In 1801, Abraham-Louis Breguet patented a device he called the tourbillon. He didn’t know it at the time, but he had both found a solution to the problem created by the effects of gravity on the rate of a pocket watch and invented one of the most fascinating elements of horology. The tourbillon has become one of modern luxury watchmaking’s most prized possessions.
Breguet’s tourbillon idea was simple: rotate the escapement around its own axis to cancel out the negative effects of gravity disturbing the rate by averaging the errors. This was novel for the time because most of the era’s best watchmakers were attempting to correct the problem mechanically. Breguet – thinking inside the cage, as it were – decided to cheat physics instead. Simple, effective, and genius.
During his lifetime, Breguet created 26 watches outfitted with tourbillons, each one different from the one before it; some of them contained the same base escapement, but no two were completely alike. And unlike the chronometer escapement in serious use at the time, Breguet did not invent a special escapement with a tourbillon: he enveloped his existing escapement in a rotating cage (the actual tourbillon) secured to the movement.
Ever since, Breguet traditional tourbillon replica has been known as the one-minute tourbillon, named for the time it takes for the tourbillon carriage to complete one full rotation.
Another of Breguet’s many talents was self-marketing, and marketing plays an extremely important part in both Breguet’s past and present. In 1999, Breguet was taken over by the Swatch Group. Nicolas G. Hayek, the late co-founder of the group, chairman of the board, and Breguet’s CEO, was the consummate marketer in the modern watch industry. It seems like it should only be fate for him to have been the one to acquire this brand.
“In 1987, Breguet was sold to a private group of investors, who then sold the company to the Swatch Group in 1999. Breguet at that time was practically almost totally forgotten,” Hayek revealed to me in an interview in 2005.
Hayek did more than just revive the name of watchmaking’s most famous and important son when he bought Breguet; he also revived the concept of the tourbillon, which, hard to believe as it may be in the modern mechanical era we have entered, also lay fairly dormant until then.
Breguet invented the tourbillon in 1801 as a way to improve the rate of pocket watches hampered by the effects of gravity. Contrary to wristwatches, pocket watches stand straight up and stationary in a pocket. Unable to move around as wristwatches do on the wrists of their owners, gravity took its toll on their accuracy, a status quo that the tourbillon was created to cheat.
It stands to reason, then, that tourbillons are actually moot in a wristwatch. Perhaps, however, that does not diminish the genius that goes into conceiving them and the nimble fingers and clever eyes needed to construct and regulate them. Today’s slew of astute watchmakers follow in the footsteps of Glashütte’s Alfred Helwig, reconstructing and improving upon what is accepted through and through as being the highest order of “complication” (to some) or escapement style (to others) in haute horlogerie.
This slew of watchmakers and the clever marketers running luxury brands have now recognized something that Hayek was already able to see in 1999: the tourbillon could be used as the ultimate luxury marketing tool. Although its actual purpose is moot, anyone even remotely connected to the watch industry can see the craftmanship that goes into the making of a tourbillon. And, above and beyond that, it just plain looks cool to have the escapement spotlighted and turning its one-minute revolutions visibly on the dial. No wonder that the tourbillon has attained the degree of popularity that it has.
In 2006, Breguet introduced the Classique 5347 Grande Complication Double Rotating Tourbillon. Placed in Breguet’s Classique collection, this is a stunning watch featuring two separate tourbillons – but that isn’t all: the hour wheel moves a plate that makes a rotation once every twelve hours, taking the hour hand (and everything else) with it.
This watch earned the innovative company three new patents. Only 20 pieces were made in the first year, with more editions in varying case metals and beautiful dial interpretations following.
The year 2020 marks the next installment in the Double Tourbillon chapter: the Breguet Classique Double Tourbillon 5345 Quai de l’Horloge, which pays tribute to both this fascinating timepiece and the ingenuity of A-L Breguet’s tourbillon.
You’d be forgiven if you thought this might be the same watch just dressed a little differently, but there are some real differences between the previous pieces and this one, though the changes are mainly aesthetic.
Front first: this is the first version of the Breguet Classique Double Tourbillon to be completely open on the dial side, revealing the incredible beauty of the double tourbillon and other mechanics usually hidden below (an admittedly beautiful) dial. And this reveals another of the big changes here: all the components of this updated movement that were possible to make in gold have now been made in gold.
It is fascinating to watch the two one-minute tourbillons in motion. They are connected by a central differential gear made of steel – a material needed for its extreme rigidity here. The entirety of the movement on its base plate makes one full revolution in twelve hours (one might also argue that this in itself is yet another tourbillon).
Forming two counterpoints to the tourbillons, and creating a very satisfying symmetry, the serially operating twin spring barrels provide 50 hours’ worth of power reserve. Each of the barrels features new anthracite-colored steel bridges, which are openworked and painstakingly hand polished (including several famed, extremely difficult internal angles) in the form of the Breguet “B.”
Speaking of winding, the crown is outfitted with torque limitation by employing a dynamometric security system designed to prevent excessive winding of the dual mainsprings.
The monochrome cacophony of components punctuated by the ruby red of 81 bearing jewels and the blued steel of the hour and minute hands – the hour hand moving along on a fixed route thanks to its hour wheel, which revolves the plate – rest against the beautiful backdrop of a new guilloche pattern on the base plate.
The entirety of this 738-component opus is crafted using only traditional materials; there is no sign here of the silicon escapement and balance that Breguet has been favoring of late, preferring the mechanical hearts to jibe with tradition: the two tourbillons’ steel balance springs with their iconic Breguet overcoil terminal curves revolve within traditionally black-polished steel tourbillon cages 12.8 mm in diameter. A steel escape wheel with 15 teeth portions energy from the gear train into time.
A sapphire crystal ring engraved with Roman numerals and minute markers filled in blue encircles the movement to provide some reference as it’s all too easy to get lost in the depths of the extreme beauty of this visible movement.
The case is monumental: 16.8 mm is quite a height, but some of it comes from the relatively high box sapphire crystal placed on top of the fluted platinum case to give the whole watch an airy and open feel and allow a view of the open dial from the side as well.
Breguet’s technicians decided for a box sapphire crystal as a minimum of bezel would allow the wearer to see a maximum of the movement – a glorious thing.
Turning the 46 mm case over, we find the next treat, one that seems a real shame to hide on the back: an elaborate engraving of Breguet’s original “house on the Quai” in Paris engraved across four gold bridges. Painstakingly crafted by Breguet’s own in-house artisans, the engraving shows the façade of 39 Quai de l’Horloge, which Abraham-Louis occupied from 1775.
The detail is astounding; one of my favorite elements is that through the building’s windows you can see gear wheels turning. A metaphor for windows to excellence? Maybe. I find it simply enchanting.
It takes two entire weeks just to complete the engraving, beveling, and decoration of the four rhodium-plated gold bridges on back of this masterful timepiece.
One final detail worth mentioning is the natural-slate-on-rubber strap. Yes, slate, as in the stone. I look forward to handling this someday soon as I find it hard to fathom. But it sure looks cool and goes so well with the monochromatic look of this grand oeuvre of a timepiece.
All of these cool details kind of make me want to move in . . . do you think that house on the back might be available? Breguet Classique Double Tourbillon 5345