The Oudins, a watchmaking dynasty from the northeast of France, produced many very fine watch and clockmakers.
The first known horologist in the family was Jean Baptiste Oudin, who lived and worked in Sedan during the 18th century. He and his wife Marie Anne Arnould had two sons who also became watchmakers: Nicolas (? – after 1797; he married Marguerite Magisson), and Charles (1743- 1803; he married Claudette Pin et Vin).
Nicolas’s son Jean Charles Oudin, known as Charles Oudin (1768-1840), married Antoinette Leroy, who also came from the Leroy watchmaking dynasty. During the late 18th century he travelled to Paris, where he perfected his craft in the workshop of renowned watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet. Breguet held him in such high esteem that he asked him to run his workshop – an honour that Charles respectfully declined. Breguet gave him permission to call himself the “student of Breguet”, an honour he very rarely granted. That title – “élève de Breguet”- may be seen on several of his early watches and clocks.
In the final years of the 18th century, Charles Oudin went into business for himself. He opened a shop in Paris’s elegant Palais Royal. Charles Oudin continued in Breguet’s footsteps, producing watches of the highest technical and aesthetic quality. Among his clientele were many influential people – members of the aristocracy and royal families, the European elite, and connoisseurs of fine watchmaking. Charles Oudin and his wife Antoinette Leroy had a son, Charles Raymond, who took over his father’s business in 1836, and who died in 1867.
His cousin Joseph Oudin (1773- circa 1842), was the son of Charles Oudin (first generation) and Claudette Pin et Vin. He had also worked for Breguet during the late 18th century, and also received Breguet’s permission to call himself a “student of Breguet”. He married Anne Scholastique Rosalie Courtin, but the couple divorced in 1811. His successive addresses in Paris were 11, rue Vivienne, 25, rue Feydeau, and 28, rue Beaurepaire. Joseph Oudin, an excellent watchmaker, appears to have worked on his own – “en chambre” – and therefore produced fewer watches than his cousin Charles, who employed workmen and assistants. Joseph encountered financial difficulties, and around 1815 he left France for America, where he died.
CHARLES OUDIN AND PARIS
The Palais Royal was built in 1628 by King Louis XIII’s chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu, who used it as his personal residence; it was known as the “Palais Cardinal”. After Richelieu’s death in 1642 it became the property of the king and was called the “Palais Royal” (Royal Palace). It was a royal residence, where King Louis XIV lived as a child. In 1692 Louis XIV gave the property to his younger brother, the Duke d’Orléans.
The Boutiques of the Palais Royal
In 1780 Duke Louis-Philippe d’Orléans began transforming the Palais Royal, creating stately colonnades that housed cafés, restaurants, and luxury boutiques that were rented out by the Duke. As the property of the king’s younger brother, the Palais Royal was closed to the police, and therefore became a place where free speech – and free morals – flourished.
The Joyful Hours
People loved to stroll in the Palais Royal, to shop, dine, and enjoy the gardens, where a small solar cannon went off at noon on sunny days. The little cannon became a well-known landmark, with people coming at noon to watch the spectacle and set their watches. On its base was inscribed a Latin motto meaning “I only count the joyful hours” (“Horas non numero nisi serenas”). In the evening it was a favourite place for gambling and prostitution, which led the Abbot Delisle to quip: “In this garden, while morality is upset, watches, at least, may be set” (Si l’on y dérègle ses moeurs, au moins on y règle sa montre.)
The Changing Names of the Palais Royal
After the French Revolution did away with royal privilege, the Palais Royal was called the “Palais Egalité”, or “Palace of Equality”.From 1800 to 1807, it housed the overning assembly of the Consulate period (the Tribunat) and became known as the “Palais du Tribunat”.When the Bourbon monarchy came back into power in 1814, the Orléans family moved back in and the Palais Royal back its former name for a time. After the 1848 revolution, in which King Louis Philippe was deposed, the Palais Royal became property of the state and was briefly known as the “Palais National”.At the end of the 18th century, Charles Oudin opened his first boutique in this centre for luxury and opulence.
In 1875 a lavish new Opera house was inaugurated in Paris. Its architect, Charles Garnier, said “The quarter of the Opéra and Place Vendôme is a jewelry box, the Opéra is the jewel”. In order to link that jewel with the nearby Palais Royal and Louvre, a wide boulevard was created between 1876 and 1879: the Avenue de l’Opéra.
The Height of Fashion
The Opéra quarter quickly became the most fashionable part of Paris. The fine hotels, exclusive boutiques, and exciting nightlife, including evenings at the Opéra, drew countless visitors seeking out the finer things in life. In the late 19th century Charles Oudin left his original shop in the Palais Royal to settle in this new and elegant neighborhood. The vast and stately elegant Avenue de l’Opéra, with its beautiful new Opera House, quickly became the centre of Parisian fashion, luxury, and cultural life.
