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Vintage & Auctions

Hands-On with the Replica Breguet N° 765 Pocket Watch Made for The Darkest Hour

With the Oscars right around the corner, our resident historian goes in-depth with the Breguet commissioned replica to Sir Winston Churchill’s pocket watch.

By Jérôme Meier
Special Guest Contributor

On January 7, Gary Oldman won the first Golden Globe of his career in the category of “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama,” for his portrayal as Sir Winston Churchill in “The Darkest Hour”.
 

If the jury was dazzled by the realism of the film, it is without a doubt thanks to Oldman’s exceptional performance and the remarkable effort of the make-up department. However, the incarnation of Britain's wartime leader wouldn’t have been as impactful without his costumes and accessories, such as his hat, his bow tie or – his pocket watch that he wore almost every day. The man who was always late but hated wasting time, wore a Grande Complication pocket watch signed Breguet.
 

The original watch, bearing N° 765 and affectionately known as “the turnip”, was commissioned in 1890 by John Spencer-Churchill, the 7th Duke of Marlborough and later bequeathed to Sir Winston Churchill. It resides permanently at The Churchill War Rooms within the Imperial War Museum in London.

The Original N° 765

From the outside, the yellow gold pocket watch has an array of complications. Its minute repeater and split-seconds chronograph functions are packaged neatly inside an open-face case. The case back is adorned with a radiant guilloché pattern and engraved Arms of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. The repeater slide and the split-seconds push-piece are positioned on the left side of the case band whereas the chronograph function is activated by pressing the winding crown. The white enamel dial with black Arabic numerals displays the small seconds and a 60-minute register, respectively at 6 and 12 o’clock positions, while the double minute track gives the two counterpoised chronograph hands a precision up to the 5th of a second. The opening of the double case-back reveals the complexity and the beauty of the movement, with a set of hammers and gongs generating the striking sound of the repeater and the delicate splits-seconds mechanism located on the bridge side, the hand-finished steel components contrast with the gilt brass main plate and bridges.
 

Hands-on with the Replica N° 765

To help complete the actor’s portrayal of the legendary British Prime Minister, Breguet’s workshop created a replica of the iconic pocket watch to be used in the film. This replica, at least at first sight, looks very similar to the original watch owned by Churchill, and duly fulfills its function in the movie. The proportions and color of the case along with the style of the enamel dial and hands are noticeably alike.
 

Upon closer inspection, without considering that the replica has no movement (re-creating the minute repeater and split-seconds chronograph wouldn’t have made sense for the film), several features are significantly different. Aesthetically, what immediately strikes me is the lack of slide-piece on the case band for the repeater. No push-piece for the chronograph and split-seconds functions either, as the tiny button at 11 certainly is the corrector for the time adjustment. Notably, the split-seconds hand is missing.
 

Regarding the overall style, the winding crown and the ring don’t hold the same dimensions of the late 19th century pendant shape found on the original piece. And there is no doubt that the stylized signature on the dial is due to the fact that Breguet wanted the watch to be identifiable without the need of opening it.
 

One can easily understand that a part-for-part 100% identical replica had no meaning for the sole purposes of a movie. However, Breguet was able to capture the essence of the original timepiece. That said, the watch remains a thoroughly made object with a significant historical value.
 

Summary

Outside of the film, the watch is going on tour around the US. It will be exhibited from January 22 to March 15, in New York, Las Vegas and Beverly Hills Breguet boutiques.
 

In a few days, on March 4, at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, Gary Oldman may well reaffirm his achievement in playing Mr. Churchill by possibly receiving the coveted Oscar reward in the category of “Best Actor in a Leading Role”. Let’s hope Jacqueline Durran, the costume designer of the film, is honored for her meticulous work. Despite a few aesthetical divergences between Winston Churchill’s watch and its replica, and a half-century after Churchill’s death, the craftsmanship of Breguet remains remarkable.

(Photography by Liam O’Donnell)

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