Breguet’s Official History
As a brand that represents a considerable historical and cultural heritage as well as avant-garde technology, Breguet has always had a fascinating ability to innovate. It owes its place in European cultural history to its prodigiously inventive founder, Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823), and its position as a benchmark of Fine Watchmaking to its astonishingly skillful master watchmakers of today.
At a time when everybody - companies as much as individuals - seems keen to explore their roots, Breguet’s countless treasures illustrate the most beautiful history that any watchmaking brand could wish to have.
The inventions of A.-L. Breguet
Born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, in 1747, Abraham-Louis Breguet spent much of his life in Paris where many of his important creations were produced. He worked simultaneously in all the areas of watchmaking, beginning his career with a series of masterly inventions: the automatic watch, referred to as “a perpetual”, the gong spring for repeater watches, and the first shock-absorber device, the “pare-chute”.
Breguet watches contained original movements, with anchor or cylinder escapements, that were constantly improved. King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette were among his clients.
When the dark hours of the French revolution arrived, Breguet returned to his native city, taking a host of inventions with him. These included the Breguet balance spring, the first travelling clock – sold to Napoleon –, the “sympathique” clock, the tactile watch, and the tourbillon, an indisputable demonstration of his genius. The latter, this new type of regulator, was recognised with a patent from the French Minister of the Interior on June 26, 1801 or, rather, 7 Messidor Year 9 since the Republican calendar was still in force.
Breguet was admired in all the Royal courts of Europe and became the principal watchmaker of the elite in the worlds of diplomacy, science, finance and the military. For his most prestigious clients he created special pieces, including the very first wristwatch, produced in 1810 for Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples.
He was showered with honours and became a member of the Bureau des longitudes in Paris and the Chronometer-maker to the French Royal Navy. He also entered the Academy of Sciences and received the Legion of Honour from King Louis XVIII.
At his death in 1823, he was eulogised as a man whose genius had revolutionised every aspect of timekeeping.
But that is not the end of the story...
Breguet, from renaissance to permanence
In 1999, Nicolas G. Hayek took control of Breguet, a true jewel of Fine Watchmaking. His genuine passion breathed new life into the brand whose exceptional heritage and expertise was recognised by all the great names in the industry. He had the vision to restore Breguet to greatness by reviving its cultural and emotional dimensions.
A new chapter in the Breguet story began, taking on daring challenges in its commitment to continue creating beautiful treasures through the fusion of art, beauty and technology.
In 2003, a new Breguet Manufacture capable of achieving its ambitions was opened. Three years later an extension was added, followed in 2011 by the launch of a new enlargement project completed in 2013. 2011 also saw Breguet incorporate the watch case manufacturer, Favre et Perret, to form a new entity Montres Breguet, Manufacture de boîtes.
Meanwhile, the recruitment of highly qualified watchmakers was accelerated, together with the training programme in which specialists who excelled in particular arts or crafts handed on the brand’s centuries of expertise.
The company invested regularly in the latest control technology and in Research & Development. Nicolas G. Hayek placed great emphasis on research and notably initiated work on new materials with the application of silicon in watchmaking. Under his leadership, Breguet developed and filed a remarkable number of new patents and has been continuing to do so under the presidency of Marc A. Hayek since June 2010. The Manufacture has also achieved the feat of developing a new movement every year, several of which have been truly revolutionary. Its ability to innovate has firmly established Breguet as a benchmark in contemporary Fine Watchmaking, in addition to the unique position it already held as part of Europe’s cultural heritage.
Breguet today: Modernity respectful of ancestral values
It is not only connoisseurs who understand that owning a Breguet means owning something exceptional. For many people, the originality and timeless style of the watches expresses a philosophy and an identity that clearly sets them apart.
Breguet: technical sophistication dedicated to mechanical excellence
Today more than ever, under its President Marc A. Hayek, Breguet is committed to respecting the legacy of its founder. The company offers an increasingly fascinating range of timepieces that combine refined design with technical complications.
