The Breguet Museum houses not only the world’s greatest collection of vintage Breguet watches but also its archives that are visited by watch aficionados. By Mitrajit Bhattacharya
Coming across a watch that is nearly century and a quarter old and is still alive and ticking is an exhilarating experience; more so if it is a Perpetuelle! I am at Voila: Le Musee Breguet, the brainchild of Nicolas Hayek who is both chairman of the Swatch Group and CEO of Montres Breguet. Thanks to Hayek’s determination to restore to the House of Breguet as many original works of the master watchmaker as possible, the museum houses not only the world’s greatest collection of vintage Breguet watches but also its archives, a treasure trove visited by hundreds, especially those interested in horology.
“We have two Perpetuelle or self-winding watches as they’re popularly known,” says Emmanuel Breguet, the seventh-generation descendant of A-L Breguet who also is the curator of the Breguet Museum in Paris and wrote a book about Breguet, waking me from a reverie as I amble into the famed Paris-based museum on a September morning.
The maiden Perpetuelle was completed on August 1, 1882 and that’s how it got the number 1-8/82. In those days Breguet used to number his watches on the date of its completion. “This one is the oldest Breguet watch to have survived till date,” informs Emmanuel. Twelve year later another Perpetuelle made its appearance. It was called Breguet no. 5 and is endowed with the favourite Breguet features – the Breguet dial, the Breguet guilloche, Breguet hands, power-reserve and moon-phase among others. These self-winding watches are considered priceless and are very important because they were very successful and were produced at the beginning of A-L Breguet’s life. At that time, around the 1780s, he served some of these Perpétuelle watches to the French court and Marie Antoinette also ordered for one. “No.160, known now as the Marie- Antoinette, is the most complicated watch A-L Breguet ever made,” Emmanuel points out.
The story goes that the order for the Queen’s watch was placed in 1783. It took 44 years to finish and was not completed until four years after Breguet’s death and long after the Queen’s. It is one watch that Emmanuel would give anything to have in the collection but it’s is unlikely anyone will have it for it was stolen from a museum in Jerusalem in 1983 and has not surfaced since. However, if it’s of any solace, visitors can view the photograph of the watch in the Breguet Museum’s gallery and Nicolas G. Hayek is creating it again.
Breguet was succeeded by his son who invented the keyless system in 1830 but was patented 11 years later by another company. Breguet’s grandson, who was more interested in the emerging technology of telecommunications than in watch-making and ultimately became a pioneer in the field, sold the watch department to the Brown family. The company changed hands a century later when the Chaumet family acquired only to sell it to InvestCorp from whom Hayek bought it.
Emmanuel happens to be the Breguet’s seventh descendant. A historian by training and the brand manager of Breguet in France, Emmanuel says, “My job is to transmit to the next generation the past of Breguet and the present of Breguet; that’s why we continue to produce the registers printed with true ink, true paper and true books. I’m just a link in the chain.”