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Interview: Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet

A 7th generation descendant of legendary watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, Emmanuel Breguet is  Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet and author of several books. 

Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet

Born in Saumur (Loire Valley), Emmanuel Breguet is a historian by training, graduating from the Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV) University with a DEA in history. He specialised in the history of economics and technology, and published numerous studies, particularly on civil and military aviation, before devoting himself to the work of his ancestor.

He joined the Breguet company in 1993 as curator of its historical heritage and overseeing the exceptional body of archives stored in the Breguet Museum in Paris, Place Vendôme, as well as the Breguet museums in Zurich and Shanghai. 

He lives in Paris with his wife, and has three children.

Alessandro Mazzardo, founder and executive editor at Time and Watches, recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions. Here are the answers.


Time and WatchesAbraham-Louis Breguet is a legend for any watchmaker as well as for any mechanical watch enthusiast. I still remember when I was 17 and my favourite Authorized Dealer gave me an invitation to visit an exposition of precious and historically important Breguet timepieces in Milan. Being able to plunge in a world of mechanical wonders, often linked to remarkable history events or personalities, was a memorable experience. When did you first realize the importance of your ancestor in the history of watchmaking? And was your involvement in the watchmaking world somehow inevitable due to your roots or did it follow a different path? 

Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet: I think I always knew that Abraham-Louis Breguet, whose bust sat in my parents' living room, was someone exceptional. But I realized the immensity of his genius when I began to delve into the archives and write about him. There, I discovered not only a great scientific mind, but also an artist, a courageous man, a man respected by all the elites of his time; a man whose influence is still felt today. As a historian, I have the role of memory smuggler, and that's a big responsibility! As the author of many books on Breguet, I am always moved to see how his character affects watchmaking enthusiasts, especially the young generation who see in him as a fruitful and innovative business leader, and a great communicator 


Time and WatchesFounder Abraham-Louis had French ancestors but was born in Neuchatel, Switzerland, in 1747. He then moved to Paris when he was 15 for his watchmakers apprentice. After establishing his own successful business, he had to return to Switzerland to escape the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. In 1795, as soon as the political scene in France stabilised a little, he returned to Paris rebuilding his business which he set up again in Quai de l'Horloge. I mention this because I would love to understand more about his feelings for France and Switzerland and the main reasons for him to return to Paris as soon as it was possible, although full stability was still far from being reached. 

Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet: In reality, the Breguet family is an old family of Neuchâtel origin, and not a French family expelled from France because of Protestantism. That said, that doesn't change the fact that Breguet fell in love with Paris and spent his whole life there. During the two years of extreme violence in the Revolution called “Terror” (1793-1795), he returned to his native country for almost two years. In 1795, when he decided to return to Paris, his friends were worried about his future: some would like him to stay in Switzerland and others think he would do better to settle in London. But instead he returns to Paris with a head full of ideas! And it is from Paris that he will continue his work and completely renew watchmaking. 

Abraham-Louis Breguet portrayed as a young man and, below, Neuchatel in the 18th Century



Time and WatchesAs the Head of Patrimony, you oversee the outstanding body of archives of the Breguet Museum in Paris, Place Vendome. Are there examples of old documents or timepieces that were found through a research activity in recent times? 

Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet: Montres Breguet has an incredible archive that spans almost 250 years! In other words, we have a precise description of each object manufactured by the house since the end of the 18th century. It is a considerable heritage. Today, we continue building the archive by printing registers that describe contemporary production. In the old archives, we keep technical notes, correspondence with customers, and we buy back documents at auctions. In 2010, we were able to buy the entire first part of a watchmaking treatise that Breguet wanted to publish but did not have time to finalize. This document was believed to have disappeared. There are also fascinating archives on Breguet, kept at the Académie des Sciences and the Bureau des Longitudes and in many other places! It was by going through all these archives that I discovered, for example, the history of the first wristwatch designed for the Queen of Naples in 1810-1812, or the appearance of the keyless winder (crown of winding) in 1830. 

Pictures from the Breguet Museum in Paris


Time and WatchesWhich is the technical invention of Abraham-Louis Breguet that you admire the most? And more in general, what is your personal favorite among all the creations of Maison Breguet?  

Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet: I admire the invention of the Tourbillon for its audacity: canceling out the effects of the earth's gravity is no small thing! We had to dare. And - the word Tourbillon is well-chosen -  it evokes the regularity of a planetary system, and that was the meaning of the word in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Tourbillon is representative of the spirit of the Enlightenment: we want to understand the world and tame it. The rise of science opens up immense horizons.

