Thursday, July 29, 2010

Breguet the Watchmaker

An apogee of European watchmaking.
Born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, Breguet completed his apprenticeship and studies in France from 1762 onwards. In 1775, at the age of 28, he married and managed to establish his own business on the Quai de l’Horloge, Paris. Watchmakers of the French capital then competed with Geneva and London in the field of scientific and artistic innovation. Breguet explored and perfected these inventions and complications. But he was not recognized as a Master Watchmaker until 1784.

These intervening years saw the gradual development of the automatic (or self-winding) watch and a timepiece with a repeater or chiming mechanism. The first self-winding watches were purchased by Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and several highranking personalities at the court of Versailles. This led, in 1783, to Breguet receiving a commission for an extraordinary watch incorporating all the innovations and complications known at the time. The end result would be one of the most famous of all Breguet watches, No. 160, also called the Marie-Antoinette, which, after several lengthy interruptions, was eventually finished in 1827, i.e. four years after Abraham-Louis Breguet’s death.

These watches immediately reveal the originality of his style, characterized by functional simplicity, technical mastery and flawless craftsmanship. His flat watchcases, easily legible numerals, rectilinear hands and guilloched dials made Breguet watches both unique works of art and discreet, practical, everyday objects, unlike the ornate, ostentatious timepieces made in the last quarter of the 18th century.

The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg hosted an exhibit of antique Breguet watches held by the Russian museum:  Included in the exhibition are the military field watch with pedometer that belonged to Emperor Alexander I; the watch called ‘Sympathique' of Grand Duke Konstantin; carriage clocks that were made for Napoleon Bonaparte and Prince Demidov; ceremonial watches of the Emperor on which the maps of Russia and St Petersburg were engraved; and also the Duc de Praslin watch. The latter is considered one of the most complex watches ever made by A.-L. Breguet.

Explore the history of the Breguet brand, the main inventions and innovations since 1775:

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