In 2010 for example, Breguet launched the Type XXII model, the first series-produced mechanical chronograph with an escapement that, thanks to silicon, operates at a frequency of 10Hz. The same year saw the arrival of the Tradition Tourbillon Fusée with a silicon Breguet balance spring.
In 2011, the brand presented the Classique Hora Mundi, the first mechanical watch with an instant-jump time-zone display.
In 2012, it was the turn of the Tradition 7067 with a GMT complication to join the brand’s collection of impressive pieces. In parallel, Breguet unveiled a world preview of its Classique Chronométrie model, stemming from a considerable body of fundamental research intended to enhance the precision timekeeping performance of its mechanical watches. The magnetic pivot with which this model is equipped harnesses the effects of magnetism so as to improve the pivoting, rotation and stability of the balance staff. With this patented innovation, Breguet laid a new milestone in watchmaking history.
In 2014, Breguet introduced its Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique watch, a 7mm thick timepiece housing a 3mm movement equipped with a particularly light titanium tourbillon carriage and a Breguet balance wheel with silicon balance spring.
The year 2015 witnessed the arrival of an exceptional new watch: the Tradition Chronographe Indépendant model, driven by two entirely independent gear trains beating at a separate frequency for their respective functions: 3Hz for the hours and minutes; and 5Hz for the chronograph.
In 2016, the House enriched its collection of feminine models by presenting ladies’ timepieces in the Tradition, Classique, Reine de Naples and High Jewellery lines.
2017 brought the launch of a spectacular timepiece in which sophisticated horological complications met stunning finishing: the Marine Équation Marchante. This model houses an entirely hand-engraved mechanical self-winding movement, equipped with a tourbillon, a perpetual calendar, as well as one of the rarest and most fascinating complications: the running equation of time. It heralded the start of a new era for the entire Marine collection.
The Breguet watch collections
Their simple lines, their refinement and their distinctive Breguet features delight all collectors and brand enthusiasts. The famous Breguet hands in blued steel with the offset, openwork “moon” tip have graced its watches for more than 200 years. Fluted casebands have also been an integral part of the restrained “Breguet style.” One of its most precious attributes is the manually engine-turned dials of its watches since 1786.
The timepieces of the Tradition collection, inspired by the legendary subscription models created by A.-L. Breguet, symbolise a brand that has deep roots in the past yet is firmly oriented to the future. Their refined design presents horological complications in an elegant setting that blends tradition with the avant-garde. Hand-finishing and “grenaillé” decoration embellish the smallest components of each movement, just as they did two centuries ago. The Tradition collection is undisputably the quintessential expression of the purity and complexity of time.
The Classique watch collection faithfully reflects Breguet’s technical principles, artistry and traditional values. Whether extra-thin or endowed with horological complications, these timepieces are a distillation of the brand’s past and of the original Breguet features. In certain models, the noble materials used at that time – the dials in “grand feu” enamel or manually engine-turned, as well as the hand-painted Arabic numerals – naturally continue to delight collectors and devotees of the brand.
The Marine collection affirms Breguet’s traditional values while reinterpreting them in a contemporary style to produce watches with a much more sporting character. Inspired by models created by A.-L. Breguet, appointed Chronometer-maker to the French Royal Navy by King Louis XVIII of France in 1815, the Marine line is designed to meet all the requirements of contemporary living: a combination of elegance and sports performance. Their sturdy construction with a reinforced case and protected crown, combined with extremely refined execution, makes them suitable for wear on every occasion.
Whether its case is round or shaped, a Breguet watch is immediately recognisable. The curved “tonneau-shaped” models in the Heritage collection prove the point. They demonstrate a considerable technical prowess by integrating a repertoire of classic features into a 21st century shape. Creating the curve of a Breguet case and of its precious manually engine-turned dial is a real challenge for the brand’s engineers, craftsmen and watchmakers. The “Heritage” watch case enhances the elegant fluting and delicate design of the bracelet horns.
