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The history of Breguet - Part II

After the death of Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1823, his only son Antoine-Louis Breguet (1776-1858) - a highly talented watchmaker himself - took over the company which kept growing and expanding.

The brand Breguet maintained top quality standards and kept innovating.  Among the inventions in this period we can mention the first watch with keyless winding and the sympathique clock.

The watch no. 4952 created for Count Charles de L’Espine in 1830 had a knurled button that served a dual purpose: setting the hands and rewinding the watch. With it, the modern winding crown was born.

However, Antoine-Louis failed to patent this revolutionary mechanism and ten years later a major Genevan watchmaking firm filed a patent application for a similar invention.

The Breguet no. 4288, a half-quarter repeating watch equipped with a pendant winding crown - circa 1830

The ”Sympathique" clock was built in 1834 on the principles developed by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1793. Its ingenious patented mechanism allowed a pocket watch to be automatically set and wound when placed into the recess at the top of the table clock.

A Breguet ”Sympathique" clock with a gilt bronze frame housing a movement with constant-force chronometer escapement and displaying day, month, date, moonphases and equation of time as well as featuring a Celsius thermometer

Owning a Breguet watch was considered a sure sign of wealth and success. A recognized status-symbol, the Breguet name repeatedly appeared in several masterpieces of world literature. Below, we list just a few examples.

"Breguet makes a watch which for twenty years never goes wrong, while the pitiful machine by which we live runs amiss and produces pain at least once a week."
        Stendhal (1783-1842) in Rome, Naples and Florence, 1817

"A dandy on the boulevards (...), strolling at leisure until his Breguet, ever vigilant, reminds him it is midday."
        Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) in Eugen Onegin, 1825-1833

"He drew out the most delicious thin watch that Breguet had ever made. Fancy, it is eleven o’clock, I was up early."
        Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) in Eugenie Grandet, 1833

“A fine gold chain hung from the pocket of his waistcoat, where a flat watch could just be seen. He toyed with the "ratchet" key which Breguet had just invented.”
        Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) in La Rabouilleuse, 1842

"Danglars’ watch, a masterpiece by Breguet which he had rewound with care before setting out the previous day, chimed half past five in the morning."
        Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) in The Count of Monte Cristo, 1844

“At times the heart plays tricks and lets us down. The vigilant are right. For God (the mighty Breguet) gave us faith, and seeing it was good, improved it with a watchful eye."
        Victor Hugo (1802-1885) in  Les Chansons des rues et des bois, 1865

Victoria, the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, purchased a Breguet watch on 17 July 1838, a year after her accession to the throne. It was “a very small and simple watch, without repeater, very thin, for a ring” registered under number 5102.

The celebrated Italian composer Gioachino Rossini - one of the most renowned public figures of his time - owned the Breguet watch number 4604, a simple, modestly sized design displaying the date. It featured an engine-turned gold case, an off-centred silver dial and a lever escapement. After the composer’s death, in 1868, his widow continued to have the piece serviced by Breguet. We do not have pictures of these timepieces but luckily we have detailed information from the Breguet archives.

The Breguet number 4961 - an extra-flat half-quarter repeating pocket watch with perpetual calendar, moon phases, equation of time and power reserve indicator - that was sold in 1831 to Lord Henry Seymour Conway and considered one of the most complicated watches ever made by Breguet in such a slim case (just 7.7 mm thick). This historical timepiece was purchased for more than one million Swiss Francs at an auction in 2013.

In 1833, when he was 57, Antoine-Louis decided to retire to his property in Le Buisson, near Paris, passing the business to his son Louis-Clément, which distinguished himself in the scientific studies.

Louis-Clément François Breguet (1804-1883) was nineteen years old when his famous grandfather, Abraham-Louis, died. After completing his apprenticeship at Perrelet, a skilled watchmaker in Versailles, he went in Switzerland to work as a watchmaker and gain experience of Swiss production methods. With him, Breguet started parallel production of standardized and individualized watches.

Louis-Clement went into partnership with one of his relatives and the firm was renamed Breguet, Neveu et Cie.

