Breguet

The innovative horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747–1823) and his son, Antoine-Louis Breguet (1776–1858) created, at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, highly accurate movements set in sober and elegant cases. Writing in 1982, Winthrop Kellogg Edey described the elder Breguet as “a phenomenon without parallel. He was the genius of his age, perhaps the most outstanding horologist of all time.” Indeed, Breguet’s combination of technical skill, refined design, and exquisite craftsmanship gave him an unrivaled reputation. His patrons included Louis XVI, Napoleon, and most of the civil servants and political leaders of his day.

  • Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747–1823)
    Antoine-Louis Breguet (1776–1858)
    Gold and Silver Double-Dial Desk Watch Showing
    Decimal and Traditional Time

    Paris, c. 1795–after 1807
    gold and enamel, gilt brass, brass, and steel
    2 7/8 x 2 7/8 x 13/16 in. (7.3 x 7.3 x 2 cm) 
    Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey, 1999
    Accession number: 1999.5.154 

    This is one of the very few watches to include both traditional and decimal dials. The decimal system, introduced during the French Revolution, affected not only weights and measures but also time. Decimal time divided the day into ten hours and the year into ten months.

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    Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747–1823)
    Antoine-Louis Breguet (1776–1858)
    Gold Pocket Watch with Tourbillon
    Paris, c. 1820
    gold, gilt-brass, and steel
    3 1/8 x 2 5/16 x 2 5/8 in. (8 x 5.9 x 6.7 cm)
    Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey, 1999
    Accession number: 1999.6.28

    Mechanical watches did not generally keep time as well as clocks because they were subject to constant movement and, unless their balance was perfectly poised, their performance varied when they were held in different positions. To eliminate such a problem, Abraham-Louis Breguet mounted the escapement and balance on a small carriage that averaged out the errors by rotating at regular intervals. Invented in 1795, this new device was called a tourbillon (literally, whirlwind) because of its revolving motion.

  • Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747–1823)
    Antoine-Louis Breguet (1776–1858)
    Gilt-Bronze Carriage Clock with Calendar
    Paris, 1811
    Dial engraved: “BREGUET ET FILS NO. 2678”
    H.: 4 ¾ in (12.4 cm)
    Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey, 1999
    Accession number: 1999.5.152 

    Abraham-Louis Breguet designed and made this carriage clock about thirteen years after he invented the first carriage clocks. Such timekeepers were designed to provide all the time-related information the wealthy traveler might need during a long journey: the dial indicates the age and phase of the moon, and the day, month, and year. When it is too dark to see the dial, the button at the top of the case can be pushed down to make the clock strike the time to the last quarter hour. There is also an alarm, which is set for the number of hours of sleep rather than the time of rising.