Breguet watches have always had a fascinating attraction for women, including such illustrious figures as Marie-Antoinette Queen of France, the Marquise de Condorcet and even the Empress Joséphine. Another fervent admirer of A.-L. Breguet was Caroline Murat, to whom he delivered in 1812 – over 200 years ago – a model that was totally original at that time: it was the first watch intended to be worn on the wrist and, just as revolutionary, it had an oval shape. The resolutely modern, refined and poetry-infused models in the Reine de Naples line are inspired by this legendary creation.
Type XX chronographs were designed in the 1950s for the French National Air Force and the Naval Air Army. A modern civilian version with a self-winding mechanical movement was produced for the Breguet collection. Its sporting character and its powerful personality immediately appealed to a demanding clientele that appreciated its purity, originality and technical personality. The Type XX, XXI and XXII models are all equipped with the famous aviation-inspired flyback function
The Breguet museum and archives: linking the past to the future
The policy of buying back important pieces from the past was started by Nicolas G. Hayek and has continued under his grandson Marc A. Hayek, President of Montres Breguet.
In 2011, the Breguet museum – located above the boutique in Paris – and its President acquired an exceptional Turkish watch produced in 1808 for a high official of the Ottoman Empire. This particularly beautiful piece was ordered in the previous year by His Excellency Esseid Ali Effendi, ex-Ambassador of the Sublime Porte (the court of the Otttoman Empire) to Paris and a personal friend of A.-L. Breguet.
In 2012, Marc A. Hayek acquired two unusual Breguet watches built on the principle of the chronometer in 1814 and 1827. They were purchased for a record amount in the history of the Manufacture and they are still the most expensive Breguet watches ever sold at auction.
In May and November 2014, four additional models joined the broad collection of historical Breguet timepieces. Among them was an extremely thin half-quarter repeating watch with a date and offset dial, Breguet No. 4039, as well as the incredible rare Tourbillon Breguet No. 1176 having belonged to Count Potocki.
In 2015 and 2016, the Breguet Museum bought at auction three remarkable timepieces, including the famous No. 3104 sold in 1818 to His Royal Highness the Infante of Spain, Francisco de Paula, Count of Moratalla. This model is one of the rare and highly prestigious minute repeaters made by A.-L. Breguet.
In addition, Breguet has also acquired an exceptional dashboard chronograph created for Bugatti in the 1930s, as well as various letters of great historical value, notably testifying to Russian customers’ great enthusiasm for the creations of A.-L. Breguet.
From the very beginning of the House of Breguet, founded in Paris in 1775, A.-L. Breguet insisted on keeping precise records of his watches and their sales. Each one was listed by its individual number, followed by a brief description, the date of sale and name of the buyer.
Over the years, Breguet has made a point of maintaining this practice in order to underline the importance that it gives to every client. In 2003 it released its first corporate advertising campaign that featured the company archives. The idea was to persuade Breguet lovers around the world of the importance of maintaining this tradition and it immediately created great interest. Each year since then, hundreds of names have been sent in and added to the Breguet registers, tracking the history of its prestigious timepieces.
Today, these registers are kept in the Breguet museum and form the core of the famous company archives. They are a valuable source of information for experts and historians, enabling them to discover the famous names that made a mark in their respective fields. Starting with Marie-Antoinette and Napoleon, they continue all the way to those making news today - who the brand’s respect for privacy prevents it from revealing.
Breguet has supported arts and culture for many years through various partnerships and patronage activities.
In 2004, Breguet exhibited an impressive number of old and rare pieces at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg to celebrate the brand’s links with Russia that cover several centuries.
After an exhibition held in 2009 at the Louvre in Paris, which made a great impression and attracted more than 110,000 visitors in two and a half months, this invaluable collection of timepieces was displayed at the Swiss National Museum in 2011: first in the Château de Prangins and then at the Landesmuseum in Zurich.
In 2008 the brand helped to restore a jewel of French neoclassical architecture, the Petit Trianon. This project, which began in 2007, included recreating the original interiors, installing informative displays, repairing the technical fittings and restoring the external woodwork, together with the East and West entrances and wings of the building. A second phase, completed in 2010, added the finishing touches to this major project. In parallel, Breguet consolidated its time-honoured links with the Louvre by donating several million euros to restoring the Louis XIV to Louis XVI rooms dedicated to 19th century objets d’art and furniture. After almost 10 years of closure, these restored areas spread across around 2,500 square metres reopened in 2014 to reveal an all-new organisation as well as an entirely revamped museographic and learning-oriented presentation.