A complicated open face quarter repeating watch with moonphase signed Breguet Neveu et Cie. Slightly larger than a Euro coin, this 37 mm watch was sold to the Russian Princess Catherina Bagration in 1829 and rumoured to be a gift for his husband Colonel Caradoc. This marriage soon ended and the watch was resold to Breguet in 1830. In 1835, the watch was then resold to Mr. Nathaniel de Rothschild, the famous businessman, banker and winemaker, whom established the Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

Louis-Clément optimized the manufacturing processes - in these years the company was producing around 350 watches per year - but also diversified into scientific instruments, electrical devices, and telegraph instruments.

In particular, in 1842 he developed an electrical needle telegraph to replace the optical telegraph system then in use. In recognition of his work on the electric telegraph, in 1845 Louis-Clément Breguet was awarded the Legion of Honor. He obtained the highest awards at all the exhibitions in the world, was appointed member of the Bureau des Longitudes (1852), and was elected to the Académie des Sciences in 1874.

Louis-Clément François Breguet 

His name is one of the 72 French scientists, engineers and mathematicians whose names are written around the base of the Eiffel Tower.

The outstanding success in the electronics field, together with his great passion for physics and the fact that his son Antoine (1851-1882) shared the same interests, led Louis-Clément to the decision to devote all his attention to the business of making electrical apparatus for telegraphy, railroad signaling, and physiology.

As a consequence, on 8 May 1870, the watch department was sold to the factory manager, the Englishman Edward Brown, which in the meanwhile had become a partner of the company.

Antoine, the great-grandson of Abraham-Louis, was the last of the Breguet family to run the business. In fact, although he left two sons and a daughter, they did not enter the business. He died at the age of 31.

The simple ”Breguet" label went with the watchmaking business while the electrical apparatus business used the "Breguet FT" label, standing for "Breguet fabricant”.

By 1881, the watchmaking company had reorganized under the name of Maison Breguet and, under the leadership of Edward, kept targeting the international upper class as customers for their elite products maintaining a very high quality.

When Edward Brown, aged 66, died in 1895 the firm was taken over by his sons Edward and Henry. On Edward's retirement in the early 1900s, Henry became the head of the firm.

In these years, Sir David Lionel Goldsmid-Stern-Salomons (1851-1925) - a multi-talented scientific author, barrister, baronet of Great Britain, nephew of the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London - distinguished himself as one of the most expert collectors of Breguet watches.

His book ”Breguet (1747-1823)" is  still today one of the most appreciated work on Breguet and many of his masterpieces.

On his death in 1925, Salomons left fifty-seven of his Breguet timepieces, including the celebrated No. 160 "Marie-Antoinette", to his daughter Vera Bryce (1888–1969). Other pieces were left to Salomons’ wife.

The Breguet No. 160 “Marie Antoinette”

After the World War I, Vera moved to Jerusalem becoming and active philanthropist. After the death of her professor, Leo Aryeh Mayer, rector of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she founded the L.A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art and donated her precious watches to the museum in order to be exhibited in a dedicated gallery.

Over 106 of these precious timepieces, including the “Marie Antoinette” were stolen in 1983 and found again after more than 20 years. You can read more about this fascinating story in our in-depth article “The complete history of the Mona Lisa of watchmaking: the Breguet No.160 Marie-Antoinette.”

In 1927 George Brown, the son of Henry, succeeded his father demonstrating good skills in managing the company.

He expanded the range of timepieces produced by the Maison to include aeronautic instruments like the legendary “Type 20” (or “Type XX”) wristwatch chronograph that the brand developed to satisfy the technical specifications that the French Ministry of War issued in the 1950s for a pilot’s watch that had to become part of the standard equipment of the Air Force and the Naval Aviation Forces.

Together with accuracy (within +/- 8 seconds per day) and reliability, the Type 20 requirements included features like a black dial, a flyback chronograph function and at least 35 hours of power reserve.

Although Breguet was not the only manufacturer selected to supply these kind of instruments, it certainly was the leading producer of watches in this style.

To discover more in detail the fascinating history of the Type 20, for sure one of most iconic pilot watches ever produced, we invite you to read our article “Breguet, the Type 20 and the world of aviation.”

Breguet Type 20 for the French Air Force with two registers and rotating bezel with no marks other the small arrow, circa 1955 - Courtesy of Sotheby’s

And we can certainly say that the link of Breguet with the world of aviation was a special one. In fact, Louis Charles Breguet (1880–1955), great-great-grandson of legendary founder Abraham-Louis, was one of the early aviation pioneers. In 1919, he founded the Compagnie des messageries aériennes, which evolved into Air France.

