By the 1980s when the tourbillon which was originally created and designed by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1795 made its way from pocket watches to wrist watches, the reality was that modern timepieces weren't as sensitive to gravity.
Simply put, a tourbillon is a mechanical design that features in high end watches and is designed to act as a way to counter the drag effect that gravity plays on some of the smaller components in a timepiece when held in certain positions.
Regardless, the combination of technological innovation and novelty of wearing a work of mechanical engineering on one's wrist has burnished Breguet's standing as an early pioneer in horology and not just for tourbillons. Case in point: At a recent Christie's auction of rare watches a rare stainless steel single button chronograph wristwatch made in 1948 sold for five times higher than its estimate to go under the hammer for $259,000.
Rishad Cooper, watch enthusiast and collector, says that Breguet's expertise goes beyond just watch-making. He also made a double pendulum clock which is is now in the collection of the Queen of England and those were fewer in edition but the House of Breguet also made the ultimate pocket watches and Breguet's technical inventions that included the overcoil and the minute repeater gong - way ahead of its time and competition. "Breguet was an independent watch and clock-maker who created inventions for the monarchies and so that was driven by a totally different sensibility. Today, Breguet can take cues from his numerals, his hands, style of signature and concepts and design and balance which were very advanced," Cooper says.
Last year, despite the turbulence in the watch world, the Swatch-owned high-end brand launched its latest edition Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra Plat Automatique 5367—which is, in essence, an ultra thin automatic tourbillon with an enamel blue dial powered by the 581 caliber movement. That wasn't all. It also kicked off the classic double tourbillon 5345 , a complicated watch that retains parts and engineering very similar to the original creation.
The 5345's engine features two mechanical "engines" that perform independently of each other to result in a supremely precise watch.
Brgeuet's timepiece is completed with an engraving, crafted by the artisans of the Manufacture, featuring the facade of the building occupied by Abraham-LouisBreguet from 1775 onward, at 39 Quai de l’Horloge, Paris. Etched in gold, the work abounds in meticulous detail which allows the wheels of the caliber to be seen through the windowpanes.
This undoubtedly is not a watch you wear to the gym but a statement piece intended to drive conversations while holding on to the grace and elegance that typifies what Breguet's work is all about, retailers say. Breguet himself is certainly renowned for being understated and graceful but one can't forget that he also created the No. 160, a grand complication made for Marie Antoinette that was as grand as it gets.
Internationally, these super complications are priced at around $650,000 but that can vary depending on country of import, and while they may seem astronomical it's worth checking out the community that wears such models.
Historically, Breguet’s clients featured have included world leaders and nobility such as George III and George IV of England, Ferdinand VII of Spain), Russian aristocrats (Princes Yermoloff, Gagarin, Repnin, Demidoff and others), as well as prominent European personalities from Poland (Count Potocki), Prussia (Prince Hardenberg), Italy (Count d’Archinto, G.B. de Sommariva), and Portugal (Chevalier de Brito).
Imran Khan, partner of Well Known Watch House, a retailer of vintages watches in Mumbai, says that there's only a handful of brands that can be counted in the league that has the technical sophistry, history, and has maintained its pedigree over the years. This includes Patek Phillipe, Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, and A. Lange & Sohne. He goes on to add that South Mumbai buyers and collectors of complicated and vintage watches typically don't resell their Breguets.
Breguet today has broken down its watches into eight product families that are made up of sportier, heritage, high jewellery, and classifications that include complications, amongst others. The tourbillon, which gets the most attention as a complication, isn't however the only father of innovation in Bregeuet's cap.
The gong springs for repeating watches in 1783; the pare-chute shock protector in 1790; the Breguet balance spring in 1795, were some. Also, Abraham-Louis Breguet first introduced guilloché work to watchmaking in 1786, a method that is now synonymous with Breguet style. Other landmark creations include the marine chronometer, high frequency silicon, and the famous open-tipped Breguet hands which have been emulated and used in watches by other top manufacturers as well.
Breguet isn't the only house to make tourbillons. Other leading names with pedigree include Blancpain, Bulgari Audemars Piguet, and Vacheron Constantin but as the history books will say of mechanical inventions and matters of machines, the first mover advantage and reference endures.