Focus: Breguet Tradition Collection
This collection celebrated its 10th year in 2015. Travel back in time to learn about the timepiece inspired by Abraham-Louis Breguet’s pocket watches.
When Montres Breguet, under the Swatch Group, launched the La Tradition in 2005, it was clear that this timepiece was destined for the annals of watchmaking history. That model, Ref. 7027, was the first contemporary timepiece to reveal the movement organs on top of the main plate. Through the addition of subsequent models over the years, Tradition (the La prefix was dropped somewhere along the way) was gradually elevated to the status of a watchmaking icon.
Its unusual architecture offers wearers the opportunity to marvel at the main movement components dial-side, and its symmetrical layout gives the piece a distinct visual identity. Most models in the series showcase a barrel placed off-centre, a dial at 12 o’clock with hands directly powered by the barrel, and a balance wheel with its intermediate wheels forming an arc from four to eight o’clock. Another instantly recognizable feature on many of the Tradition creations is the protective pare-chute shock absorber system invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet, which firmly positions the collection within the history that inspired it. The series undeniably symbolizes both a return to roots and a forward-looking brand vision.
ESSENCE OF A WATCH
Designed and developed in-house, the Tradition line takes its design cues from the souscription or subscription watches that A.L. Breguet had presented in 1796, which he described in his treatise on horology as follows: “The arrangement of the movement is such that a devotee of mechanics can follow all its effects through the open side (…).” The souscription watches featured a relatively large diameter, a single hand, an enamel dial, and a straightforward movement that could be produced in large quantities.
Extremely design-forward with a highly legible dial and a movement with the barrel in the middle, the thinking was aesthetic, functional, and minimal. A.L. Breguet had a marketing revolution on his hands with the sizeable yet simple subscription watch, the only timepiece that he made in series production. It was sold on a subscription basis, with a down payment of a quarter of the price when the order was placed, and the balance paid upon delivery. Reliable and affordable, it proved to be a great success, attracting a significant new clientele. Thanks to this scheme, his workshops were kept working full-time. Around 700 pieces were produced in total, with gold or silver cases.
A.L. Breguet then used the calibre from his subscription watches to make his first tact watches three years later. Known as the watch for the blind, as it enabled the wearer to read the time by touch alone, it placed an arrow-shaped pointer on the outside of the case to reproduce the position of the hour hand and 12 raised marker studs running around the edge of the case. In some instances, the timepieces’ smaller dials were offset, which is echoed on the contemporary Tradition models. “Breguet’s watches have always been at the forefront of innovation and ingenuity,” notes a Breguet representative. “The brand represents a great historical and cultural heritage, as well as avant-garde technology. This special place in European cultural history is owed to A.L. Breguet, a prodigiously inventive man. Today, we try to pay tribute to the brand’s founder and preserve this priceless asset by making watches that bear Breguet’s DNA.”
Since its introduction, the Tradition line has progressively grown with the launch of complications such as a power reserve indicator in the debut Tradition 7027 from a decade ago and the slightly larger Tradition 7057 in 2010; a tourbillon with fusée-and-chain transmission with the Tradition 7047 in 2007; a second time zone function with the Tradition GMT 7067 in 2012. From the historical early 19th century No. 960, 1009, and 1576 subscription and tact watches, today we have the latest Breguet creations presented at BaselWorld: the Tradition Automatique Seconde Rétrograde 7097, the Tradition Répétition Minutes Tourbillon 7087, and the Tradition Chronographe Indépendant 7077.
IN LINE WITH TRADITION
Housed in a 37mm rose or white gold case, the Tradition 7027 features a dial in black electroplated gold, hand-engraved on a rose engine off-centred at 12 o’clock, with a 50-hour power reserve indication engraved on the front and back of the manual winding Calibre 507DR. Breguet’s second iteration of a Tradition watch with a power reserve display came in the form of the Tradition 7057, this time with a diameter of 40mm, with a silvered gold, engine-turned dial that is also off-centred at 12 o’clock.
The Tradition 7047 showcases a tourbillon with a titanium upper bridge and titanium balance, a fusée-and-chain transmission ensuring constant torque, and a Breguet balance spring in silicon. The timepiece is equipped with the hand-wound Calibre 569, while the black-coated, engine-turned gold dial, off-centred at seven o’clock, is balanced by the 60-second tourbillon at one o’clock.
Ideal for travelers, the Tradition 7067 includes a second time zone feature that is set easily via a pusher at 10 o’clock, which can be seen on an off-centred engine-turned silvered dial at 12 o’clock, while a second black-coated dial positioned at eight o’clock shows the reference time accompanied with a day/night indicator at 10 o’clock that switches between silver and black.
The exposed movement of the Tradition 7097 showcases bridges and plates that are peened by a rare and demanding decorative technique to achieve a regular and uniform finish. Other aesthetic elements that reinforce the Breguet tradition (pun intended) are the Breguet-style open-tipped hands in blued steel and the offset dial in silvered gold at 12 o’clock with hand-worked engine-turned hobnail pattern, not forgetting the famous Incabloc shock protection device positioned at four o’clock to maintain the dial’s symmetry.