After leading the company for several decades, in 1970 George Brown sold the brand to Chaumet, a Parisian jewelry maison based in Place Vendome that was established in 1780 and that was led at the time by brothers Jacques and Pierre Chaumet.

The Brown family had led the Breguet company for 100 years (1870-1970), even more than the Breguet family (1775-1870).

It is here worth to mention that, in 1975, the British watchmaker George Daniels published “The Art of Breguet”, a book which is considered the definitive illustrated story of the father of modern horlogery and his work. In the 1960s, before creating his own brand, Daniels was considered the leading expert on Breguet and his friend George Brown conferred him the title of “Agent de Breguet à Paris”.

Back to the story of the brand. Under the Chaumet guide, in 1976 the Breguet workshops were transferred in the Vallée de Joux, in Switzerland, an area where Swiss horology was born and where recruiting highly skilled watchmakers was much easier than in Paris. The technical direction was assigned to master watchmaker Daniel Roth, well known to watch aficionados for creating his own luxury brand in 1989.

These were not easy years for manufacturers of mechanical watches as they were facing the so-called quartz-crisis and Chaumet also had heavy losses in their diamond purchasing and resale business after the drop in prices worldwide. As a consequence, in 1987 Chaumet was bought by Investcorp S.A., a leading Bahrain-based investment bank.

Memorable timepieces were produced in these years including a Tourbillon wristwatch in 1988 and the remarkable Perpetual Calendar Equation of Time in 1991.

Perpetual Calendar and Equation of Time - 1991

Investcorp continued the restructuring and, in 1991, bought Valdar S.A., a Swiss company involved in the manufacturing and supply of micro-mechanical components for the watch and clock industry, folding it into the newly established Groupe Horloger Breguet (GHB).

In 1992, they also bought the movement maker Nouvelle Lemania S.A., known for its exceptional chronograph movements found in many brands’ watches, including Omega’s iconic Speedmaster. At the time Nouvelle Lemania was producing all of Breguet’s watches as well as high-end mechanical movements production for other top watch brands.

The Nouvelle Lemania factory based in L'Orient in the Vallée de Joux. Today this is Breguet's main manufacturing site (see the pictures at the end of the article).

The Groupe Horloger Breguet (GHB) returned to profitability in 1998, with revenues of 280 million Swiss Francs and expansion in the South East Asian market. During the Investcorp’s ownership, unit sales had grown around ten times.

On 14 September 1999, the Swatch Group announced the purchase of Groupe Horloger Breguet from Investcorp S.A. adding Breguet to a group of fifteen brands - at the time - like Blancpain, Omega, and Longines.

Drawing upon the industrial and commercial strength of the Swatch Group, the brand had all the material and technical resources needed to develop exceptional models in order to meet the expectations of brand devotees and most demanding connoisseurs.

The brand was first of all equipped with a manufacturing facility on par with its ambitions. Recruitment of the best-qualified watchmakers was reinforced, as was training and the passing of rare arts and crafts to new generations.

Swatch Group’s president Nicolas G. Hayek considered the brand its jewel of the crown fully agreeing with the opinion which Sir David Lionel Salomons had expressed in 1921: “For someone who understands mechanisms, a Breguet watch is truly a painting.”

And it was only natural for him to create the Breguet Museum. Inaugurated on 13 September 2000, it presents invaluable documents and items related to the history of the Maison. The Museum is now located on the first floor of the Breguet Boutique at Place Vendôme in Paris and headed by Emmanuel Breguet, the seventh-generation direct descendant of Abraham-Louis.

The Breguet archives cover over two centuries and include production registers, repair books, certificates of authenticity, letters from clients, technical annotations written by Abraham-Louis Breguet and his son and, of course, many rare timepieces that the company keeps acquiring every year.

An exceptional marketer, Hayek prepared great celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the tourbillon’s patent date culminating in 2001 in a big party at Versailles. As a result of Breguet’s intense marketing efforts, sales of Breguet tourbillon watches increased from 150 in 1999 to more than 1,000 in just five years.

The Grande Complication Tourbillon 1801-2001, issued in 2001 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the tourbillon patent - Courtesy of Antiquorum

Noting the renovated interest of the market for this horological feat, other high-end watchmakers followed the path of Breguet by adding tourbillon watches to their collections with evident benefits for the entire watchmaking industry.