In 2011, Breguet joined with CNN to produce a one-week event dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci and his recently rediscovered masterpiece “Salvator Mundi”. Working with Breguet, CNN presented the details of this work, the most important artistic discovery of the last 200 years, and explained the stages of its restoration. The House reiterated its association with the famous TV channel in 2015 and 2016.
In 2014, Breguet began a partnership with the Military Aviation Museum in Payerne, Switzerland. The Manufacture funded the construction of an additional hall, named the “Espace Breguet” and designed to present to the general public a collection of military aircrafts as well as the history of the brand in relation to aviation.
That same year, Breguet announced an exclusive association with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, marked by the arrival in the museum, in September 2014, of the largest collection of historical Breguet watches ever exhibited in the United States. Spanning half a century of horological innovations developed by Breguet, the exhibit featured watches, clocks and measuring instruments, along with portraits and archive documents.
Pursuing the patronage that enabled the restoration of the Petit Trianon, Breguet and its President, Marc A. Hayek, supported a striking retrospective in 2016, dedicated to Queen Marie-Antoinette and organised by the Château de Versailles. The exhibition “Marie-Antoinette, a Queen in Versailles” attracted more than 400,000 visitors to the highly renowned Mori Arts Gallery Center in Tokyo from October 25th 2016 to February 26th 2017.
In tribute to the famous composers and musicians who have featured in the Breguet story, the Manufacture is continuing its annual commitment – since 2002 – to the Geneva International Music Competition. This special partnership supports young virtuosi from all over the world; it also underscores the parallel between Breguet master craftsmen who create the most exclusive timepieces and the great musicians of the past and the present.
In 2017, Breguet took part for the 7th time in the Only Watch biennial, a key charity event in the watch industry calendar. Loyally supporting the Monaco Association against Muscular Dystrophy, the Manufacture donated a yellow gold Classique watch with in-line perpetual calendar to this sale. This one-of-a-kind special model was auctioned on behalf of the Association.
A shared passion: Honouring famous clients and writers
Breguet has found its way through the centuries in the hands of celebrated figures from Marie-Antoinette to Winston Churchill. Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander I of Russia and Arthur Rubinstein are just a few of the many other famous owners of a Breguet watch.
General Napoleon Bonaparte
In April 1798, a few weeks before leaving for Egypt, General Bonaparte purchased three important pieces: a chiming watch, a travelling clock with calendar and an automatic repeater watch. The whole family of the future Emperor then became clients of Breguet.
Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France
In 1782, A.-L. Breguet produced the self-winding striking calendar watch No. 2 10/82 for Queen Marie-Antoinette. The Queen was a great admirer of the master’s work and went on to prove it by acquiring many others of his pieces. In 1783, he received an astonishing and mysterious commission: to produce for the Queen a watch that incorporated all the complications and refinements that existed. The commission came from an Officer of the Queen’s Guard and no limits were set on the time allowed or the price. Breguet immediately set to work but the unfortunate Queen died before she saw the completion of the fabulous watch No. 160, the “Marie-Antoinette.”
The great Gioachino Rossini was the owner of Breguet watch No. 4604, a very small simple model with date, an engine-turned gold case and an off-centre silver dial. This high-quality watch was initially sold in 1828 to the banker, Schickler for the sum of 3,600 FFR. It then reappeared in the possession of a certain Mr Church in the 1830s. Then it was acquired by Rossini who had it revised in 1843. After the composer’s death in 1868, his widow continued to have the piece maintained by Breguet.
Sir Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill frequently visited Breguet, either to make purchases as in 1928 but more often for the service of the watch he wore all his life. This was Breguet No. 765, an exceptional chronograph with a minute repeater and split seconds, bought by the 8th Duke of Marlborough in 1890.
