Simon de Burton
The name of Abraham-Louis Breguet will likely be familiar even to non-horophiles as that of (probably) the greatest watchmaker who ever lived. He was born in 1747 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, and the innovative and beautifully made timekeepers he created after moving to Paris were beloved by the rich and famous, from Marie-Antoinette to the Duke of Wellington.
Breguet is credited with everything from the advancement of the automatic winding mechanism to the patenting of the tourbillon and, even, to the invention of the wrist watch itself when he designed a piece for Caroline Bonaparte, Queen of Naples, which attached to the arm by a band made from gold threads.
Yet he became best recognised for his complex pocket watches, the single-hand ‘subscription’ watches and the ‘tact’ watches, which could be read by feel. ‘To carry a fine Breguet watch is to feel that you have the brains of a genius in your pocket,’ said the late Sir David Salomons, the scientific author and barrister who became the early 20th century’s pre-eminent authority on Breguet’s work.
It is not especially well known, however, that Breguet was appointed chronometer maker to the French Royal Navy in 1815.
Vital for the accurate calculation of longitude on the oceans, a marine chronometer was long regarded as an essential piece of equipment for any significant voyage, and the fact that the French nation relied upon his expertise for the safe passage of its fleet speaks volumes for the high regard in which Breguet was held.
To the Swatch Group, which has owned Breguet for 20 years, the brand is the most prestigious in its portfolio and it works hard to only create watches ‘ALB’ himself would approve.
Among them are those in the modern-day Marine Collection, which hark back to Breguet’s illustrious role as the Navy’s official chronometer maker by featuring nods to the sea as well as being ‘fit for purpose’ when worn on the ocean.
This year, the line has been refreshed with five new models, starting with the ‘Marine Dame’ self-winding women’s watch featuring a mother-of-pearl or blue lacquer dial skilfully decorated with an engraved pattern to give the appearance of a rolling sea. The 33.8mm case
is made from steel and the watch can be fitted with blue or white straps in leather or rubber.
The four new men’s pieces include the Marine Reference 5517 – a simple, 40mm three-hand automatic that’s offered in salt- resistant titanium, rose gold or white gold; the 42mm Reference 5527 Marine Chronograph available in the same variations, and the Reference 5547 Alarm that incorporates a mechanical alarm as well as a second time-zone display and power reserve indicator.
All of the above are relatively conventional – so it’s left to the pièce de résistance, the Marine Équation Marchante, to truly pay homage to Breguet the man by displaying the type of innovation with which he made his name.
Within the 43.9mm platinum case, you’ll find a fiendishly complicated movement that incorporates a perpetual calendar, 60-second tourbillon, retrograde date indicator, windows showing the day, month and a running equation of time display. ‘Equation of time’ being the difference between the 24 hours into which an Earth day is divided and the actual period of time it takes for the planet to rotate on its axis (23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.09 seconds).
The Marine Équation Marchante shows how the two times diverge over a period of days, weeks or months – something that’s an entertaining distraction today, but which refers back to the era of astral navigation when the discrepancy, if not accounted for, could send a ship off course.
Indeed, a close look at the watch reveals multiple sea-faring references – the off-centre chapter ring, for example, takes the form of a stylised ship’s wheel; the retrograde date hand has an anchor-shaped tip; the equation of time is indicated by a tiny sun and the indigo dial is decorated with a stylised wave pattern.
Turn the watch over to reveal a peripheral automatic winding rotor that allows a clear view of the highly decorated movement, which incorporates engraved images of an 18th-century French warship and a compass rose.
The Marine Équation Marchante is, of course, water-resistant to 100 metres but with a price tag of £190,500, you might want to remove it from your wrist before taking a dip.
Marine Collection from £14,400; breguet.com