2008 Private Preview: Lasting Legacy

  • Jill Newman

Watchmaker Emmanuel Breguet, a

seventh-generation

descendant

of Abraham-Louis Breguet and the only family

member still

involved in the namesake business, dons white cotton gloves as we

prepare to peruse the archives of the company that his

ancestor founded

in 1775

in Paris. "I’m the guardian of the

grail," says the 42-year-old

Emmanuel as he

removes antique

leather-bound ledgers from the vault.

The books reveal handwritten

orders commissioning pieces for Napoléon Bonaparte,

Marie

Antoinette, and other famous patrons, and they include an

operating manual for

the world’s first tourbillon, Breguet’s

most

revered invention.

Dozens of ledgers and nearly 500 vintage Breguet

timepieces

recently were moved to the brand’s new Paris flagship store,

which houses a

public museum on the second floor. The late-17th-century

building, designed by

French architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart, is

located on Place Vendôme, not far

from the site of A.-L. Breguet’s

original workshop on the Île de la Cité. Though

the Breguet family sold

the company in 1870, the brand still fervently pays

homage to its

patriarch.

After acquiring the company in 1999, billionaire Nicolas G.

Hayek, chairman of Breguet’s parent company, the Swatch Group, poured

countless

Swiss francs into revitalizing the marque, enabling it to

produce contemporary

timepieces that reflect A.-L.’s progressive

vision. Next year, Breguet will

begin delivering one such watch, the

Tradition Fusee Tourbillon ($146,800), the

first high-complication

piece in the Tradition collection and the result of five

years of

development. The hand-wound Breguet caliber 569 movement features a

fusee-chain transmission system, a configuration derived from a

late-1700s

pocket watch design. The cone-shaped fusee, which is linked

to the barrel by a

chain, uses differential gears to transmit

continuous force to the movement,

ensuring constant torque whatever the

winding tension of the mainspring. The

design evokes A.-L.’s earliest

renderings by blending a modern aesthetic with

historic hallmarks, such

as the large tourbillon cage with a bar that is shaped

and angled like

those found in his first tourbillons.

Another piece, the 1801 Tourbillon

Messidor ($132,800 in pink

gold and $178,650 in platinum), commemorates

Breguet’s tourbillon patent, which,

according to the French

Revolutionary Calendar, was granted on 7 Messidor Year

IX (June 26,

1801). The skeletonized movement showcases the mechanism’s sweeping

bridges and bars. The watch has an ethereal quality; the tourbillon

cage, which

is showcased in a window at 6 o’clock, appears to float in

air.

Next summer, Hayek expects to celebrate his greatest technical

achievement: the reconstruction of the Marie Antoinette pocket watch,

which was

stolen from a Jerusalem museum in 1983 and never recovered.

Considered the most

complicated timepiece of its era, the watch was

commissioned on behalf of the

ill-fated queen in the late 1700s but not

completed until 1827, 34 years after

her death. Working from original

sketches and notes, Breguet watchmakers have

spent five years

re-creating the timepiece, which will be unveiled at the

reopening of

the newly restored Petit Trianon, the queen’s palace at Versailles.

Hayek donated close to $7 million for the restoration in tribute to the

brand’s

loyal patron.

Breguet, 866.458.7488, www­.breguet.com

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