Breguet is an ultra-high-end prestige brand of the Swatch Group, and has left a considerable imprint on the watchmaker’s art.
The company takes its name from its founder, the legendary watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet.
Although he was Swiss, he and his company participated in many significant periods of French history.
It is commonplace indeed to hear of a watch with Breguet hands, a Spiral Breguet, or a tourbillon.
All three of these originate with this greatly respected watchmaking house.
This article provides a concise primer on the long and rich history of this luxury watch brand.
"A legendary manufacture!" Breguet's watches live up to the incredible standard set by their founder.
The brand’s watches typically have complications, such as alarms, perpetual calendars, moon phase indicators, flyback chronograph functions, and others.
Because the founder invented the tourbillon, these are found on many of the company’s watches.
Keep reading to learn more about the rich history of this venerable watchmaker, or click the section links below.
- The Illustrious Abraham-Louis Breguet
- Early Inventions: Breguet Breaks Ground For Future Horologers
- Breguet No. 160: A Royal Masterpiece, Lost, Found, And Resurrected
- Breguet After Abraham-Louis: A Change Of Hands
- The Breguet Marine Upholds A Naval Legacy
- Breguet Type XX: An Enduring Aviation Chronograph
- Breguet Classique: A Regal Dress Watch With An Eye For Detail
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The Illustrious Abraham-Louis Breguet
In 1775, Abraham-Louis completes his watchmaking apprenticeship, then founds his workshop with his wife Cécile Marie-Louise L’Huillier. The shop opened on the Île de la Cité on the river Seine, Paris.
From then on, the watchmaker would work tirelessly to improve the art of watchmaking. His company quickly found success partially because of the French King Louis XVI’s promotion of the arts.
Queen Marie-Antoinette greatly admired the master horologer’s work, and thus acquired many of his timepieces over the next few decades.
Some of his inventions were so forward-thinking they seem almost anachronistic, such as his self-winding watches.
At least as early as 1777, he was researching self-winding mechanisms. This feature would not become commonplace until nearly 150 years later.
By 1780, company records show he was selling “perpétuelles,” self-winding pocket watches which used arrowhead-shaped oscillating platinum weights.
He also made enduring contributions to watchmaking design aesthetics. Particularly notable are his signature Breguet hands, which appear in the company’s logo.
These delicate hands lend to easy readability, while at the same time obscuring a minimum of the dial below.
This type of hand is thin and includes a hollow “pomme” near its tip.
This is a circle with an eccentric inner opening, so that the eye is pulled smoothly towards the hand’s end.
Since the company unveiled these hands in 1783, they have become a classic and common-to-see style.
Early Inventions: Breguet Breaks Ground For Future Horologers
Another mainstay of modern watchmaking from this period is the Breguet overcoil, a type of balance spring or hairspring. The name “overcoil” is because of the last coil of the spring, which is nearly straight instead of circular. To achieve this, this last coil arches over the rest of the spring.
This hairspring was much closer to isochronic than the common Huygens flat balance spring. Isochronic means that, regardless of how much power is left in the spring, each balance wheel oscillation is nearly identical. Hence, hours, minutes, and seconds are accurate whether the watch is fully wound or on its last minutes.
This horological breakthrough and its further elaborations and developments are still common today, hundreds of years later.
Then, in 1801, Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the tourbillon, which is commonplace of luxury watches and a timeless mark of sublime skill in horology.
In short, he sought to solve a problem in pocket watches where gravity caused a loss in accuracy. His solution was an intricate engineering marvel which rotates the entire escapement in a mobile carriage, thus negating the effect.
The company’s ledgers also show that the Queen of Naples, Maria Carolina of Austria, ordered a bespoke bracelet-watch.
This was in 1810, giving the company credible claim to the creation of the first watch made to be wrist-worn.
Unfortunately, the watch itself has not been re-discovered, though records describe it as a repeater watch on a bracelet.
Napoleon Bonaparte and his generals were also admirers of the genius watchmaker’s fine work. During the Napoleonic Wars, the legendary military leader used Breguet watches extensively to keep his armies on time.
Breguet No. 160: A Royal Masterpiece, Lost, Found, And Recreated
Abraham-Louis Breguet died in 1823, before completing his most ambitious watch, that is, the no. 160 “Marie-Antoinette.”
An admirer of the Queen commissioned this watch, which took from 1783 until 1827, a full 44 years, to create.
This unique Grande Complication was self winding, with minute repeater, perpetual calendar with date, day, and month.
Additionally, a time equation display showed the difference between 12-hour time and 24-hour time.
Jumping hours, a minute and second hand, in addition to a dial subsection with running seconds hand, tell the time. Finally, two hands in the upper left indicate how much remains of the 48-hour power reserve, alongside the temperature.
Although the original watch went missing while on museum display in 1983, the company decided to recreate it.
