BREGUET, INVENTOR OF THE TOURBILLON

2021, YEAR OF THE TOURBILLON

The year 2021 marks the 220th anniversary of one of the greatest watchmaking complications of all times: the Tourbillon. An exquisite mechanism of unrivalled complexity, the invention lies at the heart of a genuine human adventure that, to this day, contributes extensively to the reputation of its creator Abraham-Louis Breguet and his House.

The creative soul of Chopard and initiator of its Journey to Sustainable Luxury, Co-President and Artistic Director Caroline Scheufele celebrates the wonders of Nature through the new Red Carpet Collection. Among the 73 Haute Joaillerie creations composing this precious casket – a number honouring the 73rd Cannes Film Festival which should have been held in 2020 – the “Magari” jewellery watch pays tribute to on exceptional gemstones. Thanks to their unique expertise, the Artisans of the Geneva-based Maison have adorned the dial of this 40-hour power reserve automatic timepiece with a subtle corolla of pear-shaped diamonds totalling over 32 carats. Respectively set at 12 and 6 o'clock, a fancy pink and a fancy blue pear-shaped diamond weighing two carats each enhance this timepiece with an aura of purity and nobility. They have been specially selected for their brilliance and unique colours, spectacularly highlighted by their association with the white diamonds with which the rest of this jewellery watch is clad.An expression of their era, technical inventions rarely maintain their relevance from one century to the next. One innovation replaces another, and as they are swept away by the stream of continual progress, they invariably fade into oblivion. With a few exceptions… Developed 220 years ago by Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747–1823), the Tourbillon has never been as vital to fine horology as it is today. Regarded as one of the greatest complications of all time, it continues to flourish at the House of Breguet, its custodian. However, it has also been adopted by a number of other watchmaking brands because when Breguet patented it in 1801 it did so for only 10 years! Throughout the 19th century, it inspired other engineers, among them Bahne Bonniksen who, based on the observations made by Breguet, invented the carousel. The fascination with Breguet’s invention derives from its very genesis: The Tourbillon is more than just a mechanical work of art – it is the result of a precise study of physics, a human adventure and an industrial saga in its own right. In 2021, the House of Breguet will commemorate its founder’s ingenuity, and the treasure that is the Tourbillon, through various events and the celebration of a new model on June 26. When the patent was obtained in 1801, the date correlated with the post-revolutionary Republican calendar of France – “7th Messidor of the year IX,” which refers to June 26th on our modern day calendars.

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A Complex Success

Appointed with a gold or silver case, these Tourbillons are works of art whose aesthetic matches their technological brilliance. Although they were considered to be purely scientific objects, they were given a sophisticated finish. The dials of the Tourbillons are among the most beautiful in the history of the House. Perfect readability – a characteristic of any Breguet watch – and dials whose functionality was enhanced by gold, silver or enamel: constant seconds, seconds on demand, power reserve, sometimes even a thermometer… no two pieces were the same. The Tourbillon mechanism could be adapted to several types of escapements and watches. Production, on the other hand, was very slow. In 1802, once the patent had been obtained, work began on six Tourbillon timepieces. The creation of each of these pieces would take between five and ten years. In 1809, taking advantage of his booming business and hoping that the opening of his branch in St. Petersburg would also open the Russian market for him, Breguet started work on the production of 15 new Tourbillons, half of which were completed after 1814. The marine Tourbillon chronometer would remain unique, just as the travel clock, the last Tourbillon from the original series. Creating these pieces was fraught with difficulty, the time required for fine-tuning was lengthy, and the skilled labor capable of creating them scarce.

A Rapid Resurgence

The House of Breguet not only preserved its founder’s pieces with great care, but it also created a selection of new Tourbillon pocket watches that were sold from the 1920s into the 1950s. Only a small number of insiders knew about this. The revival, when it came at last, was as swift as it was unexpected. Although designed for pocket watches, which were generally worn upright, Abraham-Louis Breguet’s invention made its comeback in the mid-1980s, in the much smaller cases of wristwatches that were far less sensitive to gravity. How ironic! Since then, the triumph of the Tourbillon has proved unstoppable, and year by year, it gains ground. Today, the main advantage of the Tourbillon no longer lies in increased precision. Instead, the enlightened amateur may delight in the beauty of a brilliant invention, in a chapter of human history and in the reassuring regularity of a revolutionary process (in every sense of the word) which, 220 years later, continues to bear witness to the human spirit.

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