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Breguet: In the Time Vortex

Breguet is a familiar name closely associated with the world of luxury watches. But what do we know about the man himself? In 1762, at the age of fifteen, Abraham-Louis Breguet moved to Paris. In 1775, he set up shop in the French capital at 39 Quai de I’Horloge. There, he perfected certain existing mechanical solutions, most of which are still in use today, and laid the foundations for modern watchmaking.

After working on perpetuelle timepieces, in 1783, he began to concentrate on watches with striking mechanisms, refining their various features. Up until his hurried departure from Paris for Switzerland in August 1793, Breguey made constant improvements to escapements. In 1790, he developed the ruby cylinder escapement, whose fragility then led him to design the first shock-protection mechanism to shield components from damage: the Pare-Chute, whose modern version has been used by all brands since the second half of the twentieth century.

In 1791, the visionary watchmaker developed a simple gear set mechanism for independent seconds. Then in 1792, unhappy with the detrimental effect oils had on the precision of his watches, he designed a regulating organ that could operate without a lubricant: the natural escapement. Returning to Paris in 1795 after his Swiss exile, he invented the perpetual calendar and perfected the Tourbillion (or vortex), filing the patent in 1801.

Working to order for his many clients, he was awarded the title of Clockmaker of the Navy in 1815, and from 1820 until his death in 1823, he worked on the impact of resonance on balances. When he dies at the age of seventy-six, he left behind a watch with an unequaled range of complications (better known as the Marie-Antoinette watch) and handed down a flourishing firm to his son, who would come up with some brilliant inventions himself, such as pendant winding.

However, companies also have their life span. When the Breguet family turned from watchmaking to other industrial ventures, they turned the company over to Edouard Brown, who passed it on to Maison Chaument in 1970. It was then taken over by Investcorp in 1987, and was subsequently sold with Lemania to the Swatch Group in 1999. Taken in hand by Nicolad Hayek, the brand excels in its audacity and classicism today. The engine-turned decoration introduced in 1786 may still be a feature, but Breguet is experimenting widely with new materials to improve the design of the movements.

At the same time, the brand is reissuing the famous Chrono Type ZZ made for French fighter pilots in the 1950s, equipping its classic models with new complications and innovating with contemporary collections, such as the Marine range or the superb watches of the Tradition series. An unmistakable mark of good taste, Breguet watches are admired by the public since they often reflect the exercise of power. Indeed, President Nicolas Sarkozy, has been seen wearing a classic Breguet model.

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