The Opera House
Inaugurated in 1858 by Emperor Napoleon III, the Opera House displays all the lavishness of a palace, with a façade featuring ten different types and colors of marble and adorned with monumental gilt statues of Poetry and Harmony, a majestic marble staircase, and an opulent Grand Foyer in the neo-Baroque style. Over the years the world’s most talented singers, conductors, directors, and musicians have performed here, and the most famous operas and ballets have been performed.
The Oudin Boutique
In 1899 the Charles Oudin/Charpentier boutique opened its doors at number 17, Avenue de l’Opéra. At the time the city’s most elegant ladies and gentlemen could be seen driving down the Avenue in grand horse-drawn carriages, and the most stylish dress designers and exclusive jewelers were all nearby.
Originally conceived as a tribute to the glory and splendour of King Louis XIV, the Place Vendôme is one of Paris’s most famous landmarks, as well as being one of the world’s most luxurious and elegant places. The Vendôme column, which stands in the centre of the square, was originally erected by Napoleon I.
During the late 19th century, the Place Vendôme became the place to go for exclusive luxury goods and fashion. In 1898 César Ritz opened his world famous hotel at 15, Place Vendôme; the hotel remains legendary to this day.
In 1858, Frederic Worth, whom many consider to be the inventor of haute couture, opened a shop at number 7, rue de la Paix. Along with the designers Doucet and Paquin, Worth dominated the world of fashion until the First World War. His success drew many other high-end tailors, dress designers, milliners, shoemakers, jewellers and perfumers to the neighbourhood, making it a major hub for style and elegance. Among the famous couturiers and designers who settled in or near the Place Vendôme were the celebrated Coco Chanel (rue Cambon), Elsa Schiaparelli (21 Place Vendome), Jeanne Lanvin (16, rue Boissy d’Anglas), and Louis Vuitton (23, rue des Capucines).
The exclusive jewellers in the area included the Meller family (Mellerio dits Meller); they were among the first jewellers to open in the rue de la Paix, which links the Place Vendôme and the Paris Opéra, in 1815. Boucheron, originally a neighbour of Charles Oudin in the Palais Royal, moved to 26 Place Vendôme in 1893. He was followed by many other jewellers: Louis François Cartier, who settled at number 13, rue de la Paix in 1899, Joseph Chaumet at 12, Place Vendôme in 1902, and Van Cleef and Arpels in 1906, at 22 Place Vendôme.
Today the tradition continues unabated: elegant ladies and gentlemen know the Place Vendôme offers high fashion, sumptuous jewellery, and exceptional watches like those of Charles Oudin.
From its beginnings, the Maison Charles Oudin has attracted influential clients, including royalty, aristocrats, and even the Pope.
In 1805 he supplied an “à tact” watch, indicating the time by tactile means, to Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife, the Empress Josephine.
In 1840, Queen Victoria of England was presented with a miniature watch made by Charles Oudin.
Around 1860, Charles Oudin began making pendant crucifix watches. Pius IX, who reigned as Pope from 1846 to 1878, appreciated this type of watch, which was purposely made to be simple and unembellished.
Many members of the royalty, including the Queen Isabella and King Francis of Spain; Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France; Russian Empress Maria Alexandrovna; Kings Vittorio Emmanuele II of Italy and King Otto of Greece, were clients of the firm. So were many members of the aristocracy, including d’Henri d’Artois, the Count de Chambord; Eugenio Emanuele de Savoie-Carignan, the Count de Villafranca; the Countess de Bastard; Polish nobleman Count Komar; Princess Dagmar of Denmark (later Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia); and Ottoman Egyptian Prince Mustafa Fazil Pasha.
Other famous people, such as Italian tenor Enrico Tamberlik, the toast of Europe from the 1850’s to the 1870’s, appreciated the watches of Charles Oudin.
Throughout his career, Oudin held many honorary titles, such as “Horloger de S.M. l’Impératrice” (Clockmaker to the Empress – i.e. Eugenie de Montijo, the wife of Emperor Napoleon III); Horloger de la Marine française (Official Clockmaker of the French Navy); and Clockmaker to the King and Queen of Spain (King consort Francis and Queen Isabella II).
These famous and influential clients all appreciated the superb quality, exceptional beauty, and technical precision of Charles Oudin watches.
EXCEPTIONAL WATCHES AND EXTRAORDINARY PIECES
Since it was founded in the late 18th century, the Maison Charles Oudin has created exquisite watches that are always at the height of fashion.
