The Breguet Tradition wristwatches are an especially challenging base on which to build complications. The collection is based on Abraham Louis Breguet’s famous souscription watches, which were designed to be relatively affordable but very high quality timepieces, which reduced the master’s watchmaking philosophy to its essentials. Today’s Tradition timepieces use the architecture of the souscription watches as the basis for their design, but what was hidden behind the caseback in the originals is moved to the dial side of the watch and made visible in the modern watches.
Due to the fact that the dial of even a basic Tradition watch already has a great many visual and mechanical elements, complications added to the basic design have to be implemented with great care, both in order to ensure they are visually harmonious and, more practically, to simply make sure that none of the mechanisms interfere with each other. Retrograde displays are especially suitable for the Tradition family, as they employ curved sectors rather than sub-dials, which allows them to visually stand out from the various circular elements on the dial of a Tradition watch. Breguet has just announced a new, retrograde complication in the Tradition Collection – the reference 7597 Quantième Rétrograde, which has a very large, generously proportioned retrograde date complication. Retrograde displays can be found in Abraham Louis Breguet’s own watches, of course – perhaps no more notably than in no. 160, the (in)famous “Marie Antoinette” Grand Complication.
This is, I believe, the first date complication of any kind in the Tradition family, which currently also includes a double retrograde chronograph complication, a tourbillon (which is technically not a complication, but a regulating device), a two-time-zone complication, and a simple power reserve model. The essentials of the mechanism are derived, as we’ve mentioned, from the souscription pocket watches. The movement of the souscription watches is simple in design and layout, and extremely visually attractive.
The mainspring barrel is located at the center of the movement, and at the other end of the going train is a ruby cylinder escapement (Breguet’s ruby cylinder escapements are the exception to the rule that the cylinder escapement is inferior to the lever – they run with much less friction than conventional cylinder escapements and can keep time to within less than a minute’s error a day, “without attention, for many years,” according to the late George Daniels). There is a single very large central hour hand and no minute hand, but the dial is so large that reading the time to within five minutes can easily be done, and the watches also incorporated temperature compensation, and Breguet’s signature pare-chute anti-shock system.
The similarity in architecture between the Tradition 7597 and the souscription watches is immediately apparent; there is the same large, centrally located mainspring barrel as well as a nearly identical going train, with the same two large stepped cocks for the first train wheel and balance, and smaller cocks for the intermediate wheels. Breguet has opted, of course, for a modern lever escapement (there is a part of me that wishes they would do a small series of these with a cylinder escapement – probably a terrible idea, but when you write about the same thing for long enough, your tastes tend to become a little perverse, or at least, mine have). Breguet uses a silicon balance spring with a Breguet overcoil in the Tradition watches – this, to me, is quite an interesting thing to do, if not, hah, slightly perverse, as you don’t need an actual overcoil in a silicon balance spring to have the centering benefits of one. You can do things with the geometry of a flat silicon balance spring you cannot do with one made of a Nivarox-type alloy, but in this instance, it’s a nod to the Master and a very nice touch, if you ask me. Breguet has even included a modernized version of the pare-chute anti-shock system.
I always feel that a retrograde hand is more dramatic in direct proportion to how long it is – after all, it is more fun to watch the hand jump back if it is a large one sweeping across a wide arc. The retrograde date hand in the 7597 is mounted on the same axis as the center of the mainspring barrel, and it sweeps across almost half the circumference of the dial. A system of driving wheels indexes a snail cam with individual steps in it for each day of the month, and as the snail cam advances, a rack whose tip rests on the cam, and whose teeth engage with the gear on which the date hand is mounted, is gradually lifted higher and higher, advancing the hand. At midnight on the 31st, the tip of the rack drops off the highest step of the snail cam onto the lowest, and the retrograde date hand jumps backwards to the 1st. There is a pusher for quick-setting/correcting the date, at about 10:00.
One of the more intriguing features of the watch is the shape of the hand itself, which is made, like the hour and minute hands, from heat-blued steel. The mechanism for driving the retrograde hand sits fairly low on the dial – under the dial for the time – but in between it and the sector with the date numerals on it, there are a lot of obstacles it has to clear, including the entire going train and the balance and balance cock. To allow the hand to clear the other movement components, it has a fairly dramatic upward step, a little along its length as it emerges from under the dial. The tip of the hand, which has a lume pip on it, bends fairly sharply down again to meet the date sector.
The original souscription watches were all hand-wound (well, key-wound and key-set, I should say), but the Tradition watches are all automatics. The oscillating weight’s shape echoes that of the oscillating mass Breguet used in his perpetuelle watches, which were among the first successful self-winding timepieces.
At launch, the watch will be available in pink or white gold, at $ 37,800 and $ 38,600, respectively.
I find the Tradition watches in general very charming and also pretty intellectually engaging, as it is always interesting to see how each model balances reflecting the heritage of Breguet’s souscription watches while, at the same time, respecting the fact that Breguet himself would have been most interested in modern technical watchmaking solutions (I suspect he would have found silicon fascinating, for instance). The Tradition Quantième Rétrograde looks unusually successful from a design standpoint, for a complicated Tradition watch – the complication is well integrated, and it should be a ton of fun to watch it do its thing at the end of the month. Haute horlogerie at its best instructs, edifies, and amuses in equal measure, and at all three, I think the 7597 succeeds and then some.
The Breguet Tradition 7597 Quantième Rétrograde: cases, pink or white gold, 40mm diameter, welded lugs with screwed-in bars; water resistant to 30 meters. Dial, engine-turned by hand, 18k silvered gold. Movement, Breguet mechanical automatic caliber 505Q, 14½ lignes, running in 45 jewels at 3Hz; 50-hour power reserve. Retrograde date with stepped blued steel hand. Reverse in-line lever escapement with silicon pallets; silicon balance spring with Breguet overcoil; adjusted in six positions. Prices, $ 38,600 in white gold, $ 37,800 in pink gold. More at Breguet.com.