Abraham-Louis Breguet: The Wizard of Watchmaking
While the names of many inventors are now lost to time, the watchmakers of today know exactly whom to credit with many remarkable innovations still in use in their craft. Abraham-Louis Breguet was a great innovator, an incredibly prolific genius of horology whose work is still the foundation of the most sophisticated timepieces of the modern era.
The Lever Escapement and Tourbillon
The lever escapement, first devised by British clockmaker Thomas Mudge in 1755, allows the balance wheel that governs a watch’s accuracy to move freely. Breguet improved upon the initial mechanism, creating a part in 1814 that is still in use today in the majority of fine mechanical timepieces.
The tourbillon (“whirlwind”) invented by Breguet in 1795 and patented in 1801, rotates the escapement of a watch in such a way as to combat the effects of gravity and outside movement on the watch’s accuracy. This design is a feature of the most prestigious and extravagant watches and is considered a wonderful technical and aesthetic achievement in the watch world, adding as it does to the precision, appearance, and price of a timepiece.
Some of the most luxurious offerings of big name Swiss watchmakers such as Richard Mille, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet feature eye-catching spinning tourbillon movements visible through the dial. Watches that boast tourbillon movements typically have price tags in at least the tens of thousands of dollars, a testament to the great skill and care still required to produce these highly specialized movements.
Breguet’s Famous Clients and Commissions
Even as contemporary watchmakers compete to produce ever more novel, beautiful, and expensive designs, much is still owed to Breguet, the godfather of horology. During his lifetime he produced timepieces for George IV, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Duke of Wellington. He even created a wristwatch for Caroline Bonaparte, Queen of Naples, a full century before the style became popular.
The most famous of his original designs was only finished four years after Breguet’s death and forty years after its commission: the Marie-Antoinette Watch, thought to have been ordered by an admirer of the ill-fated queen. It was valued at $30 million in 2013 and boasts over a half dozen complications, including a perpetual calendar and a minute repeating chime.
The Master’s Legacy
Breguet’s name lives on through his namesake luxury watch company, now a part of The Swatch Group family of Swiss watch and jewelry makers. Breguet timepieces adorn the wrists of modern-day notables such as Vladimir Putin and Nicolas Sarkozy. The genius of Abraham-Louis Breguet and the elegance of his inventions are still recognized nearly 275 years after his birth.
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This entry was posted on Friday, August 20th, 2021 at 5:39 pm
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