Charles Oudin has made watches for discerning ladies and gentlemen, providing them with the best quality and workmanship, using finely crafted precious metals and embellishing their timepieces with fine engraving, enamels, mother-of- pearl, and precious and semi-precious stones.
Charles Oudin watches have always been synonymous with style and elegance, and are all individually crafted, making each a unique piece. The Maison also specialized in the creation of one-of- a-kind pieces – exceptional watches and clocks, a singing bird box, and a wonderful automaton snuff box.
TECHNICAL AND PRECISION WATCHES
One of the finest watchmakers of his time, Charles Oudin perfected his craft in the workshop of the renowned clockmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet. Breguet regarded Oudin highly, and allowed him to advertise the fact he had studied with him – permission he granted only to Charles and his cousin Joseph. Thus, one may sees the designation “Charles Oudin, Elève de Breguet” (student of Breguet) engraved on several early Oudin watches.
Like his cousin Joseph Oudin, also a student of Breguet, Charles continued working in the Breguet tradition of excellence, producing top-quality, state-of-the- art timepieces incorporating the latest technical innovations. Among his fields of research were “souscription” watches, equation of time watches, “à tact” watches, that tell time based on touch, and self-winding watches.
Some of his most important technical achievements:
In 1806, he presented several pieces at the Paris Exhibition of the Products of French Industry, winning an Honorable Mention. These included a self-winding watch of a highly unusual, and probably unique, type. The entire movement oscillated within the case, to wind the spring. Oudin also presented a watch with phases of the moon and synodic months. That same year, he produced his first pendant-wound watch.
In 1819, he received a citation for an equation of time watch at the Paris Exhibition of the Products of French Industry.
In 1860, Charles Oudin made wandering hour watches, the earliest “world time” watches, a very early miniature watch (13 mm in diameter), and began producing very high quality and grand complication watches for the United States and South America.
In 1870, Oudin made an eight-day going keyless minute repeating “Grande and Petite Sonnerie” clock watch for the coronation of Henri-Charles Ferdinand, Comte de Chambord.
Charles Oudin created many fine clocks, which were both technically and aesthetically remarkable: carriage, or “officer’s” clocks, mantel clocks, regulators, astronomic clocks, marine chronometers, etc.
Some of these clocks featured “grande sonnerie” striking, in which every quarter hour the quarters are struck on one gong, and then the number of hours are sounded on a second gong. In a “petite sonnerie” clock, the hours are struck on the hour and the quarters on the quarter.
In the catalogue produced for the 1862 Universal Exhibition in London, the Oudin-Charpentier firm published the following description of a clock with a transparent rock crystal dial (pictured in this section), citing one of the Maison’s highly skilled workmen, Monsieur Rozé: “The dial … is made of crystal, leaving the tempered steel works visible. This had been tried many times unsuccessfully, but by employing the tempering procedure of M. Rozé the younger, I was able to achieve these results easily.”
In the same catalogue, Oudin-Charpentier mentions the “Pendules Duchesse”, whose elegant cases were reminiscent of the Louis XV style, and which were created due to a request by the Grand Duchess of Russia.
The 1862 catalogue also mentions a curiosity: “photographic” clocks that marked the half seconds, to aid practitioners of the new art of photography, who manipulated chemicals and needed to precisely measure small increments of time.
THE FIRST WRISTWATCHES
While today wristwatches are everyday objects, this was not always the case. During the 18th and 19th centuries watches were either carried in the pocket or worn on chains, at the waist or around the neck.
It was not until the late 19th century that wristwatches began to be worn. It seems they were first used by soldiers, who strapped their watches to their arms for the sake of convenience. It is easier to glance at a watch worn on your wrist than to have to search for it in your pocket, especially when time is of the essence – for example, on the battlefield.
In the 20th century, new forms of travel and transportation, as well as the growing popularity of sports, helped to promote the wristwatch. Pilots, sportsmen, racing car drivers, and other athletes, all found it much more practical to wear a timepiece on their wrists.
So in the 1920’s, when the Maison Charles Oudin created their first line of wristwatches, they became a trendsetter. These timepieces, designed to please the elegant ladies and gentlemen of the “roaring twenties” – the “années folles” in French – were exquisite and stylish fashion accessories, whose streamlined cases were often embellished by precious stones.
Contemporary Charles Oudin watches reflect this long and rich heritage. Often inspired by the designs of the past, they are precious accessories directly inspired by traditional Parisian fashion and design, and in particular, by these early Charles Oudin creations. They enhance their wearers’ femininity, while remaining beautiful, precise, reliable, and hardworking. Like the women of the 21st century.