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The extra-thin tourbillon, by Breguet
History & Masterpieces

The extra-thin tourbillon, by Breguet

Wednesday, 30 October 2019
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Marie de Pimodan-Bugnon
Freelance journalist

“One must be absolutely modern.”

Arthur Rimbaud

It takes passion, a healthy dose of curiosity and a sense of wonderment to convey the innumerable facets of watchmaking…

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4 min read

That Abraham-Louis Breguet sold just 35 tourbillon watches in his lifetime gives some idea of the extreme complexity of this mechanism. Introduced in 2013 and returning this year as a skeletonised version, the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Thin Automatic 5377 celebrates this legacy.

On June 26, 1801 Abraham-Louis Breguet changed the face of precision timekeeping when he invented a new type of regulator known as a “tourbillon”. Its principle is to incorporate the entire escapement in a moving cage that makes a complete rotation once every minute, thus counteracting the unwanted effects of gravity on the movement’s precision. Still turning heads over two centuries later, this revolutionary mechanism is as fascinating as ever, with multiple variations fostering refinements and fresh interpretations. But when your brand name is Breguet, and the tourbillon is your prerogative, how do you honour such an important legacy without endlessly rehashing the past? In 2013 Breguet revealed a new take on its founder’s invention that would stand apart among the many iterations this complication has inspired. Having a movement just 3mm high inside an elegant case measuring a mere 7mm thick, the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Thin Automatic 5377 is remarkable for its thinness. Indeed, at the time of its creation it was the thinnest self-winding tourbillon ever made.

Classique Tourbillon Extra-Thin Automatic 5377 © Breguet
Classique Tourbillon Extra-Thin Automatic 5377 © Breguet
Technical prowess

While this record may have been beaten since, Reference 5377 certainly broke the mould. First of all, Breguet chose to place the tourbillon at 4 o’clock rather than the more usual 6 o’clock position. This meant completely rethinking the movement, Calibre 581DR. The design of the tourbillon cage is similarly original. Cut from lightweight titanium, it indicates small seconds but this isn’t its only claim to fame. The balance spring inside is in silicon and combines with a purpose-built escapement. These technical innovations enable the movement to operate at a high frequency of 4 Hz though not at the expense of power reserve, as a patented “high-energy” barrel provides a generous 80 hours of autonomy. An important factor in maintaining the thinness of the movement, Breguet designed a peripheral rotor, in platinum, that winds in both directions.

Aesthetic legacy

Breguet has always made the distinction between impressive and ostentatious, hence the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Thin Automatic 5377 boasts a restrained aesthetic – a reminder that a watch of such a spectacularly technical nature speaks for itself. As always, the brand emphasises traditionally hand-crafted details by artisans who take pride in perpetuating Breguet’s aesthetic heritage. No fewer than four different types of guillochage – Clous de Paris, barleycorn, straight chevrons and cross-hatching – decorate the dial, in silvered gold. Turning the case over, the display back allows a sweeping view of the magnificent floral decorations on the movement, a fitting counterpart to the classical execution of the case. Made from pink gold, white gold or platinum with a 42mm diameter, its slim form is underscored by the fluted case band for a refined aesthetic that elicits admiration from every angle.

Created using a diamond-tipped tool, Clous de Paris guillochage confers a wonderful brilliance to the whole.
Worthy successors

It would have been a shame for this exceptional timepiece to have remained without an heir, and so in 2018 Reference 5377 presided over the creation of the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Thin Automatic 5367. Not entirely the same, though not entirely different, it too is driven by Calibre 581DR. This time, however, its slim silhouette in pink gold surrounds a Grand Feu enamel dial; an immaculate face for this exceptionally complex timepiece that Breguet has once again metamorphosed. This year, Calibre 581 reveals its fully skeletonised forms in the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Squelette 5395. The gold plate and bridges have been carved to not only offer a glimpse of the mechanical intricacy within, but to capture the attention with their exquisite decorations. Applied to the remaining surface of the plate with a diamond-tipped tool, Clous de Paris guillochage confers a wonderful brilliance to the whole. Edges are carefully chamfered while every one of the different inscriptions is hand-engraved. All these details can be observed on the surface of the grey movement, a contrast with the pink gold of the 41mm case, or on a pink gold movement inside a platinum case. Almost 220 years after Abraham-Louis Breguet registered the patent for his tourbillon, this stunning scenography has all it takes to continue to captivate admirers of the finest watchmaking.

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