Embarking into a trip to go visit of one of the most important watch manufactures out there is one of the most appealing things when it comes to our watchlife. Breguet is today the second oldest watch brand as it was established 20 years after Vacheron Constantin opened its doors in 1755. Established in 1775 by its founder Abraham-Louis Breguet the father of the tourbillon, Breguet is today owned by the Swatch Group and located in the village of L’Orient in Swtizerland’s Vallée de Joux —considered the cradle of Swiss watchmaking. After a 3-hour train ride from Paris, we arrived at the Vallorbe train station only 15 minutes away from Breguet. The splendor of the Lac de Joux, was as usual the perfect backdrop for a thrilling trip into this incredible manufacture that holds the world’s biggest guillochage department with more than 30 rose engine turning machines to make the hand-guilloché dials that Breguet is very well known for. Composed of two buildings, one historical and the other a modern one, the manufacture is divided in four general watchmaking operations that include machining of parts, guillochage, dial transferring, engraving, anglage, movement assembly, casing, hands and dial fitting, strap/bracelet fitting and certification and packaging.
Upon arrival and after putting on our watchmaker overcoats, we started our visit at the restoration shop were we had the pleasure of admiring the Breguet No. 1160 known as the Marie Antoinette Replica watch. This watch is an exact replica —only based on pictures and descriptions— of the original watch commissioned for Queen Marie Antoinette of France in 1783 and which was known to have been lost until it surfaced miraculously in 2007. The replica watch was presented the first time by Nicolas Hayek in 2008 and today it’s kept at the vault inside Breguet’s restoration department. Considered by many as the most important watch ever made based on its provenance, the Marie Antoinette’s pocket watch replica is a massive 63 mm watch considered the 5th most complicated in the world. The original watch took 44 years to complete and unfortunately was never delivered to Queen Marie Antoinette as both Abraham-Louis Breguet and her had already passed. Completed in 1827 by Breguet’s son Louis-Antoine Breguet, the watch includes a dozen complications including perpetual calendar, equation of time, jumping minutes and seconds, power reserve indicator and a thermometer amongst others.
Inside the restoration shop we also had the pleasure of admiring one of the twenty Sympathique clocks made by Breguet in modern times. In 1795, Abraham-Louis Breguet wrote an excited letter to his son, in which he described a new type of timekeeper: “I have great pleasure, my friend,” the letter read, “in telling you that I have made a very important invention, but about which you must be very discreet, even about the idea. I have invented a means of setting a watch to time, and regulating it, without anyone having to do it. Then every night on going to bed, you put the watch into the clock. In the morning, or one hour later, it will be exactly to time with the clock. It is not even necessary to open the watch.”
These new clocks, known as sympathique clocks, were made to work with specially designed watches. The clocks would act as master timekeepers, and control the rate and time-setting of the watches. The owner would place the watch in a special cradle set into the top of the clock, and at a certain hour, the clock would set the watch to the correct time, and adjust the rate of the watch to reduce its gain or loss to a minimum. The current Sympathique clocks automatically set and wound daily when placed into the recess at the top of the clock. The clock frame is made out of gilt bronze and the movement with constant-force chronometer escapement displays the day, month and date, the phases and age of the moon and the equation of time. A drawer holds a magnifying glass and screwdriver in 18K yellow gold along with a key for resetting the calendar and the time and the clock also features a thermometer. In the case of No. 13, the watch is a minute repeater.
After the restoration department we then headed to all the different areas of the manufacture where all watchmaking operations are carefully conducted. A full-fledged manufacture like Breguet makes all of its components in-house and being there to witness all these operations was simply phenomenal. When it comes to assembly and regulation, all movements are carefully inspected and regulated before the casing process commences. Dial and hand-setting follow before the final casing and installing of the oscillating weight on automatic watches takes place. Here we were able to witness the casing of the new Marine ref. 5517 in titanium with grey dial, the final setup of the oscillating weight on a Classique reference 3817, the hand setting on a previous blue dial Marine time and date model, and the final quality control steps after the casing of the new Marine Dame ref. 9517. In all an incredible time in this area of the manufacture.
Now, while all the different areas and processes conducted at the Breguet manufacture are all very exciting and interesting, there’s nothing more amazing than stepping into the departments where hand-engraving is done and where tourbillons are assembled, inspected and regulated.
While at the tourbillon workshop not only we got to experience first hand the complex process of assembling and inspecting a tourbillon but it was amazing to be in the presence of incredible tourbillons like the Double Tourbillon ref. 5349, the Classique Extra-Plat Squelette ref. 5395, the Tourbillon Extra-Plat ref. 5377, the Tradition ‘Grande Complication’ watch with fusée tourbillon ref. 7047, and the Tourbillon with Equation of Time amongst others.
However, what was even more amazing during our visit was to walk into the world’s largest guillochage department where more than 30 rose engine turning machines are carefully operated by highly skillful watchmakers. As you guys know, Breguet masters the art of hand guilloché and some of their watches include up to six different types of guilloché on their dials like on the dial of the Breguet Classique Chronométrie ref. 7727. Here at the guillochage shop we also got to try one of the machines ourselves and realize how difficult it is to operate them. Of course, the result on the pattern was less than stellar. A true honor to be able to put our hands on the legendary machines that create this magnificent guilloché dials.
Lastly, we had an incredible meal in Switzerland courtesy of Breguet at the Restaurant Bellevue Le Rocheray. This hotel in the Vallée de Joux was established in 1895. This establishment overlooking the Lac de Joux for more than a century is located at an altitude of 1,000 meters in the heart of the Vallée de Joux and the perfect setting for a decadent and memorable meal with our friends from Breguet. When it comes to hospitality, very few brands do it as well as Breguet. Very special thanks to everyone at the brand that made this longtime dream a reality. Thank you for opening the doors of what we consider one of the true temples of modern and classic horology and one of the most incredible manufactures we’ve visited so far.
For more info on Breguet click here.