Breguet’s hugely successful Tradition line, with its distinctive exposed mechanism, was launched in 2005. But they were inspired by the calibers of the simple ‘subscription’ watches that Abraham-Louis Breguet conceived in the 1790s to expand his market. The pioneering watchmaker was already a famous man because of his path-breaking inventions, like the self-winding watch (1780), the gong spring for repeating watches (1783), Breguet hands and Breguet Arabic numerals (1783), Guilloche dials (1786), and Breguet key (1789) when the French Revolution forced him to exile in Switzerland.

When things calmed down, he resumed the management of his Parisian workshop on Quai de l’Horloge, on the Ile de la Cité, in the spring of 1795. His first step was an attempt to expand the clientele of his watches beyond the royalty and the landed gentry that he had been catering to till then. He hit upon the idea of launching a basic, affordable pocket watch of a relatively large diameter with a single hand, enamel dial, and an easy-to-make movement. He then conceived of a subscription (souscription in French) service to sell these watches, where the buyers were required to make a down payment of a quarter of the price when placing the order, and the rest on delivery.

These watches that were first launched in 1797, were a big success. Some 700 were made, in silver and gold cases. Breguet used the caliber of the subscription watches to create his first tact or touch watches in 1799. These were equipped with a mechanism that turned a pointer that mirrored the position of the hour hand, and stretched beyond the watch’s face. This enabled their wearers to tell the time by touching the pointer, while not looking at it. This was handy for checking time in the dark, in the pre-electricity days.

The Tradition line, with its stunning open view of the movements, is directly inspired by the subscription and the tact watches. Its other distinctive feature is a retrograde display. It is a display where the indicator hand for date or seconds, sweeps across a semi-circle or quarter circle instead of a full circle, and then jumps back to the start position. It is a Breguet invention whose original purpose, centuries ago, was so to save space on a dial. In modern watches, though, the retrograde display — though functional — is largely for its aesthetic. In Breguet Tradition Quantième Retrograde 7597, the retrograde date (‘Quantième’ is French for date) display is positioned between the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock, with a blued steel hand sweeping across. The hand is multi-tiered, allowing it to fly over the movement components. At 10 o’clock, a screw-in corrector allows users to set the date. The 18K silvered gold dial, with its delicate engine-turned Clous de Paris pattern, is eccentrically positioned at 12 o’clock. The open-tipped Breguet hands are in blued steel.

The 40mm case, with a finely fluted caseband, is available both in 18K white gold, and 18K rose gold. The 505Q selfwinding caliber, with a power reserve of 50 hours, is equipped with a reverse in-line lever escapement with silicon horns, as well as a Breguet balance spring. The center wheel at 8 o’clock triggers the oscillating mechanism of the same size at 4 o’clock. The pivots of the balance wheel at 4 o’clock are protected by another major invention of Abraham-Louis Breguet — the cone-shaped ‘pare-chute’ shock protection system. It is the predecessor of the shock absorption systems in modern-day watches, like Incabloc. The watch comes with an alligator leather strap, with a white gold folding buckle.