Abraham-Louis Breguet is, without a doubt, one of the most influential watchmakers to have ever exercised his art. Not only a wise businessman who created what is probably the first “brand” of the watchmaking industry with clear signs of identification – the so-called unmistakable signs – A.L. Breguet is mostly known for being an ultra-prolific inventor, a man behind some of the most important innovations (some still in use today). Think about the perpetual calendar, the anti-shock device or the gongs of a chiming watch. And of course, there’s his masterpiece, the tourbillon, which celebrates its 220 anniversary this year. And to pay tribute to its founder and to his invention, Breguet is releasing an exclusive watch, the new Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Anniversaire 5365.3
Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) has done many things for the watch industry, and that includes a long list of inventions and innovations, as well as perfecting some devices already imagined but never made concrete. A.L. Breguet is seen by many contemporary watchmakers as a legend without whom the industry wouldn’t be the same.
Perhaps the invention most people associate with Abraham-Louis Breguet is the tourbillon regulator, which he patented on June 26, 1801 – or on 7 Messidor An IX, to use the French Republican calendar in force at the time. Designed to counter the problem of gravity affecting the regularity of watches, which at the time were worn not on the wrist but vertically in a pocket, Breguet’s idea was to install the escapement inside a mobile carriage that performed a complete rotation every minute. He thus secured a patent in Paris for his “watch compensating for all of the inequalities that may be found in the balance wheel and mainspring.”
Above: The Breguet No. 1176, an important pocket watch created in 1809. It was Breguet’s third tourbillon watch and the first with a four-minute tourbillon regulator (instead of the classical one-minute tourbillon). First sold to a Polish nobleman in 1809 for 4,600 French Francs, it has been acquired by Breguet in 2014 for CHF 821,000 and is now part of the museum’s collection (exhibited at the Paris Boutique).
Back then, Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Anniversaire 5365 used the word tourbillon referring to the meaning used by Descartes in his philosophy, that of a planetary system rotating on a single axis. During his lifetime, Abraham-Louis Breguet created 40 tourbillons until 1829, including 35 watches.
From a watchmaker’s perspective, designing and crafting a fine tourbillon is a challenging and delicate art and is often regarded as one of watchmaking’s highest accomplishments. From a technical perspective, the regulator of the watch needs to be mounted in a revolving cage. The gear train architecture is traditional. Energy is stored within the barrel containing the mainspring that powers the movement, transmitting the motion to the wheels. However, the regulator design is different: the escape wheel pinion traditionally turns around an intermediate wheel with a fixed toothing, therefore driving the cage housing the escapement and balance wheel. The tourbillon cage, which generally rotates once per minute, is a fascinating feat of miniature engineering with often over 50 parts all weighing as little as possible.
Today, the name tourbillon, which Abraham-Louis Breguet gave to his invention, is known universally in the watch world. The tourbillon has long established itself as part of the vocabulary of modern horological design. Besides its technical reason of being, its captivating motion is also a huge part of its appeal. And as you would expect, it still holds a place of choice in Breguet’s collection, with creations that are both a nod to the past and a look toward the future… The imprint left by Abraham-Louis Breguet was such technically and aesthetically that his successors have never deviated from the line drawn while they have maintained a fascinating ability to innovate.
The Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Anniversaire 5365
Now, in 2021, Breguet is celebrating the 220th anniversary of its founder’s invention by releasing a new version of its Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat, an automatic watch that we’ve seen already on multiple occasions, whether in its traditional guilloche edition with a power reserve indicator – the 5377 – in a sleek enamel edition without power reserve – the 5367 – or the same edition with a blue enamel dial and finally an impressive edition with skeletonized movement, the 5395. But if the base is known and we’ve already explained it several times, this new Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Anniversaire 5365 comes with a list of evolutions that make it special.
Limited to 35 pieces only – an ode to the number of tourbillon watches made during Abraham-Louis Breguet’s lifetime – it has been slightly modified compared to the Classique reference 5377 to make it a heartfelt tribute to the timeless aesthetic of A.L. Breguet watches. This watch, an ultra-thin model, is housed in a 41mm 18k rose gold case with all the attributes of a traditional Breguet watch. The design is elegant and refined, with polished surfaces and casebands, of course, decorated with a fine fluted pattern. The lugs, welded to the case and equipped with screw bars, are thin and rather elongated, and the height of the case is a mere 7mm, making for an extremely discreet and understated model. Sapphire crystals are found on both sides.
