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Breguet - Watchmaker to the French Navy

Breguet Watchmaker to the French Navy

The title of watchmaker to the French Navy is arguably the most prestigious among the many honours bestowed on Breguet's founder during his lifetime.

Horloger de la Marine, watchmaker to the French Navy. Among the many honors bestowed upon Breguet’s founder, Abraham-Louis Breguet during his lifetime, the title of Horloger de la Marine, arguably, is the most prestigious. This is not to diminish in the slightest the distinction of his election to the Academy of Sciences, the most celebrated scientific society in France. How- ever, when he was nominated by King Louis XVIII as Horloger de la Marine, there could be but a single watchmaker elevated to and occupying that position, whereas the Academy of Sciences admitted numerous academicians.

To appreciate the importance of the title, keep in mind the pivotal role that timekeeping played in marine navigation. During this period, the principal method for sea going vessels to determine their longitudinal position required an accurate chronometer. Precision in timekeeping was vital. An error of but one second with a sextant sighting, would equal 15 seconds of longitudinal error, or approximately .25 miles at the equator. With the wealth and security of the nation linked to sea power, the contribution of the Horloger de la Marine in the supply of robust and accurate ships’ clocks was considerable. So important, in fact, that the title was conferred by the King himself. In its recommendation to Louis XVIII for Breguet to replace the previous Horloger de la Marine, Louis Berthoud, the Navy observed “M. Breguet, who presents himself to succeed M. Berthoud, is the only watchmaker recognized by public opinion”. Naturally, this fame reflected in the Navy’s report was boosted still further with the King’s decision in 1815 to appoint him. No one can doubt the enhancement of his renown flowing from the Royal appointment, but there was an important obligation which accompanied it. As the Horloger de la Marine, Breguet was required to supply the state’s orders for his marine chronometers in preference to his other orders and activities.

Watchmaker to the French Navy

Abraham-Louis Breguet took his position seriously not only in the design and construction of his chronometers, but, as well, in offering instructions in their use. For example, in 1817 he published a 23 page pamphlet entitled “Instructions sur l’usage des Montres marine” (Instructions for the usage of marine clocks). This manual not only set out detailed instructions on how to use a chronometer for navigation but, in addition, guidance on how to verify that the timepiece was running as it should.

Many marine chronometers were produced by Breguet and, thereafter, by his son. To meet the stringent demands for precision, these clocks abounded with technical innovations. A good example is No. 3196 sold to the French Navy in 1822. Housed in a wooden box, traditional for marine chronometers, and equipped with a suspension system for the clock, this timepiece featured two barrels and a détente escapement.

This history lies behind and furnishes the inspiration for Breguet’s modern Marine Collection, which was first introduced in 1990. Of course today, Breguet offers wristwatches rather than wooden boxed ships’ clocks. But the core notions of robustness and purposeful design endure. All of the models feature reinforced cases, and, except for the chronographs, crown protectors. As is suggested by the word “marine”, many models in the collection boast enhanced water resistance, 10 bar or 100 meters. One departure from the past, however, is the diversity of complications found in the collection.

Watchmaker to the French Navy

The first Marine wristwatch collection, which debuted in 1990, was modest in its expanse featuring but two automatic winding watches of different diameters, both with large seconds hands and a date indication. A few years later complications arrived with the introduction of a self-winding three register chronograph and with the debut of the world time Hora Mundi.

A significant aesthetic change occurred in 2005 with the introduction of the style found in the current collection. The Marine collection became far sportier with a purposeful design for the case and a bolder interpretation of the crown protectors. Debuting the new style was the automatic winding, large seconds, grand date, reference 5817. This timepiece brought with it three significant introductions: the first large date display offered by Breguet; a rubber strap, likewise a first for the house; and the option of a steel case, which had not been previously offered in the Marine line. The dial, as well, set itself apart from Breguet’s other timepieces as its chapter ring featured applied numerals. In the current collection there are nine different variations of the 5817 which are offered.

The trend which began with the original Marine wristwatches of bringing complications to the collection has not only been continued but greatly expanded. Included in today’s line up are chronographs for both men and women (references 5827 and 5823 for men, and 8827 and 8828 for women); a two time zone GMT complication (reference 5857), and an alarm watch (reference 5847). Each of these models is available in a wide variety of case materials and dial colors.

Watchmaker to the French Navy

The most complicated piece in the collection is the Marine Tourbillon Chronograph (reference 5837) which, as the name suggests, boasts a tourbillon and a column wheel controlled horizontal clutch chronograph. The chronograph portion of the movement is based upon Breguet’s legendary 2320/533.1 movement. The tourbillon position is unusual for Breguet as it is located at 12 o’clock. Except for the Tradition Tourbillon and the rotating Double Tourbillon, Breguet places its other tourbillons at 6 o’clock. Most importantly, the Marine Tourbillon Chronograph is the only timepiece in all of Breguet’s collections to offer this combination of complications.

Breguet’s Marine Collection bridges two centuries. Its name resonates with history, while its style and complications connect with today. Enrichened by its now broad range of complications, this refined collection with its spirit of sport is expanded still further with its available choices of case materials, straps, bracelets, dials, and precious stone settings.


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