On the 3rd of October 2018, the House of Breguet inaugurates a brand new boutique in Moscow, near the Kremlin, in the prestigious shopping mall, GUM. Under the high arches of the historical building, this new store has a dedicated space to exhibit Breguet heritage timepieces.
Constantly enriched with new acquisitions, the Breguet Museum located on the upper floor of its flagship boutique, on Place Vendôme in Paris, displays around 100 prestigious objects out of more than 200 heritage pieces in possession of the House of Breguet. Focusing principally on the work of the founder, Abraham-Louis Breguet, the collection boasts items that illustrate the firm’s uninterrupted and lustrous history from 1775 to today. It is the largest permanent exhibition of Breguet pieces in the world, with additional artefacts from the Museum collection on display in dedicated spaces at Breguet boutiques in Zurich and Shanghai, and, from October 2018, in Moscow.
The House of Breguet possesses most fascinating pieces, including three historical tourbillon pocket watches from the early nineteenth century. The invention of the tourbillon mechanism by Breguet in 1801 cemented the watchmaker’s standing as one of the most innovative figures of all time.
Breguet masterpieces in European Museums
The brilliant nature of the works of Abraham-Louis Breguet attracted illustrious personalities from very early on. In the 1780s, when his career was only beginning, Marie-Antoinette and the Duc d’Orléans became among the earliest collectors of his works. Today, Breguet is the only single watchmaker to be honoured by several of the world’s premier museums, such as the Louvre, the
Kremlin, The British Museum and the Swiss National Museum to name a few.
Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris
The famous Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris explores the Breguet family’s inventions over two centuries, from watchmaking to electricity and aviation. British engineer and collector Sir David Lionel Salomons presented this museum with one of his most prized possessions, the Breguet masterpiece No. 92, often considered as the most technically sophisticated of all Breguet watches after the “Marie-Antoinette”. Made by Breguet for his friend the Duc de Praslin, it is a piece with two faces and many complications.
Another remarkable object to be found here, is the Breguet wall clock No. 3177 sold to King Louis XVIII in 1821. This clock with two dials, two movements and two pendulums swinging in opposite directions was exhibited by Breguet at the great industrial exhibition of 1819, demonstrating the advances achieved in the various branches of the French industry. Breguet was obliged to exhibit out of competition by virtue of the fact that he had been invited, as a man of irreproachable integrity, to sit on the jury.
Le Louvre, Paris
As the inventor of the gong spring and a number of striking mechanisms, Abraham-Louis Breguet was the father of all modern repeating watches. A few of his quarter-repeaters can be viewed in this world-famous museum, however one of the most spectacular Breguet repeating watches from the Louvre collection can be viewed at The Château de Fontainebleau. This timepiece No. 2585, a
half-quarter repeating watch with complications, used to belong to Prince Camille Borghèse, the Governor of Piedmont, who was married to Pauline Bonaparte.
The Swiss National Museum, Le Château de Prangins, Switzerland
The tapestry of Breguet’s life and career is easily seen as both a Swiss and French composition, with neither able to be isolated or extricated from another.
Among the highlights of the Swiss National Museum in the Château de Prangins is the Breguet travel clock No. 178, purchased in 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte as part of his equipment, a month before he began his Egyptian campaign. Highly innovative, this clock anticipated in both its technical and its aesthetic aspects, the general appearance of virtually all carriage clocks produced in France throughout the nineteenth century and into the beginning of the twentieth.
The Leonardo Da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology, Milan
The exhibition of this largest science and technology museum in Italy takes the viewer on a journey through the evolution of timekeeping and includes such Breguet timepieces as his subscription watches. Timepieces of relatively large diameter, with a single hand, equipped with a special movement of great simplicity, they were designed to be reliable and affordable. These watches were
marketed on a subscription basis, with a down payment of a quarter of the price with each order. They enjoyed great success and attracted many new clients.
Their very success soon made Breguet watches a tempting target for counterfeiters and so in 1795, Breguet came up with a measure against forgery: a virtually invisible signature traced on the dial of watches. The “secret signature” has remained a feature of most Breguet dials to the present day.
British Museum, London
Among the exhibits of the British Museum in London, one can view the earliest experimental tourbillon model, watch No. 169, which was offered by Abraham-Louis Breguet to English watchmaker John Arnold in 1809 as a sign of their friendship. It is to Arnold’s workshop in London that Breguet sent his only son Antoine-Louis for an apprenticeship, which he considered as the best training he could have. And Arnold’s son had done the same entering the Breguet’s Quai de l’Horloger ateliers in Paris.
Another exceptional piece in the museum, garde-temps No. 2741, combines a marine chronograph displaying the hours and minutes. Breguet used this timepiece, completed in 1813, in numerous experiments before parting with it.
It was not until his appointment as Watchmaker to the French Royal Navy in 1815 that Abraham-Louis Breguet began producing marine chronometers on a regular basis. For several decades, Breguet’s son and grandson continued to supply both the navy and the merchant navy with chronometers.
The institutions in possessions of significant collections of Breguet watches and clocks are numerous. However, the majority of early creations still remain in the hands of private collectors.
For example, the Sympathique clock No. 666 and watch No. 721 acquired by the future King George IV of England is owned today by H.M. Queen Elizabeth and is used by H.R.H. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The clock was designed to hold the watch which, when placed in a recess, was automatically adjusted and reset.
The term “sympathique” was chosen by Breguet to express the notion of harmony and “sympathy” between the two objects. Although the Sympathique clock enhanced Breguet’s fame, it remained very complex to make. All five examples, each different, that Abraham-Louis Breguet sold before his death in 1823, were bought by Kings or Princes. When his grandson Louis-Clément Breguet took over the reins of the firm in 1833, succeeding his father, he lost no time in patenting the Sympathique clock endowing it with a new rewinding function.
Other museums displaying Breguet pieces can be visited all across Europe – the Medeiros e Almeida Foundation in Lisbon in Portugal, Le Musée International d’Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland – but also on another continent, such as the Frick Collection in New York.
The House of Breguet, established since 1775, embodies watchmaking excellence and forms part of the European cultural heritage, brimming with history and emotions. Its creations have been owned by the world’s most prominent individuals, while Breguet’s famed archives record every watch sold since 1787. Today, the timepieces emerging from the Manufacture Breguet in
Switzerland are works of art rendered unique by skilled artisans and endowed with genuine soul.