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Marie Antoinette's watch had something the Apple Watch doesn't

The exterior of the perpetuelle watch.
The exterior of the perpetuelle watch.
The British Museum

Back in 2014, lots of tech-watchers were hoping the much-hyped Apple Watch would feature kinetic charging. The idea is that the movements of the wearer would charge the watch's battery.

Unfortunately, the Apple Watch — out today — has no such thing, and the watch will have to be charged overnight. But kinetic charging wasn't a totally unrealistic dream. Seiko already has a line of kinetic watches, and Apple filed a patent for a kinetically charged device in 2009.

In fact, watches that charge themselves actually go back more than 200 years.

A watchmaking genius built self-winding watches in the 1780s

The interior of the perpetuelle watch.

The interior of the perpetuelle watch. (The British Museum)

Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the first wristwatch in 1810 and designed watches for Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, and other royal clients. But one of his most striking creations was this pocket watch, created in 1787 in Paris, that included an automatic winding system called a "perpetuelle."

Inside the watch, a silver-filled platinum weight would wind the watch, driven by the constant movement of the wearer. It was an incredible innovation, and Breguet's fanboys were just as fanatical as Apple fans are about the Apple Watch today. People gathered in crowds to see the self-winding watch when it was put on display, and Marie Antoinette was the first person to order one. The watch had other bells and whistles, too, like an alarm that sounded every hour and quarter hour, and a dial that showed the state of the watch's "charge."

Breguet died in 1825, but his name lived on through his company. And in 1835, that company built another watch based on its founder's idea. It might sound familiar: it was a pocket watch that could "dock" in a larger clock and "charge" overnight.

It's probably unfair to compare the perpetuelle to the Apple Watch — only one of them has to send stock updates. Still, at least Jony Ive has a resource when brainstorming his company's next watch. Maybe he'll catch up.

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