Breguet is probably the only single watchmaker to be honoured by several of the world’s premier museums. The Musée International d’Horlogerie (MIH) de La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, houses the world’s greatest collection devoted to the measurement of time. It is one of the principal museums in possession of a significant collection of Breguet watches and clocks. Thanks to the numerous activities led by the MIH, it has now become a worldwide reference in the field of history, time measurement and its most direct expression, watchmaking. The House of Breguet is honored to become a member of the Association of friends of the MIH, supporting the museum in its mission.
It is worth noting that an extremely fine exhibition “L’oeuvre d’Abraham-Louis Breguet” was held at MIH in 1976, bringing together 125 early pieces; while the exhibition staged by the Louvre in 2009 “Breguet and the Louvre, an Apogee of European Watchmaking” featured several pieces on loan from MIH.
Among the highlights of the MIH collections currently on display, one can admire exceptional Breguet pieces from the end of the 18th century, such as a Breguet three-wheel clock, a perpetual watch no. 28 and a tact watch no. 602, for example. Two centuries later, the wristwatches produced in the Breguet Manufacture still take their inspiration from the distinctive style introduced by the founder.
The elegance and quality of execution
The Museum collection boasts a perpétuelle minute-repeating watch no. 28, started in 1791. The harmony of its design is an indication of the maturity of Breguet’s work by this period. The aesthetic revolution that Breguet brought about in watchmaking became apparent very early. Breguet was determined to simplify the shape of his cases by eliminating all superfluous decoration and striving for technical solutions that would enable him to produce ever more compact and thinner movements. His first known watches, dating from the 1780s, are already distinctive in the restraint and delicacy of their design. With the introduction of engine-turned decoration (or guillochage), applied generally to his watches from about 1787, they attained an outstanding degree of elegance and quality of execution.
The only real freedom that Breguet allowed himself in the decoration of his watches concerned two very distinct categories: the enameled Turkish watches for the Ottoman market, and tact watches decorated with enameling and set with pearls or brilliants. An outstanding piece on display in the Museum is the tact watch no. 602 with a painted enamel cover. This watch was sold in 1799 to “Citizen Perregaux’s partner on behalf of Mrs Marmont”, later Duchesse de Raguse.
The apparent simplicity of a three-wheel clock
A three-wheel clock is a type of clock invented by Breguet in 1787 and described in a document registered with the Académie des Sciences in Paris in 1788. Although a prototype was built at this time, the first model was not actually sold until 1793, followed by two others in 1795 and another two in 1797. A sixth clock, made on the same model as the earlier ones, was completed in 1828. It is now in the collections of the Musée International d’Horlogerie at La Chaux-de-Fonds. Revolutionary in conception, these skeleton clocks with no case featuring three wheels and two weights indicated the equation of time and a dual calendar (Gregorian and Republican). They are fascinating in their apparent simplicity.
Among the exceptional works of art exhibited in MIH, there is a monumental fresco painted in 1958 by Hans Erni showing the universal philosophy of time and the emergence and development of Swiss watchmaking. The painting features Abraham-Louis Breguet next to Albert Einstein, and also includes Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton among other scientists. These works of art were commissioned by the Swiss Chamber of Watchmaking for the Brussels World’s Fair. They decorated the watchmaking section of the Swiss pavilion, under the overall title “Conquering Time”.