Nicolas Hayek in 2008 proudly showing the Breguet No. 1160, the replica of the original No. 160 "Marie Antoinette", while wearing two Breguet timepieces (and one Omega)

The brand was finally in the ideal situation to perpetuate the innovative dynamism of founder Abraham-Louis as demonstrated by the exceptional number of patents - more than 120 since 2002! - developed and registered by the company under the leadership of Nicolas G. Hayek and, later, of his grandson Mark.

In 2006, Breguet achieved a major breakthrough in horological technology with the introduction of various critical mechanical movement parts in silicon.

Silicon is impervious to magnetic attraction and influence as well as highly resistant to corrosion and wear. Lighter and harder than steel, it reduces inertia, requires no lubricant and provides far greater geometric freedom, i.e. opportunities to turn out new and complex shapes.

Use of silicon for the escape wheel and lever, and in some cases for the balance spring, made it possible the increase in the frequency of the oscillator – reaching as much as 72,000 vibrations per hour on some timepieces – so endowing watches with a far more precise rate.

Lever, escape wheel and balance spring in silicon

The introduction of anti-magnetic components opened up a world of new possibilities. In fact, in 2010, Breguet filed a patent for the magnetic pivot so breaking the horology taboo of magnetism.

Composed of two counter-pivots incorporating an especially powerful micro-magnet on either end of the balance staff, this technological innovation notably served to create a dynamically stable system able to keep the balance staff centred and self-adjusting.

In 2012, Breguet provided a first showcase for this surprising invention by presenting the Classique Chronométrie, a watch featuring exceptional rating results thanks to the balance frequency of 10Hz.

The Breguet Classique Chronométrie, winner of the “Aiguille d’Or”, the highest distinction honouring the finest timepiece of the year at the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Geneve 2014

One year later Breguet watchmakers demonstrated once again their innovation skills with the invention of a magnetic governor for the transmission wheels of the movement or strike, another world first in watchmaking.

The innovative strike governor equipped with magnets and working on the principle of eddy currents (Foucault currents) which overcomes the disadvantages of the classic friction-based strike-governor system. The interaction between silver disks and magnets produces constant rotation. By avoiding contact between spinning components and an interior wall, Breguet succeed in eliminating both noise and wear. 

Equipping the Classique La Musicale watch, this ingenious mechanism eliminates the characteristic issues of wear, background noise and the need for higher amounts of energy, while also ensuring greater precision.

The Classique La Musicale, here in white gold, chiming “The Thieving Magpie” by Rossini or “La Badinerie” by J.-S. Bach

In 2015, with the Tradition Chronographe Independant 7077, Breguet proposed a smart and innovative technical solution by equipping the hand-wound with two independent trains, one for the hours and minutes and the other for the chronograph.

One evident benefit of having two entirely disconnected trains is that the movement remains completely unaffected when the chronograph is started. This guarantees better chronometric performances.

This watch also introduced a new method to provide energy to the chronograph gear train. In fact, Breguet patented a system which stores the energy needed to run the chronograph when the user presses the left pusher to reset it to zero.

Tradition Chronographe Independant 7077

Over two centuries of inventions and technological advancements punctuate the history of Breguet while also shaping its future in a constant quest for continuous improvement of watches’ performances, precision, functionality and design. An attitude that would certainly make founder Abraham-Louis very proud.

Above and below, views of the Manufacture Breguet in L'Orient


The history of Breguet: Part I  |  Part II

By Alessandro Mazzardo
© Time and Watches. All Rights Reserved. Copying this material for use on other web sites or other digital and printed support without the written permission of Time and Watches or the copyright holder is illegal.


  1. Congratulations for both Alessandro Mazzardo and Time and Watches for this splendid and fascinating article on the rich history Maison Breguet and, of course, on the history of watchmaking.

  2. Thank you for taking your time to sum it up for us!

  3. This is a wonderful article. Thank you for writing this short yet comprehensive history of one of my favourite watch brands. The number of times we can read "the first ever" throughout the article says it all. And although over the past couple of decades there has been a lot of writing and talking about the "big three" (AP, VC, PP) I personally think that Breguet is the One and Only, the Greatest of All Times.



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Time and Watches | The watch blog: The history of Breguet - Part II
The history of Breguet - Part II
The second part of the history of the Breguet brand. From founder Abraham-Louis Breguet to the modern days as part of the Swatch Group.
Time and Watches | The watch blog
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