Abraham-Louis Breguet: The Father of Modern-Day Watchmaking

Abraham-Louis Breguet is considered to be the one of the most innovative watchmakers of all time. Born in 1747, in Neuchatel, Switzerland, the watchmaker established his business in 1775 in Paris, France, after extensive training. During his lifetime he created timepieces for kings, queens, and heads of state. His inventions pushed the boundaries of accuracy in timekeeping, and his aesthetic innovations established new levels of decorating and finishing that are alive and well today.

En garde!

Breguet is bound up with history: One of his early clients was General Napoleon Bonaparte, the head of the French Army. Before accurate timekeeping was made portable, coordinating timing to synchronize attacks from different locations was achieved with imprecise measures of time, such as the angle of the sun in the sky and the phase of the moon. With the advent of timekeeping that was more accurate, reliable, and portable, coordinating several battalions at once was made far easier. Napoleon recognized the advantages, and immediately bought three clocks from Breguet, one of which was fitted with a calendar and minute repeater and installed in his railroad car.


Fit for a queen

Bonaparte’s sister Caroline also caught the watch bug early on and commissioned the first wristwatch from Breguet in 1810. Her timepiece featured a minute repeater and a thermometer. In all, she commissioned 34 clocks and watches from Breguet, who created a distinct oval shape for her. The women’s Queen of Naples (Reine de Naples) collection is still part of Breguet’s modern-day collection for women. A mechanical watch (as are all Breguet watches), the Reine de Naples has become an iconic pillar for the company.

The famed hands

What are “Breguet Hands”? You’ll hear the phrase in watch collector circles. Breguet’s watch hands differed from the short, thick, clunky hands of fellow watchmakers. He created long, slim hands that were hollowed out with a circle opening towards the point. Breguet also offered blued steel hands for the first time, making it much easier to read the time against a light colored dial. Breguet achieved the blue color by heating the steel hands over an open flame to temper the metal. Nowadays, the steel is heated in an oven, allowing greater control over the precise shade of blue.

Tourbillon for precision

A mechanical watch’s timing can be influenced by many environmental factors, including extreme heat or cold and humidity. Gravity also posed a major challenge for pocket watches. Because the pocket watch was usually worn in one position (vertical, in the pocket) the pull of gravity affected the rate of recovery of the springs in the watch’s movement. Breguet was determined to correct this problem, and after many years of experimentation invented the tourbillon. A timing regulator, the tourbillon rotates the watch’s escapement (timing mechanism), making a full turn every minute. In this way the gravitational pull was equal on all parts of the mechanism. Breguet received a patent for his new invention in 1801.

Modern times

Today, the Swatch Group owns Breguet (among several other brands), and has kept the steadfast attention to quality. Pre-owned Breguet watches have garnered exceptionally high prices at both auction and private resale, and have proven to be solid investments.