Breguet, it will surprise probably no one to be reminded at this point in the global evolution of wristwatch connoisseurship, was born in Switzerland, but spent most of his working life (except for a brief interregnum when he returned to Switzerland to avoid the Reign of Terror) in France, and specifically in Paris, where his workshops were located at no. 39, Quai d’Horloge. You couldn’t ask for a more central location; the building is on the Île de la Cité, which is not only at the heart of Paris, but also a natural island in the middle of the Seine, which has been occupied since at least the time of Julius Caesar, and on which there has been a palace since the Merovingian Dynasty. The Quai d’Horloge gets its name from an actual horloge, or clock – the Conciergerie Clock, which is on the corner of a building where the Quai d’Horloge forms an intersection with the Boulevard du Palais. The clock was installed in its earliest form in 1371 (it was the first and is the oldest public clock in Paris) and gets its name from the adjacent Conciergerie building, which has served several purposes, including functioning at one point as a prison. Originally, however, it was part of the Palais de la Cité complex – home to the kings of France from the sixth to the 14th century.
If you are receptive to the sentimental clarion call of history and romance, it is quite an experience to go to Paris and walk from the Conciergerie clock, along the Quai d’Horloge, to Number 39 and stand on the same street where Abraham-Louis Breguet once stood, looking at the company’s former home (of course, Breguet is now headquartered in Switzerland, in Neuchâtel, but it is very moving to go back to where it all began). There are probably places in Paris too numerous to count where you can have similar experiences – there is hardly a cobblestone in the city that hasn’t a hundred tales to tell and more – but the Quai d’Horloge for both Breguet fans in particular, and students of the history of horology in general, remains a unique and very special place.
It is also the inspiration for Breguet’s latest version of its Classique Double Tourbillon, which was first introduced as a complication in 2006 and which has been a mainstay of Breguet’s tourbillon offerings ever since.
The Breguet Double tourbillon is an unusual orbital tourbillon, in which the two tourbillon cages are mounted on the movement plate. The entire plate rotates in the watch case once every 12 hours, and the upper tourbillon bridge is blued along half its length, functioning as the hour hand. This is the first open dial version of the watch that I can recall seeing – there are two mainspring barrels located on the movement plate as well, which in other versions of the watch are hidden, but which in this one are covered with an elaborately finished Breguet “B.” Each tourbillon has its own going train, and the two movement gear trains are laid out symmetrically. The output from the two tourbillons is averaged by a differential to produce a single average rate, which determines the speed of rotation of the movement and thus, the degree of movement of the hour and minute hands.
This is, make no mistake, a massive and imposing statement piece intended to spark conversations and elicit admiration while at the same time retaining some of the cosmopolitan grace and elegance that characterized so much of Breguet’s work at its best. Breguet himself is certainly justly famed for the great care and restraint that he showed in both his dial designs and movement layouts – his aesthetic inclinations did not stop at the case but pervade every part of his watches – but he was not averse to celebrating complexity for its own sake either. His most celebrated watch, which is no. 160, the Grand Complication made for Marie Antoinette (but never delivered), is as frank a showpiece as horology has ever seen.
I haven’t had a chance to see or handle one of these in person (and given how low production is apt to be, I am not likely to), but the case is in platinum, and dimensions are 46mm x 16.80mm including the very highly domed box crystal. I am sure it will make its presence known on the wrist with all the joyful assertiveness of an Academy Awards winner on Oscar night, showing up at the Vanity Fair after party.
There is quite a tremendous amount of craft on display on the dial side of this watch and kinetic entertainment aplenty to spare but, when you turn it over, you get quite an unexpected treat. Normally, the back of watches of this sort is a rather dour place, at least in comparison to the miraculously microcosmic experience on offer on the dial side, with a large expanse of movement plate feeling perhaps a bit like a letdown after the upper side’s pyrotechnics. In the Double Tourbillon Quai d’Horloge, however, there is a very charming, not to say impressive, surprise waiting for you.
The back (which is solid gold) is engraved with a scene straight out of the dawn of the 19th century – it is, in fact, the building at 39 Quai d’Horloge, but as it would have appeared in Breguet’s time. The engraving is extremely detailed, down to the texture of the very bricks and the faint haze hanging, in a climatologically correct fashion, in the sky. According to Breguet, the gold color of the wheels visible through the various cut-outs is meant to give the effect of candlelight at dusk, and well, why not; I can see that. There is even a seated figure looking out of one of the lower windows, which you can find if you are patient and look carefully for a moment or two. You’ll recall that the entire movement rotates but the back plate does not, which means that the visible wheels are ones that do not rotate along with the rest of the movement. Upon consideration, you will realize this means they can only be part of the keyless works for winding and setting, and indeed, this is the case. While I feel that perhaps there is a missed opportunity here to have a little automaton figure of Breguet visible in one of the windows as well (possibly penning a polite but clearly annoyed letter to one of his royal patrons about the amount in which their account is in arrears), the engraving is just as beautiful, and probably more dignified, without it.
At $ 631,000 (not a limited edition, but as you will not be surprised to read, very limited production), this is obviously for the avid horological enthusiast with a taste for drama and the financial means to create as much drama as they wish, but it is not, I think, your typical showpiece. Certainly, it’s an impressive watch, and one intended to make an impression on a lot of levels, but it’s not the sort of universal token of affluence you have in, say, a Richard Mille, or of insider access (and affluence) that you have in a Tiffany-dial Patek 5711. It is instead, I think, for someone (leaving aside issues of cost) who is not only a genuine Breguet enthusiast, but also someone very much in love with what the name represents, which is a history of beauty and innovation in watchmaking matched by few other brands, and a singular and remarkable heritage. If you’ve got north of half a million to spend on a wristwatch, there are any number of boutiques out there willing to dig in the office fridge for the good champagne when you walk in the door; you have, to put it mildly, options. A buyer of one of these, it seems to me, is probably much more interested in pleasing their own tastes (albeit they also clearly want to show those tastes off) than in getting lots of slack-jawed likes on Instagram.
The Breguet Classique Double Tourbillon 5345 Quai d’Horloge: case, platinum with coin-edge case middle and box crystal; 46mm x 16.8mm. Water resistance not provided by Breguet, but if you want to take a dip in the blood-warm waters of the Med with yours on, who am I to call foul (although you may damage the strap, which is decorated with a pattern of actual slate, applied by pressing the adhesive treated strap onto a sheet of the mineral). Movement, Breguet caliber 588N, double tourbillon with 12-hour orbital period, beating at 2.5 Hz and running in 81 jewels; differential for averaging the rate; Breguet overcoil balance springs; double mainspring barrels with Breguet “B” upper bridges. Adjusted to six positions. Price, $ 631,000; for more info, visit Breguet.com.