Abraham-Louis Breguet, the late 18th century founder of the Swiss luxury watch brand that bears his name, was a remarkable watchmaker for many reasons. He was the technological genius responsible for pioneering innovations like the self-winding movement, equation of time, parechute, perpetual calendar, Breguet balance-spring, tourbillon etc, which set the course for the modern wrist watch industry. Breguet was also a marketing wizard, who early on realized the importance of his pocket watches having a distinctive and consistent look, based on the work of some of the best craftsmen working during his time. It is a strategy that would later come to be known as branding.
What is extraordinary is that most of the look-based innovative characteristics that Breguet introduced in his watches have survived till today and continue to define the brand’s watches. At Breguet’s workshop in Vallée de Joux, many aspects of the watch are still done by hand by expert craftsmen, in the same manner it was done two centuries ago. Some of the tools to achieve the results would have changed, but the quality of craftsmanship has remained a consistent Breguet trademark. The engine-turned dials are a good example. Around 1786, Breguet began fitting his watches with engine-turned silver and gold dials of his own design. Hand-crafted engine-turned motifs have since then gone on to become one of the unmistakable hallmarks of a Breguet watch. The brand’s famous dials are immediately recognizable and celebrated for the fineness of their patterns, reflecting the regularity of the movements within. Smooth to start with, the solid gold dial plate is first worked with a hand graver to outline and hollow out the areas of the dial reserved for such indications as the power reserve, the phases of the moon, the subdial for the seconds and others, depending on the model.
Engine-turning as such can now begin, resulting in a finely textured, glare proofed matt surface. Not only do the decorative patterns selected – clou de Paris hobnailing, pavé de Paris cobbling, sunburst, barleycorn, waves, cross weave, checkerboard, flame and many more – make the dial far easier to read, they also contribute greatly to its unique character. Breguet craftsmen continue to use engineturning lathes designed and built over a century ago to create these distinctive dials.
Classique Grande Complication Double Tourbillion with translucent enamel dial 5347BR
Cameo carving is another important form of craftsmanship that was first used on a dial by Abraham-Louis Breguet, when he created the original Reine de Naples watch for the Queen of Naples. The watch continues to be created to date and so do their distinguishing dials. Cameo is a delicate carving method employed on sea shells to create decorations and motifs. It is distinctive to the Naples region of Italy and Breguet still employs master craftsmen in the region to source its dials. The shells are first dried for more than seven years before being worked on, first in Naples, and then at the Breguet facility in Switzerland. There are numerous other aspects of a typical Breguet watch that call for work by accomplished craftsmen, to preserve the integrity and the continuity of their looks. There is, for example, the famous Breguet hands, whose characteristics have not changed for more than two centuries. The same is the case with the typical fluting on the case band. Then there are other features, like polishing, the ruby setting and the engraving not just of motifs, but also entire movements, including the bridges and oscillating weights. Each Breguet watch, in that sense, is a work of art.