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Abraham-Louis Breguet

 

Universally recognised as the greatest watchmaker of all time, Abraham-Louis Breguet was born in 1747 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. He moved to France at the age of 15 and acquired extremely thorough theoretical and practical training before founding his own enterprise in 1775, in Paris, on the Ile de la Cité.

This was the beginning of an unparalleled career, characterised by great virtuosity and artistic flair, scientific rigour and technical innovation, as well as by commercial daring and a great sense of human relations.

Heir to an uninterrupted tradition, the House of Breguet now possesses an exceptional legacy in the shape of archives which represent a constant source of inspiration for contemporary models, like the 'Classique Chronograph'. In keeping with the standards of technical excellence and visual harmony established by the maestro, it constantly innovates and makes a point of remaining ahead of its times. This has been confirmed in recent times by developments such as the patented perpetual equation of time wristwatch in 1991, the straight-line perpetual calendar with instant date-jump in 1997, and the 1998 launch of the 10½-line self-winding chronograph, with 6 mm the smallest in its category. By innovating and seeking to keep one step ahead of its time, the House of Breguet has remained faithful to its pioneering image, thereby cultivating the creative spirit of its brilliant founder Abraham-Louis Breguet, the father of modern watchmaking.

Abraham-Louis Breguet was to make successive or simultaneous incursions into all fields of watchmaking. His career got off to a spectacular start with a series of master strokes: the development of the automatic or "perpétuelle" watch, first commercialised in 1780; the invention of the gong spring which considerably reduced the width of repeater watches, followed by that of the first anti-shock device or "pare-chute", which rendered watches less fragile and consequently more reliable.

Highly appreciated by King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, Breguet watches featured original movements and constantly refined lever or cylinder escapements. Their neo-classical style was strikingly economical. Breguet designed a new type of hands with off-centre hollowed-out points (known as "à pomme" and later simply as "Breguet" hands) and elegant numerals for enamel dials. The gold cases, and subsequently the silver dials, were hand-engraved on a rose-engine. For the first time, watches were thin. However, at a time when his works had contributed much to the advancement of watchmaking, Abraham-Louis Breguet was forced by the Revolution and the ensuing upheavals to momentarily abandon Paris and take refuge in Switzerland for two years.

After a period of reflection and ongoing international contacts, he returned to Paris in 1795, subsequently offering his contemporaries a wealth of inventions and new creations: the Breguet overcoil balance spring; the constant force escapement; the first modern carriage-clock, sold to Bonaparte; the "souscription" watch; the "sympathique" clock which regulates and sets the time on a watch placed in a special recess; the "tact" watch which makes it possible to tell the time by touch; and finally the "tourbillon" regulator, patented in 1801. Constantly pursuing his aesthetic research, he created ever more elegant and refined models and in 1812 launched the first dials with off-centre chapter-ring.

On a commercial level, Breguet was known and highly regarded at all European courts and became the watchmaker of reference for diplomatic, scientific, military and financial elites. His personal contacts with foreign sovereigns did much to foster his unparalleled international reputation. He crafted specially commissioned models for eminent figures such as the Tsar of Russia, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the Prince-Regent of England and the Queen of Naples, Caroline Murat - for whom he fashioned a world première: an extremely thin wristwatch with repeater mechanism and thermometer. After a period of constraints imposed by Bonaparte's aggressive foreign policy which naturally hampered its exports, the House of Breguet experienced an extraordinary new commercial lease of life after the fall of the Napoleonic Empire.

The latter part of Breguet's life was prosperous and marked by numerous tokens of recognition: he became a member of the Board of Longitude and Horologer to the French Royal Navy. He also entered the famous Academy of Sciences and was awarded the Legion of Honour by King Louis XVIII. Supported by his family and the finest watchmakers of his times, he tirelessly pursued his creative work: his marine chronometers with two going-barrels, his trimetallic thermometers and his military pedometers are known throughout the world. His astronomical counter with eyepiece permitting the measurement of tenths and even hundredths of seconds; his inking chronographs; or the "chronomètres à doubles secondes" : these inventive feats constitute the very source of modern watchmaking. When he died in 1823 at the age of 77, everyone was unanimous in paying tribute to a figure who had revolutionised all facets of the art and science of watchmaking.

The founding father passed on but the story continued. While the influence of Abraham-Louis Breguet was felt in all countries, his work was particularly perpetuated within the house which bore his name and pursued the prestigious route he had opened under the leadership of his son and grandson. Heir to such an outstanding master of his craft, the House of Breguet remained faithful to the innovative spirit of its founder. In 1830, it launched the first watch featuring keyless winding carried out by means of a "knurled winding-button". Soon after, it successfully launched a new generation of "sympathique" clocks which rewound watches in addition to setting them to time.

Louis-Clément Breguet, both a physician and a watchmaker, was passionately interested in electrical applications. After developing the first electric clocks and patenting the tuning-fork clock, he abandoned watchmaking in 1870 to devote himself to electrical telegraphs and the nascent field of telecommunications. The firm passed smoothly into the hands of workshop manager Edward Brown and his family, with whom it would remain for one hundred years. Honoured by a prestigious clientele, it successfully weathered the major crises of the 20th century while remaining a watchmaker of reference for some of the world's eminent figures, as well as in scientific and aviation circles.

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Watches Sales

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Watches Sales: The largest collection of watches and clocks on the web