Abraham Louis Breguet - a name that instantly springs to mind when discussing quality watches. A genius of invention, he has probably given more to the field of horology than most, perhaps an equal would be John Harrison. Coming from a modest background in the French town of Neuchatel, Abraham luckily for himself and us, married into a wealthy family, which allowed him to set up as a watchmaker in Paris.
Breguet soon established himself with the well-heeled in Paris, and his talent was recognized by the ruling classes of the time, including Queen Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, which spurred him on to develop even more complex timepieces. Among those that he produced before 1800 is a fully automatic pocket watch, numerous complicated mechanisms, including the repeating watch, moon phase and perpetual calendars, as well as the world renowned tourbillon; a device that counters the effects of gravity by rotating the movement.
In 1807, Breguet was joined by his Son, Antoine Louis. In 1810 he accomplished a milestone in horology, the creation of the world's first wristwatch. This piece was made for the Queen of Naples, Caroline Murat, after she discovered his timepieces. Breguet was always busy, and his services were always in demand. To this end over the next few years he was kept busy as a member of the Office of Longitudes, and in 1815 he became the official Horologer to the Royal Navy. Awarded the Legion of Honour by King Louis XVIII, Breguet was recognized during his lifetime for his wonderful achievements.
Breguet himself passed away in 1823, aged 77 and the business was then taken over by his Son, Antoine Louis. The company carried on 'business as usual' and continued the innovative spirit of the original genius and another world's first - the first watch to be wound without a key - was produced in 1830.
In 1833, Antoine passed the helm over to his Son, Louis. In 1870 the company took a new direction, with the works foreman, Edward Brown taking over the day to day operations. This situation lasted for the next 100 years, when the Chaumet Brothers gained control of the business. Unfortunately the brothers went bankrupt in 1987 and the company was sold to the Investors Corporation.
The Corporation has kept the Breguet name alive, with further innovations like the smallest automatic chronograph wristwatch ever made, produced in 1998. The company now resides under the huge Bienne Swatch Group umbrella. What will come of this great maker now? Only time will tell.
For the collector, unless you have many tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, any antique genuine Breguet is very expensive. Their Souscription watch is probably one of the more affordable due to the relatively large numbers produced, but even this will be many tens of thousands of dollars.
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