When he invented the tourbillon, A-L Breguet not only improved the accuracy of pocket-chronometers, he also gave the watchmaking world one of its finest horological devices.
BREVET DU SEPT MESSIDOR AN IX
On June 26, 1801, or rather on 7 Messidor, year IX, since the Republican calendar was still in force in France, Abraham-Louis Breguet earned the rights for a patent which would last for a ten year period for a new type of regulator called the “Tourbillon”.
Abraham-Louis Breguet based his work on the observation that gravity is the enemy of the regularity of horological movements, in that it provokes variations in timing adjustment with each change of position of a watch when worn. To solve this problem of gravity that is inherent to all human activity, the maestro had the idea of installing the entire escapement (meaning the balance and spring, the lever and the escape-wheel, the parts the most sensitive to gravity) inside a mobile carriage that performs a complete rotation each minute. Thus, since all the flaws are regularly repeated, they are engaged in a process of mutual compensation. Moreover, the constant change of point of contact undergone by the balance pivots in their bearings ensures enhanced lubrication.
Even though the progress of watchmaking has made it possible to considerably improve regularity by more classic means, the Tourbillon, patented in 1801, remains a great invention, a legendary milestone in Breguet’s career. Moreover, through its discreet ties with astronomy and social sciences, it also emerged at a pivotal moment of European thought. Since then, the Breguet company has made it a point of honour to pay tribute to this invention with timepieces each more elegant than the next.
THE FIRST TOURBILLONS
Based on a principle that was brilliant and yet extremely complex to actually produce, the Tourbillon was far from operational in the summer of 1801. After two experimental models (the watch n° 169 gifted to the son of London-based horologer John Arnold in 1809, and watch N° 282 completed in 1800 and sold much later by Breguet’s son), the first Tourbillon would not be commercialized until 1805. The following year, the invention was presented to the public at the National Exhibition of Industrial Products that was held in Paris on the Esplanade des Invalides in September and October 1806. Described as a mechanism by which timepieces “maintain the same accuracy, whatever the vertical or inclined position of the watch”, the tourbillon regulator was a constant source of fascination thereafter.
The greatest devotees of horology were unable to resist its appeal: the famous patron and Italian collector Sommariva, Monsignor Belmas, Bishop of Cambrai, the Bourbons of Spain who were to own up to three Tourbillons acquired between 1808 and 1814, or the Prince-Regent of England who acquired a large-sized Tourbillon in 1814, mounted on the top of a gilt bronze cone. Somewhat mysterious and reserved for initiates, only 35 examples of the Tourbillon were sold between 1805 and 1823, the year of the maestro’s death, but his successors through to the present day have held it as their duty to perpetuate this exceptional expertise, while enriching it with fresh feats.
THE TOURBILLON NOWADAYS:
Classique Double Tourbillon 5345 "Quai de l'Horloge"
The two mechanical hearts beat independently from one another, each driven by their own barrel. It is a remarkable display, featuring a number of components made of gold, as were those of grand complication movements back in their day – a tradition that has now been all but lost; one that the House of Breguet endeavors to perpetuate, as it does its specialist artisan techniques. This watch is a stunning display of Breguet’s expert craftsmanship – in particular the engraving on the back, which depicts the house that Abraham-Louis Breguet acquired on Quai de l’Horloge in Paris.
CLASSIQUE DOUBLE TOURBILLON 5347
The spectacular outcome of years of diligent development, the Breguet Double Tourbillon includes a hand-wound movement fitted with a pair of tourbillon regulators rotating on the hour axis. Working independently from one another, two tourbillons are coupled by means of differential gears and mounted on a rotating center plate effecting a complete revolution in twelve hours. The hour is shown by the bridge connecting the tourbillon regulators doubling as a watch hand, while the minutes are indicated by a standard hand at center.
TRADITION TOURBILLON FUSÉE 7047
Inspired by the legendary souscription watches created by A.-L. Breguet, this “Grande Complication” timepiece - featuring a tourbillon, fusee and chain transmission, and a Breguet balance spring in silicon - symbolises both a return to roots and a resolute forward-looking brand vision. Its pure, modern aesthetic sets the stage for the tourbillon and the fusee and chain transmission located on the upper part of the mainplate. These technical accomplishments symbolising Breguet’s horological excellence are protected by four patents.
TOURBILLON MESSIDOR 5335
The Classique Tourbillon Messidor design salutes the master’s ingenious invention which he patented, according to the French Revolutionary calendar, on 7 Messidor Year IX (June 26, 1801). Driven by a handwound movement and lodged in a spacious-looking carriage, this uncluttered tourbillon design adds its distinctive character to the watch’s already fascinating personality.
CLASSIQUE TOURBILLON QUANTIÈME PERPÉTUEL 3797
The one-minute tourbillon at 6 o'clock nicely complements the chapter ring. Its bridge is delicately chamfered and surmounted by a triple hand for the seconds. The subdial for the days at 9 o'clock is engine turned in waves. In the movement, a snail cam makes the days hand jump instantaneously. At 3 o'clock a blued steel hand points to the months on a dial engine-turned in a shimmering sunburst pattern. At its centre a blue sun shows the leap years.
CLASSIQUE TOURBILLON EXTRA-PLAT AUTOMATIQUE 5367
This new Classique Grandes Complications 5367 provides a beautifully simple interpretation of the tourbillon, which reigns supreme on a minimalist dial. Calibre 581 powering this timepiece comprises a balance oscillating at a frequency of 4 Hz while maintaining a comfortable 80-hour power reserve. This distinctive performance is enabled by a “high-energy” barrel, whose patented construction serves to increase the number of coils of its spring and hence augment energy storage.
CLASSIQUE TOURBILLON EXTRA-PLAT SQUELETTE 5395
For its new Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Squelette 5395, Breguet has opted for an extra-thin three-millimeter thick skeleton design for its tourbillon movement. An undertaking that is as much technical as it is artistic with emphasis on craftsmanship, of which the watchmaker is at the forefront.
Ultra-lightweight – the carriage weighs no more than 0.290 grams in total – and equipped with an outstanding power reserve of 80 hours thanks to a high-energy barrel beating at four hertz – a particularly high frequency for a tourbillon – this 581 caliber already featured in models 5377 and 5367. Here, for the first time, it has been incorporated in a fully skeletonized design, a contemporary interpretation of this ancestral technique. The gold plate and bridges have been hollowed out so as to display the mechanical anatomy of the movement. The challenge of this undertaking lies primarily in removing as much material as possible, while preserving the technical properties of the various different components. A truly novel watchmaking complication made even more challenging by the choice of gold. Once the chosen alloy has hardened, sophisticated expertise and care are needed to achieve the final result. Breguet is one of the last watchmakers to fashion gold to this standard.