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A walk through two centuries of time at the Breguet Museum...
Exhibitions

A walk through two centuries of time at the Breguet Museum in Paris

Tuesday, 06 August 2019
By Victoria Townsend
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Victoria Townsend

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5 min read

Best known as the inventor of the tourbillon escapement for which he filed patent rights on June 26, 1801, Abraham-Louis Breguet was no less the creator of a number of other exceptional timekeeping devices and instruments.

Many examples of them, along with numerous archives that include sales ledgers, certificates of authenticity, technical annotations and letters written by him, are housed at the Breguet Museum above the Breguet store on Place Vendôme in Paris. Watch lovers seeking to set their eyes on historical treasures that date from over two centuries ago to more recent pieces from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, can discover one of the first tourbillon pocket watches – sold on February 12, 1809 to Count Stanislas Potocki -, alongside the famous Souscription, à tact, perpétuelle, and simple or repeating pocket watches.

Montre à tact Breguet No 611 for Joséphine Bonaparte
Montre à tact Breguet No 611 for Joséphine Bonaparte

Other marvels include a quarter-repeating self-winding (perpétuelle) watch in a gold case with an enamel dial and 60-hour power reserve from a twin-barrel movement – the oldest surviving self-winding watch by Breguet, finished in August 1782; a blue-enamelled gold case à tact watch with a diamond-set arrow that was sold on February 18, 1800 to Madame Bonaparte; an astonishing small gold ring-watch with an alarm function, sold on October 18, 1836 to Prince Alexander Demidov – the alarm, set by a knob, triggers a small needle that pricks the finger. Keyless watches, travel clocks made for Napoléon Bonaparte and his sister Caroline, marine chronometers and more recent military watches complete the exhibition.

Interest in marine chronometers

Among the most prestigious of many distinctions bestowed upon Abraham-Louis Breguet was the lifetime honour of “Horloger de la Marine Royale”, attributed to him on October 27, 1815 by King Louis XVIII of France, when Breguet was 68 years old. A title previously held by Ferdinand Berthoud, it implied “the highest scientific ability” to calculate longitudes at sea. In addition to supplying the Royal Navy, Breguet’s marine chronometers were sold to the merchant navy: further proof of the reliability and accuracy of his instruments that enabled precise navigation for ships which, without correct longitude readings, might otherwise be lost forever. In 1816 he was made a member of the Academy of Sciences in Paris.

Perpetuating a two-centuries-old tradition that links Breguet to the sea, the Marine collection was launched in 2017.

Abraham-Louis Breguet’s first report attesting to his interest in marine chronometers dates from 1796. Throughout his life, and especially in his later years, he continued to innovate to perfect their movements with barrels and escapements for improved regularity and smoothness. One jury reported that even under the roughest conditions, Breguet marine watches varied by only one minute in six months. Perpetuating a two-centuries-old tradition that links Breguet to the sea, the Marine collection was launched in 2017, with the Marine Equation Marchante 5887 that displays the running equation of time at a glance. In 2018 it was joined by the Marine 5517, the Marine Chronographe 5527 and the Alarme Musicale 5547. Each one is proposed in 18K white or rose gold, boasting magnificent engine-turned blue or silvered gold dials, or sunburst slate-grey dials for a titanium version. Case sizes range from 40 to 42.3 mm, with leather or rubber strap options.

Breguet Marine Chronometer No 3196
Breguet Marine Chronometer No 3196

In 2019, and for the first time, the three titanium models are outfitted with titanium bracelets, adding extreme lightweight and robust properties to the collection. Resistant to salty air and corrosion, the titanium bracelet is satin-brushed on each of its links to match the case, creating an effect of eye-catching contrast with the polished bezel.

Ladies feel at home too

And there’s more. While the essential of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s work was developed for pocket watches carried by men, he also met special requests for ladies’ timepieces, as seen earlier with the à tact watch for Madame Bonaparte. Another request was honoured for the Queen of Naples, Caroline Murat, sister of Napoléon Bonaparte, on June 8, 1810. Records show that an oblong-shaped repeater for wristlet was sold to her on December 5, 1811: the first recorded wristwatch! This is to say that if the Marine tradition is well-anchored in the House of Breguet, ladies are similarly at home within its walls, boasting their own dedicated Reine de Naples collection in addition to other exceptional pieces such as the Tradition Dame 7038, adjusted in size for a smaller wrist, but losing none of the technical beauty and performance.

This year Breguet introduces the Marine watch collection for women.

And so it is only fitting that Breguet now introduces the Marine watch collection for women. Round, with a diameter of 33.8 mm and barely 10 mm in height, the Breguet Marine Dame 9518 comes in a white or rose gold case adorned with 50 brilliant-cut diamonds on the bezel, with a pale blue or opaline mother-of-pearl dial. Inspired by the oceans, each dial is decorated with a sublime guilloché flowing tide pattern called “marea”, while the central seconds hand is endowed with a maritime flag. Steel models are also proposed, with or without a 60 brilliant-cut diamond-set bezel, and a choice of two hand-crafted dials, in natural opaline mother-of-pearl or marbled blue lacquer, presenting a unique design. All models have fluted casebands and all, including the steel versions, boast gold Breguet hands and a date window. The open tips of the hands, five-minute markings and hour markings are coated with luminescent material.

Breguet Boutique & Museum Place Vendome 6
Breguet Boutique & Museum Place Vendome 6

Each is equipped with the manufacture self-winding 591A movement with silicon in-line Swiss lever escapement, flat balance spring in silicon and Breguet balance wheel for hours, minutes, seconds and date. The movement, decorated with Côtes de Genève and a gold rotor inlaid with engine-turned mother-of-pearl, is visible through the sapphire crystal caseback. Engraved on the rim of the case we read “Horloger de la Marine”. To complete the Marine styling, depending on the model, straps are in midnight blue or white alligator leather, or in white rubber embossed with a seagrass motif. Two centuries later, the work and inspiration of Abraham-Louis Breguet live on.

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