Heritage and Progress at Breguet
Look closely at Breguet’s special-project pocket watches, like the recent reference 1907 BA/12 Grande Complication, and you will see an intriguing blend of old and new styles and techniques. This tourbillon/grande sonnerie (price upon request) contains many of the design codes unique to vintage Breguet watches, including the silvered dial and classical French balance cock, but most of its interior parts are modern configurations. The combination of old and new typifies a philosophy put in place a decade ago by the brand’s then CEO, Nicholas Hayek Sr., whose mission was to execute watches as he believed Abraham-Louis Breguet would have done, had he lived into the present. This activist approach to the brand’s heritage continues to single out Breguet among its fine-watchmaking peers.
Most of the major legacy brands in Switzerland, including Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, maintain well-staffed restoration departments to service vintage pieces, but Breguet has adopted a slightly different approach. Recognizing that antique pieces from the brand’s founder, Abraham-Louis Breguet, are among the most important historical objects in the craft—and that, at two centuries old, they are much farther removed from contemporary watchmaking than are pieces from many other brands—it is carefully reproducing some historic models upon request. Breguet’s restoration department works hand-in-hand with the product-development team to both reproduce historical timepieces and inject their flavor into more modern creations.
Breguet began its foray into historical recreations in 2004 with the reproduction of its No. 5 watch model with modern alloys. But it was the company’s redux of its No. 160 model that provided an avenue to the more modernist approach used in newer models like the tourbillon/grande sonnerie.
The No. 160, which was commissioned by Queen Marie Antoinette, was Breguet’s most advanced technological feat. It contained several complications, including a repeater, a chronograph, and a thermometer, and the watch was preserved at a museum in Jerusalem until it was stolen in 1983. When Breguet sought to reproduce the legendary model some 22 years later, without a physical example to work from, the watchmakers had to get creative. Using drawings and photographs, they re-engineered the piece as accurately as possible but had to make several creative leaps in the design.
While history remains a guide for Breguet’s more recent constructions, the newer vintage-style pocket watches, such as the reference 1907BA/12 Grande Complication, as well as vintage-inspired wristwatches, including the well-known La Tradition models, feature more creative and modernist liberties in design from their predecessors. These watches enhance the brand’s connection with its founder and keep Breguet-style watchmaking alive for enthusiasts who may not have the opportunity or patience to track down a historical piece for themselves. (www.breguet.com)