Breguet: the pioneer of the coveted tourbillon mechanism

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A beautiful timepiece from Breguet can be bought for $68,000, but the exact same watch from the legendary watchmaker can shoot up to almost half a million dollars once the tourbillon mechanism is incorporated in it.

So what makes this mechanism so desirable that heritage watch aficionados are willing to pay such a high price to get their hands on one?

Always exposed, never hidden, the tourbillion is a symbol of quality.

As with Breguet, all fine watchmakers always make a point to show off its incorporation by exposing it on the face of their most elite creations. Invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet himself in 1801, it is still considered to be the most complicated and exclusive mechanism in horology.

The founder of Breguet earned unprecedented recognition and praise for his innovations when the queen of France, Marie-Antoinette herself, developed a keen interest in his creations.

Legend has it that in 1783, one of her admirers commissioned Breguet to produce the most astonishing watch ever, which incorporated every component of horological science at the time, as a gift to the queen. No limits were set on the time allowed or the price, and the only directions were that pure gold should be used instead of metal and that complications should be multiple and varied.

The queen never got to see the timepiece. It was not completed till 34 years after her death, 44 years after it was ordered, and four years after the death of the founder. But Breguet’s no160, the “Marie Antoinette”, branded him as the watchmaker of influential and royal society.

In 1798, General Napoleon Bonaparte ordered three important pieces from Breguet in order to maintain accurate time during his travels to Egypt, one of which was a carriage watch, which weighed about 200 pounds at the time. 

Discovering a way to regulate this traveling masterpiece was essential to counteract the effect of gravity and motion on an escapement. In those times, watchmakers had no option but to use another watch for regulation. In his search for a solution, Breguet invented the first tourbillon regulator in history, which was patented in 1801.

The tourbillon is considered to be the most challenging watch mechanism to make. It has both an intricate design and sophisticated engineering requirements. The mechanism provides a possibility of higher accuracy than alternative movements and symbolises the exquisite craftsmanship involved in the watchmaking industry. 

Today, Breguet offers five different types of tourbillon to its clients.

1. Bridge Tourbillon (from $102,000)

This is the most basic, entry-level tourbillon whereby the carriage is mounted beneath a steel bridge. A bridge tourbillon watch is priced at $102,000 in rose gold and goes up in value depending on the materials used.

2. Flying Tourbillon (from $171,000)

Rather than being supported by a bridge, the flying tourbillon’s lightweight yet strong carriage is supported from only one side. The rose gold version is priced at $171,000 and is also made in precious platinum. 

3. Fussy Chain (from $175,00)

The transmission here takes place through a chain, so that when the winding happens you can see the chain being collected. A watch that incorporates this mechanism will cost you anything from $175,000 to $190,000.

4. Perpetual calendar Tourbillon (from $235,000)

A classic “Grand Complication” in platinum, with tourbillon. The rose-gilded hand-wound movement is engraved by hand. The perpetual calendar shows the day, date, month and leap year while running the seconds on the shaft.

5. Twin Rotating Tourbillon (from $245,000)

This innovation comes equipped with twin rotating tourbillon carriages powered by a hand-wound mechanical movement. They work independently from one another and can be seen through a sheet of sapphire crystal, which forms the back of this fascinating time piece.   

Here in the Middle East, the most sought-after Breguet watch is the Marine Tourbillon, which is part of the Marine series and costs between $152,000 and $177,000. The average number of watches sold out of the Dubai Mall boutique is approximately 30 pieces per month, half of which include the tourbillon mechanism.

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