His watch, No. 1682 with the date and a thermometer was exceptional for its very rare oval shape. It had a curious history: the case was produced by Breguet in 1822 for Count Panin, a Russian aristocrat, but it was a “false watch” only intended to contain a portrait.
Much later, in 1884, the case reappeared at the Breguet Manufacture where it was fitted with a movement and given the configuration it has today.
Some of Breguet’s famous clients
The Duke of Orleans (1780)
Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1782)
Louis XVI of France (1783)
Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1787)
The Marquise de Condorcet (1792)
Empress Joséphine (1798)
Napoleon Bonaparte (1798)
General Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc (1801)
The Prince of Wales (1803)
Giovanni Paisello (1804)
The Prince of Würtemberg (1805)
Selim III, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (1806)
Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples (1807)
Tsar Alexander I of Russia (1809)
George III of England (1810)
Prince Orloff (1810)
Prince Poniatowski (1811)
Prince Ferdinand of Spain (1812)
Prince Charles of Spain (1812)
Baron Hottinguer (1812)
The Florence Observatory (1812)
Empress Marie-Louise (1813)
Marshal Ney (1813)
General Davidoff (1814)
The Duke of Wellington (1814)
Baron Rothschild (1815)
The 4th Duke of Marlborough (1818)
The Duke of Norfolk (1821)
Louis XVIII of France (1821)
Count Axel von Fersen (1835)
Queen Victoria (1838)
The Duke of Morny (1841)
Gioachino Rossini (1843)
Horace Vernet (1855)
Empress Isabelle of Brazil (1871)
The 8th Duke of Marlborough (1890)
Sir Winston Churchill (1901)
King Fouad I of Egypt (1924)
The Maharaja of Kapurthala (1924)
Arthur Rubinstein (1930)
Sergei Rachmaninov (1931)
Ettore Bugatti (1932)
Prince George of Greece (1934)
The Duke of Windsor (1950)
Breguet in literature
From Stendhal to Pushkin, from Alexandre Dumas to the surrealist Max Jacob, or, more recently from Patrick O’Brian to John Fowles, literature has established the Breguet watch as an icon. Marking the key moments in Balzac’s Comédie Humaine, it has stood out over time like a symbol of refinement, luxury and creativity.
“Breguet makes a watch which for twenty years never goes wrong, while the pitiful machine by which we live runs amiss and produces pain at least once a week.”
Rome, Naples and Florence (1817)
“A dandy on the boulevards (…), strolling at leisure until his Breguet, ever vigilant, reminds him it is midday.”
Eugene Onegin (1825-1833)
Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870)
“The traveller regrets taking so much money with him. He looks at his Breguet watch – perhaps it’s for the last time. He would have been happier if it were hanging safely from his mantelpiece in Paris.”
Letters from Spain (1830)
“He drew out the most delicious thin watch that Breguet had ever made. Fancy, it is eleven o’clock, I was up early.”
Eugénie Grandet (1833)
Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)
“Danglars’ watch, a masterpiece by Breguet which he had rewound with care before setting out the previous day, chimed half past five in the morning.”
The Count of Monte Cristo (1845)
Henry Murger (1822-1861)
“Rodolphe found Mademoiselle Laure at the trysting place. Good, said he, for punctuality she is a feminine Breguet.”
Scenes of Bohemian Life (1848), the work that inspired Puccini for his opera La Bohème
Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
“At times the heart plays tricks and lets us down. The vigilant are right. For God (the mighty Breguet) gave us faith, and seeing it was good, improved it with a watchful eye.”
Chansons des Rues et des Bois (1865)
John Fowles (1926-2005)
“He takes out his watch, a Breguet, (…) an instrument from the bench of the greatest of watchmakers.”
The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)
Patrick O’Brian (1914-2000)
“They were both indeed Breguet watches, wonderfully accurate, wonderfully resistant (...)”
Blue at the Mizzen (1999)
Jiro Asada (born in 1951)
”My watch that you see here is a jewel made by a great craftsman called Breguet. It seems that it was once treasured by King Louis and Queen Marie-Antoinette. It’s a real masterpiece, of unequalled precision.”
Tooi Tsutsuoto (2002)