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Breguet Frieze

The year 2022 has been an especially art-fuelled one for the house of Breguet, no thanks to a new multiyear partnership with the contemporary art fair Frieze

The watchmaker rubbed shoulders with the art world’s great and good in each of the fair’s main events – New York, Seoul and London, with Los Angeles to follow in February 2023 – as a special collaboration with the artist Pablo Bronstein tied it all together via a fantastical, unifying piece of work. 

Synergies between watchmaking and contemporary art have been going from strength to strength – and it’s easy to see why. There are strong parallels with structure, architecture and aesthetics of course, but also history and time – but for Breguet, watchmaking’s ties to contemporary art, says CEO Lionel a Marca, are much more specific to the brand. “Contemporary artists are avant-garde – they show a trend,” he says. “This embodies the spirit of Abraham-Louis Breguet, who despite the fact that he was technically minded, also had this artistic bent. He created a real disruption at the time, in terms of technical and aesthetic innovation in the watch industry.” 

A strong human element is another link, says Mr a Marca. “Whether you're talking about painting, a work of art or finishing a watch, the human being intervenes,” he says. “That's the real craft.”

 

Frieze

Frieze © Breguet

That explains why Mr a Marca ensured that each Breguet booth at Frieze hosted an historic guillochage machine on-site, which went down a treat with visitors. “There were very long queues of people who wanted to try and do a bit of guillochage themselves,” says Mr a Marca. The age-old watchmaking craft takes pride of place at the maison, who notably renovate around 30 engine-turning lathes in its history and who today has three people alone dedicated to refurbishing old guillochage machines. This decoration is a crowning Breguet signature, with guillochage adorning nearly all its watches, not just dials but also cases, rotors, and plates.

Frieze

Frieze © Breguet

At Frieze, this ancient guillochage art was contrasted by the contemporary works of Bronstein, set like wallpaper across the various Breguet booths. The Argentine-born, London-based artist is known for his preoccupation with architecture – notably architectural drawings of 18th century France, which is right up Breguet’s street – and which Bronstein reimagines in fantastical, whimsical form. His wallpaper for Breguet takes viewers into a smorgasbord of surrealist machines, which look as futuristic and sci-fi as they are retro and ancient. “It’s about imagining being inside one of these constructions, where everything is a machine – a decorative machine, but a machine nonetheless,” explains Bronstein, who notably linked wallpaper’s industrialisation in the 18th century to the modern systemising of time and time-keeping. “Arriving at a meeting on time was a symbol of a modern society,” explains Bronstein. “All this ties in with how we begin to produce and mechanise society.”

Frieze

Lionel Marca © Breguet

The respective fairs also enabled Bronstein to tell a story - charting the rise and fall of the machine. New York opens in neat, classical proportions, where the likes of a guillotine or drill are literal representations, as wheels and gears abound. “Everything is beautifully preserved in space and everything is clean,” describes Bronstein. In Seoul, the machines are at their zenith, talking to one another and performing at full efficiency. By London, chaos has descended. “It's machine meltdown – there’s civil war, mayhem,” says Bronstein. “And in Los Angeles, it will be post-apocalyptic.”

That will certainly keep art – and watch – lovers intrigued, but one thing fans won’t find is any co-collaboration watch to mark the Frieze partnership. As ever, art should speak for itself – whether Bronstein, Frieze or a Breguet watch. “Each one leads his own life and we don’t want to mix the three,” says Mr a Marca. “They remain separate entities, separate visions – while sharing some values, but not through a common product. It’s important that the artist should express themselves vis-à-vis Breguet, but not carry a dedicated watch that would symbolise a partnership. I don’t believe in that.”

Said like an artist with a true singular vision. 

 

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