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Going Back In Time With Emmanuel Breguet

Breguet is one of those watch brands that belong in a different sphere altogether. For one, it is quite exclusive, known to many, beloved by horologists and owned by the elite few who can afford a beautifully executed timepiece in the higher six figures (or more). The brand, undeniably, makes some of the finest watches in the world, a fact backed up by a storied legacy that was started by Abraham-Louis Breguet, unarguably the most important watchmaker in the history of horology.  

What propels a brand like Breguet to legendary status is the history that surrounds it and the stories that have gone into creating and growing the brand. For Breguet, it is a boon that it found its storyteller in a man who bears the name and bloodlines of its founder. Emmanuel Breguet is the seventh-generation descendant of Abraham-Louis Breguet. He is also and creator-curator of the Breguet Museum in Paris. A historian by trade and training, Breguet has authored various books on his famed ancestor and on watchmaking throughout the years.

One of his books, Breguet Watchmakers Since 1775 The life and legacy of Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823), has just been recently released on its second edition. The original was published in 1997 and quickly went out of print. The updated edition, which is available in Breguet boutiques worldwide and in Lucerne Glorietta 4 and Shangri-La in the Philippines, benefits from new information and images, plus additional pages on the historic pieces acquired by the Breguet Museum since 2000.

 

Emmanuel Breguet joined the company as a historian in 1990, when the brand was still owned by a conglomerate based in the Middle East. Since then, he taken on the rather crucial task as the official storyteller of his family’s legacy with impassioned detachment. “I try to work with the company from a distance and only as a historian. Yes I am a member of the family but when I write, I write as a historian and that’s all. I restitute the facts,” he reveals in a recent interview during a quick trip to Manila. “It was a dream for me to be able to study the work of my ancestor because I know he was very important in watchmaking.”

There is probably no more venerable name in horology than Abraham-Louis Breguet, who is often touted as the father of modern watchmaking. A gifted inventor, Abraham-Louis is credited for developing and patenting the tourbillon, the mechanism found in many luxury watches that improves the precision of a watch by counteracting the effects of gravity. He also created the first wristwatch. At a time when men and women would reach into their pockets to check the time, Abraham-Louis invented the first wristwatch for Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples and the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. This model was composed of an oval-shaped case and a wristlet made of gold thread and twisted hair.

Part of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s skill was the ability to combine intricate technologies with elegant design. “Our founder revolutionized watchmaking and his influence can be seen not only in the company but in watchmaking in general,” says his descendant. “What is fascinating is, he was not only a technician or an inventor, but he was also a designer. Each piece he created was well-balanced—even when the watch has many complicaitions, it looks simple. That is the Breguet touch. A kind of simplicity and sobriety.”

Emmanuel Breguet (center) with ?Martin Ganz, ?vice-president of Breguet Hong Kong & Taiwan (left), and Emerson Yao, managing director of the Lucerne Group

Breguet’s founder was also a whiz in PR and marketing. “For a historian, what is interesting is to try and understand how he became so famous in so many countries during his life. He organized one of the networks for a luxury brand in many countries,” Emmanuel says. A chapter in his book recounts how Abraham-Louis was able to attract nobility, aristocrats and, most importantly, royalty as his clientele. Aside from the Queen of Naples, his royal patrons included England’s George IV and the Duke of Wellington, Spain’s King Carlos IV and his wife Queen Maria-Luisa, and Russia’s Tsar Alexander. 

But it was in his home country that the watchmaker really shone. “Marie Antoinette played a role in the beginning of the Breguet story,” Emmanuel conveys. “It’s why we always pay tribute to her. She contributed in launching Breguet,” Emmanuel conveys. “After Marie Antoinette, Breguet became the provider for Empress Josephine, who was Napoleon’s wife, and in the Breguet Museum, we have a chance to display one of her watches.” Abraham-Louis was also appointed by Louis XVIII as the official chronometer maker to the French Royal Navy.

All of Abraham-Louis’ accomplishments, as well as the growth of the brand after his death are fastidiously detailed in Emmanuel’s weighty tome. But more than a biography, it is a telling of a story that is well entrenched in the DNA of French art and culture, a story that has resonated with many horologists and watch enthusiasts that recognize just how much Abraham-Louis changed the face of watchmaking. “The history of the brand is absolutely unique. When the client knows the work of the founder and the history of the founder, he understands the value of the brand today, and the spirit of the watch today.”