Later on, it was discovered to have been stolen, but at the time, the cause of its disappearance was unknown.
From 2004 to 2008, the watchmaker’s top teams recreated this magnificent Grande Complication, despite only having photographs and written descriptions. During this period, in 2006, the original watch itself, alongside many other stolen masterpieces, were re-discovered.
Breguet After Abraham-Louis: A Change Of Hands
Two more generations of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s family ran the company after his death. During this period, in 1830, the brand created a very early example of a pocket watch with keyless winding.
In 1870, the Second French Empire fell after losing the Franco-German war, and the French economy suffered as a result. The Brown family, an English watchmaking dynasty, bought Breguet and ran it until 1970.
Due to two major stock market crashes in 1873 and 1882, the company continued to see sales and profits plummet. This did not begin to change until the turn of the 20th century.
The Breguet Marine Upholds A Naval Legacy
In 1815, King Louis XVIII named Abraham-Louis Breguet the chronometer maker of the French Royal Navy.
Accordingly, the watchmaker set forth a list of standards that survive in his company’s Marine watches to this day.
These standards include, for instance, engine turned dials, coin-edge fluting on the case band, curved crown guards, and Breguet hands.
These old specifications are met, alongside with contemporary aesthetic ideals and durability expectations.
Hence, on models with a tourbillon, “Horloger de La Marine” is engraved above the mechanism, referring to the royal appointment.
Firstly, the tough exterior case elements, such as the simply-shaped downturned lugs and curved crown protectors, are relatively understated.
This is in order to draw attention to the ornate face and back.
Precious metals like gold, platinum, and rhodium create contrast in uncompromisingly ornate yet tastefully composed engravings on the dials.
Wide sapphire caseback windows display the beautifully delicate engine turned guilloché motifs that also adorn the movement plates and rotor.
Breguet Type XX: An Enduring Aviation Chronograph
Beginning in 1918, when World War I was ending, the company designed and manufactured aviation watches for the French Naval Aviation.
Military contracts, largely for the French Navy and its branches, continued into World War II and thereafter.
Indeed, the Type XX began as a pilot’s chronometer created for the French Naval Aviation in 1954.
Because of the watch’s popularity, Breguet began offering it to the civilian market.
The Type XX incorporates flyback functionality, and to emphasize this it has “Retour en vol” inscribed on the dial.
The Type XX has a two-way rotating count-up bezel with fluted edges and pushers on either side of the crown. These pushers are to control to operate the previously mentioned flyback function.
Two tapered hands show the hours and minutes, while a Breguet hand indicates seconds. The seconds scale includes both elapsed time and remaining time on a 30-second basis.
In addition to the main dial, three subdials display a half-minute totalizer, second time zone, and 24-hour indicator, respectively.
Type XX models are mainly available with steel cases, although a few are offered in rose gold. Finally, like many high-end modern watches, current Type XX editions display their finely-detailed movements through sapphire casebacks.
Breguet Classique: A Regal Dress Watch With An Eye For Detail
In general, basic variants of Classique collection watches are relatively simple in appearance from a distance.
However, incredible skill in traditional artisan techniques underlie the apparent simplicity of these watches.
For example, the Classique 7147/29 is a thin watch with a recessed subdial that blends into the white main dial.
The dials use the grand feu enameling process, a painstaking manner of achieving an ultra-durable enamel finish.
In grand feu, a metal dial blank must firstly be delicately dusted with enamel powder.
Diligently even application of enamel powder is especially important in this process. This is because any unevenness in the flow of the molten enamel can easily cause unacceptable bubbles and cracks.
The rest of this collection is just as impressive; for instance, the elegant 5157 Extra Thin. This watch features an ultra-fine rose engine turned pattern on its dial, similarly to many in the Classique series.
In the same fashion, dazzlingly intricate patterns are engraved on the rotor and visible plates of its movement.
Classique watches sell with yellow gold, silvered gold, white gold, or rose gold cases, and most have alligator leather straps.
Of course, as these are Breguet watches, they come with up to two tourbillons and a host of complications.
Calendrical functions appear in some models, such as perpetual calendars with retrograde day-of-the-week displays.
Top-of-the-line Classiques have rare prestige complications, for instance, the minute repeater of the 7637, shown in the video below.
This watch also takes the fanciful ornamentation on the series’ movements to new heights.
Scroll motifs in relief embellish the movement’s plates and bridges, and as a result, glimmering surfaces reflect at all angles. Because of this, the movement gives the impression of a brilliant, many-faceted gem.
Continue Learning About Breguet
We hope you enjoyed our brief overview of Breguet’s history and featured collections.
To read about the landmark inventions, patrons, and watch models from the company’s founding until today, visit the official website.
Finally, if you would like to continue reading, please explore the following links: