Breguet holds a special place and title within our cultural heritage. Founder, A.-L. Breguet (1747-1823), set the parameters and benchmarks in which the world of horology and fine craftsmanship has been judged.
In over five centuries of fine watchmaking history, Abraham-Louis Breguet’s influence remains omnipresent above all others. The artisan craftsmanship of fine watch and clock making received the furthest advancement in the hands of Breguet than any other maker.
Abraham-Louis Breguet was born in Neuchatel, Switzerland to parents Jonas-Louis Breguet and Suzanne-Marguerite Bollein. His family’s ancestry was french, but since his family was Protestants they fled to Switzerland after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Jonas-Louis Breguet would eventually pass away in 1758 when Abraham was 10. However, fate would have in the plans for Suzanne-Marguerite to remarry to Joseph Tattet, who came from a family full of horologists.
The young Breguet would eventually pick up the trade with great interest and was sent to become an apprentice to a Versailles watchmaker. During this time he would dazzle and astonish his master with his adroit, and remarkable intelligence. To further his education, Breguet took evening classes in mathematics at Collegue Mazarin under Abbe Marie, who was able to arrange him to be introduced to King Louis XVI of France. Louis XVI has a strong interest and affinity for mechanics, which led to Bregeut to gain commission from him for specific creations such as a self-winding watch. Although this was a great beginning for the young watchmaker, Breguet would have trouble when Marie, mother, and step-father all passing away in almost quick succession which would leave him fending for himself.
Breguet would set up the watchmaking company after marrying Cecile Marie-Louise L’Huilier. Throughout this time period he invented innovative parts which included the tourbillon, automatic winding mechanisms, and the over coil. He would begin his ascendance in the aristocratic families of France once again when he would receive commissions from patrons such as Marie-Antoinette.
Breguet would become friendly with other high profile French politicians such as the revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat. Their intimate relationship would allow them to both escape impending problem and possible death. One situation lead to Breguet disguising Marat as an old woman to escape an angry crowd that was looking to harm Marat. Marat would eventually return the favor by arranging a safe passage for Breguet to Switzerland from where he traveled to England. He would remain there for two years until the political disruption in France stabilized in which he made his return.
During a large portion of the violence and uprising of the French Revolution, Breguet took refuge in Switzerland where he theorized, and crafted new ideas. He returned to Paris with an omnibus amount of ideas, which included the famous Breguet balance spring, the first carriage clock (sold to Napoleon Bonaparte), the sympathique clock and its dependent watch, the tact watch and the patented tourbillon in 1801.
He then became the indispensable watchmaker to several sectors such as scientific, military, financial and diplomatic bourgeois, and intelligestia of the age. In 1810, Breguet created the world’s very first wristwatch for Caroline Murat, queen of Naples. He continued receive prestigious awards and recognition around Europe where he was saluted for his contributions to fine watchmaking. Breguet was eventually appointed to the Board of Longitute and as a chronometer-maker to the navy, he entered the Academy of Sciences and received the Legion of Honor from the hands of Louis XVIII.
Decades after his death in 1823, Breguet et Fils developed more towards the engineering aspect than the watchmaking concern. The watchmaking sector of the company was spun off in 1870.
Breguet remained a Parisian boutique for the next century under the control of Edward Brown and descendants. The boutique produced only a few hundred watches per year. During this era, Breguet’s pocket watches and wristwatches evolved several times and were very similar to their contemporaries, unless it was unique, one of a kind timepieces made for special clients.
The quartz revolution was on the rise in 1970, the Brown family sold the Breguet boutique to the infamous Chaumet brothers. The Chaumet brothers attempted to re-expand the brand by reviving the signature aesthetic, which is now synonymous with the “Breguet look”. Overall production was increased, but the company continued to report losses every year. In addition to these problems, the Chaumet brothers went bankrupt in 1987, which led to the Republic of France selling its patrimony to the international investment firm investcorp.
Nouvelle Lemania and Valdar were also acquired a few years later in 1991, and united into the “Groupe Horloger Breguet.” At the time, the company only supplies Breguet with only a small portion of its movements (9%), while the rest were provided by Jaeger-LeCoultre and Frederic Piguet. Nouvelle was losing money as well and the Breguet atelier was transferred to L’Abbaye in 1994. Breguet’s production expanded to roughly 5,000 watches per year in 1995, and in 1997 transferred its watchmakers and additional watch production to Lemania.
The company continued to fight declining profits and retailers were struggling to sell the timepieces off their shelves. However, after 10 years of heavy investment and hard work, Investcorp was able to extract a profit when the Breguet Group was sold to Swatch Group in 1999 where it is still in possession.