Where this watch truly evolves is on its dial. First of all, in a move for timelessness and elegance, the power reserve indicator, usually found a 9 o’clock, has been removed – just like in the enamel 5367 editions. Far cleaner, the idea was to bring the focus mostly on two features of this 220th-anniversary edition; the tourbillon regulator and the extremely fine guilloche patterns on the dial.
Indeed, the Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Anniversaire 5365 inaugurates new patterns – well, to be more precise, the patterns are traditional but the execution is new. Guillochage, a technique widely used by Breguet, has been developed for more than just aesthetical reasons. As explained by the brand, “by offering surfaces with finely worked irregularities, the engine-turning or guillochage allows light to be captured in a variety of ways, ranging from the utmost clarity to a more matte finish. Light captured in this way enables the different reading zones on the dial to be clearly marked. Engine-turned surfaces are also better protected from the ravages of time than a polished finish, which are overly shiny and prone to corrosion and scratches. Finally, engine-turned surfaces offer the relief needed in order to collect the microdust that could have degraded the chronometric performance of the first pocket watches more than two centuries ago.” Knowing A.L. Breguet’s affinity for complex and off-centred display, the appropriate use of guillochage and of different patterns gave the watches better legibility. It also became a hallmark of the brand, participating in the creation of its identity.
For the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Anniversaire 5365, Breguet has opted for a combination of two classic patterns, the clou de Paris and the grain d’orge, applied on an 18k gold base. The central area of the dial is using this clou de Paris (or hobnail) motif yet in an extremely fine way. Handmade with a diamond chisel, it is created by interlacing engraved and crossed lines with a pitch of only 0.25 millimetres – about half the usual pitch. The result, from a normal distance (when wearing the watch), is a surface that becomes almost homogenous and matte. It makes it easier to read the hours and minutes, indicated by the two central blued steel off-centre open-tipped hand and their circular brushed chapter ring that always contrasts with the rest of the dial. To even better separate the indications, the periphery of the dial is made with a grain d’orge (or barley grain) motif. Finally, the last of the unmistakable signs are the secret signatures, visible only in certain angles, framing the 12 o’clock marker.
For the rest of the dial, the focus is clearly made on the tourbillon regulator. Positioned unusually between 3 and 6 o’clock, this one-minute anti-gravity regulator is held in place by a new blued steel bridge – an unprecedented feature for the brand. Secondly, the cartouche affixed above the tourbillon bears the text “Brevet No 157” as a reference to the patent number awarded to Abraham-Louis Breguet for his invention a mere 220 years ago. Note that this tourbillon may be a tribute to an invention made over two centuries ago, but in this Tourbillon Extra-Plat Anniversaire 5365, it comes with modern attributes, such as a fast 4Hz frequency, a reverse-side lever escapement with silicon horns and a silicon balance spring.
Turning the watch over, you’ll discover the in-house and refined Calibre 581. We’re talking here about an ultra-thin, automatic movement. Its thinness was made possible by using a peripheral rotor. On the contrary to a traditional centrally-mounted rotor, which adds to the thickness of the movement and partially hides the bridges underneath, a peripheral rotor is an annular segment mounted and swinging around the movement, here connected to the winding mechanism by the mean of 3 ball-bearings. Made of platinum for better inertia, it is decorated with a hand-guilloche wave pattern. The movement itself is built around a large barrel, which can store up to 80 hours of energy.
But, there’s more to this calibre, as the Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Anniversaire 5365 features a special decoration, a tribute to the work of A.L. Breguet. The bridges are hand-engraved with a faithful reproduction of the original watercolour plate used by Abraham-Louis Breguet when filing his 1801 patent application for a tourbillon regulator (visible at the beginning of this article). Also, it shows hand-executed mentions “Anniversaire 1801–2021” on the barrel, and “Brevet No 157 Du 7 Messidor An IX” upon the lower bridge of the tourbillon. Of course, the movement is finely decorated by hand with anglages and polished countersinks (among other traditional techniques).