When the Swatch Group acquired Montres Breguet in 1999, Nicolas G. Hayek himself took the helm because, as he liked to say, this horological jewel had been emptied of its substance by people who understood nothing of the brand or its founder. Some ten years later, under his guidance,has become a leading light of the Group in the spirit of tradition and innovation dear to its late captain. Recent developments at the brand, and the multiple initiatives it has deployed over the past month, ring like a form of apotheosis, in the true sense, of a man who reinstated a name that has for ever left its mark on the history of watchmaking. As he himself has.
An exceptional calibre
First to make its mark was the Type XXII 3880 ST. Unveiled at Baselworld and recently launched on the market, this GMT flyback chronograph commemorates the fiftieth anniversary, in 1960, of the first Type XX models to be delivered to the Aéronavale Française, the French naval air arm. Of course Breguet, being Breguet, had to do more than simply revamp the watch’s exterior. Enter a remarkable movement beating at a frequency of 10 Hz (72,000 vibrations/hour). This is twice as fast as the famed El Primero to ensure precision and regulating power which the Manufacture describes as “exceptional.” The chronograph hand makes a complete sweep of the dial in thirty seconds. Behind this technological breakthrough are the escapement and flat balance spring in silicon, a material that shaves the weight off these moving components and avoids problems of lubrication associated with such high frequencies.
Hot on the heels of this new model came the announcement of two new store openings. The first is in the famous Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, purchased and fully restored by the Group. The second, in Singapore, is the brand’s 17th stand-alone store worldwide.
In memory of Breguet
However, it’s with an eye to the brand’s history that Breguet pulled off its greatest coup. First by buying – for CHF 2.3 million (€1.73m/$2.16m) at an auction presided by Patrizzi & Co – the original hand-written memoirs of Abraham-Louis Breguet, founder of the brand and one of the fathers of modern watchmaking. These manuscripts set out the master’s inventions and secrets for posterity. However, this ambitious endeavour was unfinished when Breguet died in 1823. As the Manufacture notes, “the manuscript remained as it was and appeared to vanish. While some chapters were barely roughed out, others had reached an extremely advanced state of drafting and were almost ready to be published; these are the chapters that were found again in the spring of 2010” and which Nicolas G. Hayek purchased for the Breguet Museum. These documents are considered by many to form the most important body of testimony in the history of watchmaking.
Breguet’s history is also intimately entwined with that of Queen Marie-Antoinette, who was a great admirer of the master’s timepieces. He made for her the most complicated watch of its day, the famous N° 160 of which the Manufacture created an identical replica in 2008. It is therefore no coincidence that Breguet should be patron to restoration work on the Petit Trianon, the château given to Marie-Antoinette by her husband, Louis XVI. The final phase of restoration was recently completed with the cleaning of the south facade, restoration of the sentry boxes on each side of the entrance to the cour d’honneur, consolidation of the forecourt walls, and repair of cobble-stoned and paved areas. A final salute in honour of Mr Nicolas G. Hayek.