Showing off the brand’s latest technology, the self-winding in-house Calibre 505SR1 also uses an inverted in-line lever escapement with silicon pallets and a Breguet silicon overcoil balance spring guaranteeing high stability of rate. Its gold winding rotor shows clear influence from the movements of the period.
The manufacture’s expertise in different crafts, including guillochage, engraving, and bevelling, is in full view. The movement proper has an additional finely-grained surface treatment called “grenaillage”, finishing based on a technique that was used 200 years ago and is reserved for Breguet’s Tradition collection.
BREAKING THE MOULD
Jointly designed by Breguet’s research and development department and creative team, the Tradition Chronographe Indépendant 7077 is one of the two new models that turn the tables on the collection’s trademark dial symmetry. What differentiate the Tradition 7077 from other chronographs are the two independent, completely disconnected trains (separating timekeeping and chronograph functions). The first is for the going train, with a 3Hz balance, and the second transmission for the chronograph, which has a 5Hz frequency for more accurate readings, as a higher oscillation rate improves stability. One balance is constantly running, while the other only jumps into action when the chronograph is activated.
More technology can be found in the mainspring. Breguet’s watchmakers have cleverly integrated a new type of spring for the chronograph function. The user supplies the energy to power the chronograph when pressing the zero-reset button, stored in a flexed blade spring. The zeroing action flexes and arms the blade spring, thereby priming the chronograph for a new measurement.
The chronograph function is activated by two screw-down pushers, but unlike conventional chronographs, one pusher starts the measurement, while the other stops and resets the chronograph. Other innovations include a non-concentric going train linked with the blade spring to level out the torque and ensure constant amplitude and rate of the chronograph. A patent has been filed for the entire spring and train assembly. The watch’s familiar patented pare-chute anti-shock system references the brand’s historical roots, as does its chronograph control, which reflects that of the Ref. 4009 double-centre seconds observation timer sold by Breguet in 1825, featuring a 58mm gold case, silver body, silver engine-turned dial and lever escapement.
In the Ref. 7077, a unique titanium chronograph balance wheel sits symmetrically with the movement balance wheel – both the same size regardless of their different frequencies and colours. Lightweight titanium was chosen, as any other heavier metals would have demanded a smaller balance wheel, which would have marred the watch’s aesthetics. Both balance wheels house Breguet silicon springs.
The other new model is the Tradition 7087 minute repeater tourbillon. With it, Breguet has reimagined the traditional minute repeater complication with atypically shaped gongs and a vibrating bezel and crystal. Tradition 7087 was mainly designed around the sound it produces. The aim was to achieve a specific quality of sound chosen from approximately 100,000 different synthetic sounds to identify the two desired notes. The unconventional construction of the watch is a bid to replicate this selected sound.
Instead of the usual round-shaped gongs invented by A.L. Breguet in 1783, the two prominent gold gongs of different sizes here have been reworked and curve oddly. They are attached to the bezel, which is screwed to the case band, with three pillars to allow the bezel and crystal to vibrate. This helps to transmit the sound from the gongs to the exterior parts of the timepiece resulting in improved sound emission, particularly at low frequencies. In contrast to many minute repeaters, in which the hammers travel in parallel to the watch movement, the Tradition 7087’s hammers strike vertically from the movement towards the bezel.
The buffer for the hammers has been improved by a system that pulls back the hammer immediately when it hits the gong rather than coming into play before the hammer strikes the gong, which reduces the hammer’s power. This semi-active buffer means the hammer can strike the gong at full force, leading to a louder chime. The brand opted for a chain transmission instead of gears to transfer power from the barrel to the minute repeater, which echoes old pocket watches like the No. 160 pocket watch that Breguet had made for Queen Marie-Antoinette.
While the usual repeater governor relies on either air or mechanical friction to work, the Tradition 7087 incorporates a magnetic governor composed of magnets to decelerate the spinning of silver weights in a way that reduces noise and wear, so it doesn’t interfere with the repeater chimes. The pierced case back has been designed to resonate, so it is equipped with a gold membrane linked to the bezel to increase the volume of the repeater chimes by vibrating the cavity between the membrane and the case back, while the mechanism’s noises are filtered out.
The Calibre 565DR’s baseplate and bridges are made from titanium, which is light and not dense, meaning it transmits and amplifies sound efficiently. The manufacture is the first to use titanium in a movement for acoustic purposes, primarily because the material is very challenging to work with. The 60-second tourbillon at six o’clock has a lateral lever escapement with silicon pallets and a hairspring in silicon. The watch is self-winding, powered by a bidirectional platinum peripheral rotor rotating around the edge of the movement that serves two purposes: minimising the space required for the winding mechanism and allowing a clear view of the movement.
Born 10 years ago from very classical roots, the Tradition has evolved into an impressive collection backed by state-of-the-art technology. The unlikely marriage of time-honoured complications and futuristic watchmaking defines the Tradition and continues to astonish watch connoisseurs – as Breguet has always done.
Text by Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle
This article was originally published in World Of Watches