The Breguet Tourbillon No 2567 with bulletin de lois, precursor of French Republic's official gazette, announcing the patent granted to Breguet


Time and WatchesThe House of Breguet played a fundamental role in the evolution of watchmaking with an impressive number of innovations and inventions but they also defined a timeless aesthetics that significantly influenced the watchmaking industry. Is it correct to say that even distinctive style elements like the guilloché and enamel dials or the blued hands were not just merely decorative but had their own precise functions? 

Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet: You are absolutely right, at Breguet we cannot separate technique from aesthetics. It goes together. Before being able to make flat watches, it was necessary to make flat movements and therefore renew watchmaking techniques, which Breguet did. The aesthetic “standards” were there to highlight the scientific side of the object. Why add complications if they are illegible? By making very pure and uncluttered dials, Breguet favors legibility. It is the same with needles. With the guillochage and its infinite variations, it is still the same goal. The guillochage is anti-reflective, in addition to being elegant! With different guillochage patterns, it is possible to display a great deal of information while maintaining readability. Breguet always wanted things to be easy to read; combining elegance and practicality. 

The Breguet Classique Tourbillon Quantieme Perpetuel 3797 showing different guilloché decorative patterns


Time and WatchesDuring the life of founder Abraham-Louis, the Breguet firm produced thousands of timepieces. Do we know how many of them still exist?  

Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet: Abraham-Louis Breguet and his son made around 5,000 watches and clocks, all different from each other. We were able to buy several hundreds for the museum and many survived - more than half, maybe two thirds. This is my estimate. They are regularly rediscovered in various museums around the world. We are always amazed by the extreme variety of the work 


Time and WatchesDid Maison Breguet suffer from counterfeiting in the early days of founder Abraham-Louis? And what about today? I guess you are often involved in authenticating Breguet timepieces. 

Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet: Counterfeiting started very early, Breguet was already complaining about it at the end of the Revolution and so he developed a secret signature to fight against this phenomenon. Throughout the 19th century, there were many more fake Breguets than real ones. The Price of Success! Most replicas are fairly easy to recognize. Today, of course, we have an expertise activity. Thanks to our archives and the information we hold, we can issue certificates. Most major auction houses ask us to authenticate the watches that customers entrust to them. 


Time and WatchesA period in the history of Breguet that is often less covered is the end of the XIX century and beginning of the next one up to the Art Deco. Are there special timepieces from this period that you appreciate in particular? 

Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet: Today, we are rediscovering the creativity of the Art-Déco period. I have always loved this period, and we have bought some very pretty pieces from this time for our museum: decorative clocks, watches with window displays, watches without hour hands, and jumping and rotating dials. Breguet has actively participated in this movement! 


Time and WatchesThe Breguet brand has many facets with strong ties to the maritime world and aviation as demonstrated by the Marine and Type XX collections, respectively. The recently released Marine Hora Mundi 5557 (you can read about this new timepiece here) well demonstrates this special link: the combination of your patented solution for displaying a second time zone with the new impressive dial really suggests the idea of travelling around the world. Would you mention specific Breguet inventions or solutions at the service of the world of marine navigation? And which elements from the past can be still found in the modern creations of this collection? 

Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet: The Marine line reflects the memory of the role played by the house in the past when Breguet was a watchmaker in the Royal Navy. The new Hora Mundi evokes this link well with its dial showing the continents and oceans. In the past, Breguet Marine chronometers accompanied great explorations such as that of Dumont d'Urville who went as far as Antarctica in 1840. They were essential for calculating Longitude. Today's Marine line is full of little nods to the past, while being resolutely modern. 

The new Breguet Marine Hora Mundi 5557


Time and WatchesWhat advice would you give to collectors that would like to enrich their collection with Breguet timepieces? And how to balance old and modern creations in a Breguet collection? 

Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet: A watch collection must include one or more Breguet watches, simply because Breguet is the source of modern watchmaking! To someone who is starting a collection, I often give the advice to acquire a Subscription watch, the famous one-hand watch. If more interested in "design", then to buy a watch from the "Tradition" collection, which is its extension, with its central barrel movement. They can also buy a classic watch from 1820 and a classic watch from today; they will notice the timeless character of Breguet! Young collectors are more attracted to “vintage” pieces and choose old Type XX or wristwatches from the fifties and sixties. At the time, the quantities were small and these pieces will take a lot of value! 

The Breguet Souscription No. 3424 (circa 1797) and, below, the Tradition Automatique 7097 from the current collection


Suggested reading:

Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet

COMMENTS

BLOGGER: 2
  1. Nice interview. Thanks for the always interesting contents.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Love the interview, the history and of course, the watches! Thank you...seems like a good man.

    ReplyDelete

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Time and Watches | The watch blog: Interview: Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet
Interview: Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Montres Breguet
Interview to Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President, Head of Patrimony at Breguet. We discuss with him about his ancestor and watch collecting
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