remarried, to Geneviève Delcuze/Deleuze, and in the same year took French citizenship. The couple had two children Thérèse and Michael. In 1947, Ettore fell ill and slipped into a coma. In June, his family had the ownership of the factory returned to them by the French government, though Ettore had already fallen into his coma by this point. He died on 21st August 1947.
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