‘The Grand Complication’ By Allen Kurzweil Delves Into The Mystery Of Breguet’s Marie Antoinette
For much of the world, summertime means vacation time. And that means digging into a good book.
If you’re looking for a fun work of fiction with a serious watch theme to take on your holidays, you might want to go for The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil.
To preface: Marie Antoinette never wore the famed Abraham-Louis Breguet Perpétuelle pocket watch. It was commissioned in her name and has been informally named for her, but bears the designation “Reference 160” in Breguet’s ledgers.
Unfortunately, the watch featuring every complication known to watchmaking at the time took decades to complete – decades that the ill-fated queen didn’t have.
The Marie Antoinette, however, has remained the stuff of legend. It was stolen from a museum in Jerusalem in 1983, where it had been quietly on display. It was the mysterious theft of Breguet’s most famous masterpiece, which was only recovered a few years ago, that prompted Kurzweil to literarily base a tongue-in-cheek novel on one fictitious librarian’s search for the famed pocket watch.
International scholar Kurzweil personally researched the circumstances of the legendary theft, with his website reporting that he “spent nearly five years crisscrossing Europe and the Middle East, interviewing detectives, curators, horologists, and watch dealers.”
His diligence paid off: The Grand Complication is a quick read, steeped not only in the legends of modern watchmaking, but also appealing to bibliophiles with its many references to literature and libraries.
Alexander Short, the main character, is an above-average librarian who takes his job very seriously. Approached one day by Henry James Jesson III, a collector of various objects wishing to complete his “case of curiosities,” Short is tossed into a whirlwind search for the stolen pocket watch.
This literary thriller not only features characters of unusual intelligence, but also a keen sense of appeal to those interested in horology.
Breguet’s most famous timepiece was only recovered some 20 years after it was stolen, after Swatch Group chairman Nicolas G. Hayek – Breguet’s modern parent company – had set his company about making a modern replica of the watch in 2005. This was known as Reference 1160 and was introduced at Baselworld 2008.