An Exhibition Notes a Watch Brand’s Links to English Society

With numerous horological innovations to its name since its founding in 1775, Breguet has crafted timepieces that are often included in displays on the history of watchmaking. But the watchmaker’s links with English society are the focus of “Abraham-Louis Breguet: The English Connection,” an exhibition at the Clockmakers’ Museum, which is housed in the Science Museum in London.

The show, which was scheduled to open Sept. 12 and end next September, is meant to be the first of a series of annual exhibitions on watch and clock making.

“We want to keep the gallery and our own collection alive by attracting new visitors,” said Peter Thomas, the collections chair at the Clockmakers’ Museum. “We want to give people the opportunity to see objects which are either normally in private collections and unseen, or objects that are in remote collections.”

Anna Rolls, the curator of the Clockmakers’ Museum who, together with Andrew Crisford, co-curated the exhibition, said Breguet was chosen for the inaugural show because its name has international resonance, and 2023 is the 200th anniversary of the death of its founder, Abraham-Louis Breguet.

The show, which includes some 20 timepieces, has three themes: the Breguet brand’s creations for the power players of English society, including the royal family; its connections with the country’s watchmaking trade; and its influence on English collectors and makers, such as James Ferguson Cole, the 19th-century watchmaker.

The timepieces on display feature many of the founder’s own horological contributions, such as the split-seconds chronograph, also known as a rattrapante chronograph, which allows the measurement of two simultaneous events; and the self-winding function now in use in automatic watches.

The exhibition’s curators and the Breguet brand said one of the most remarkable pieces on display is a gold tourbillon pocket watch made by Breguet in 1808 for King George III, which was auctioned for 1.5 million pounds (or the equivalent of $1.9 million) in 2020, and was to be on public display for the first time since that auction. It is signed by Recordon, Breguet’s retailer in London at the time; the back is engraved with the king’s cipher; and the phrase “Breguet, Par Brevet d’Invention” (Breguet, by patent of invention) is inside the tourbillion carriage (Abraham-Louis Breguet patented the tourbillon in 1801).

The movement is noteworthy because it is one of Breguet’s few four-minute tourbillons — meaning that the cage that counteracts gravity’s impact on the accuracy of time keeping completes its revolution in four minutes rather than during the more common one-minute revolution.

Another attraction is the Sympathique clock, created in 1814 for the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. The clock was designed with a cradle built to hold a corresponding pocket watch, which would automatically adjust the watch’s time keeping while it was placed inside it.

“Both the tourbillon watch and the Sympathique clock are probably the most emblematic of Breguet’s inventions,” Emmanuel Breguet, vice president and head of patrimony at Breguet, said. “They were not only extremely difficult to produce, but at the same time quite poetical, as one was supposed to give the most accurate time possible, and the other seemed to rewind and reset itself as if by magic.”


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