Known as the king of watchmakers and the watchmaker of kings, Abraham Louis Breguet was perhaps the most inventive watchmaker in history. Working in the eighteenth century, Breguet was famous for his innovative watches and held in high esteem by the rich and famous people of the time. Many components of mechanical watches still bear his name today. Famous people from Marie Antionette to Napoleon to the Turkish sultan Selim III all possessed watches by the most prestigious of watchmakers. Celebrated novelists such as Pushkin and Balzac mention Breguet in their works.
Review&impact of Breguet’s inventions
The invention that initially made Breguet famous was the self-winding watch. Many other inventors had already tried to create such an ambitious thing, but it was Breguet that produced a practical and reliable one. Watchmakers already understood that the motion of a person walking could cause a watch to wind itself, and it was Breguet who perfected this system. Through the use of a weight that would oscillate as a result of the wearers’ movements, the watch spring could be made to wind itself. After the completion of his first self-winding watch in 1780, Breguet moved on to many more innovations.
Without modern lighting, it must have been a hassle to know the time in the dark in the eighteenth century. Breguet solved this problem by introducing a gong that allowed the time to be known through sound. This type of watch is known as a striking watch. While Breguet was not the first to create striking watches, he greatly improved upon the design, and his innovation was from then on used by other watchmakers. Before the end of the 1780s, Breguet invented a watch that would allow time to line up precisely with the position of the sun in the sky. With ordinary watches, this is not possible as the location of the sun in the sky is slightly different from one month to another.
Innovations after 1790
Eighteenth-century mechanical watches were very delicate, and so watchmakers were interested in innovations that would make them more durable. Perhaps the most celebrated of all of Breguet’s eighteenth-century inventions is the pare-chute, a shock absorber that protected the delicate balance wheel. To prove the effectiveness of his design, Breguet threw his watch to the floor in front of a crowd. The timepiece worked as well as before, to the amazement of the impressed crowd.
Even if Breguet’s career had ended there, he would have already achieved a degree of fame that would last beyond his death. However, he continued to innovate. Before the end of the eighteenth century, he invented a calendar watch that was capable of dealing with leap years.
Initially, all watches were pocket watches. Towards the end of Breguet’s career, he created what is believed to be the very first wristwatch. Before 1810, it is not likely that any watchmakers produced wristwatches at all. While Breguet managed to sell the original wristwatch to the queen of Naples, wristwatches did not become more common than pocket watches until after Breguet’s death. If anyone could find the first wristwatch today, it would surely be worth a fortune, but it seems to have vanished without a trace. As no one would throw such an expensive watch away, it probably still exists, for a lucky collector to someday find.
Breguet watches today
During Breguet’s lifetime, the company that he founded constructed more than 17000 watches. The firm and the tradition that he founded still exists today, and continues to be associated with innovation and quality. Modern materials can be used to improve upon the old art of watchmaking. Since 2000 the Breguet company has invented silicon parts to replace steel components and used rare earth metals to protect the delicate magnetic pivot from shocks. Innovation in mechanical watchmaking is not a thing of the past. Even in the 21st century, one can still improve upon the art of mechanical watchmaking.