Breguet is one of — if not the — most historically significant makers in the history of horology.
Indeed, it could be said that you simply cannot have an intelligent conversation on the development of the wristwatch (and, of course, the pocket watch) without mentioning their name. Decades ago, the brand pioneered a new style and a new approach to watchmaking never before pursued, and this impact is felt to this day in many aspects of design and manufacturing.
During the time of Abraham Louis Breguet in the 18th and early 19th centuries, pocket watches were practical tools rather than fashion accessories. Breguet partnered with some of the most affluent collectors in Europe and produced highly ornate pieces for royalty, transforming the pocket watch into more than just a timekeeper. Later, his eponymous brand extended the same approach to wristwatch design and execution, popularizing the use of guilloché and other dial decorating techniques to elevate the aesthetics of what were otherwise reserved, traditional designs.
To the uninitiated, Breguet pieces may appear like simple dress watches executed in a 200-year-old aesthetic, but it’s important to recognize that the brand virtually established this aesthetic. In his time, A.L. Breguet was an outsider and a modernist, and when considering the company’s present-day stance — and arguably 'old fashioned' designs — it’s important to recognize this.
Breguet’s contributions weren’t limited to aesthetics, however — he also developed an early shock absorption system for his movements, patented the tourbillon, and standardized the proportions of movement components to optimize accuracy and performance.
In spite of Breguet’s pivotal role in shaping the watch industry’s modern landscape, Breguet timepieces still remain massively under-appreciated in the current market, and particularly so in the U.S. While this can be frustrating for a watch savant with a historical bent, as a collector, under-appreciated watches offer their own source of enthusiasm: They represent a special opportunity to explore something unique to one’s tastes, and they're readily available and well priced despite their inherent historical value.
Both these points are accurate with regards to Breguet. The brand is most often seen on the wrists of experienced enthusiasts, and their pieces are often discounted relative to other historically significant brands. The quality of a Breguet timepiece is exceptional, and it’s difficult to find any watch at a similar strata of finish, design, and execution without climbing up the food chain to more popular heavy hitters that often cost multiples of the equivalent Breguet.
Here, we’ve built a collection of Breguet watches to help demonstrate this value proposition. These pieces may not be as recognizable as their brothers from Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, but they're every bit as capable and beautiful — and that’s why Breguet is “under the radar!”
The Dress Watch: Breguet Classique Moonphase Power Reserve Date ‘Jumbo’
Breguet Classique Moonphase Power Reserve Date 'Jumbo' - IN THE SHOP
Of the three pieces in this collection, this one is the most quintessentially classic Breguet.
The brand’s Classique Collection was designed to highlight the defining characteristics of Breguet watches — the ones the marque is most famous for. The Classique Moonphase Power Reserve epitomizes these aesthetics.
In it, we see a dial complete with various hallmarks of Breguet design: The unique, multi-layered guilloché texture that serves to differentiate between the watch’s various complications is one of the brand's iconic contributions to horology. Prior to Breguet, dials with this level of decoration were uncommon.
Arguably, Grand Seiko’s ability to create unique dial designs was founded upon the precedent set by Breguet and its followers. Many other brands have adopted similar practices, and there are now beautiful guilloché dials from the likes of A. Lange & Söhne and Patek Philippe. In fact, modern masters such as Philippe Dufour, Roger Smith, and Francois-Paul Journe all claim Breguet as one of the biggest influencers of their design philosophies, with a particular emphasis on dial finish.
The typeface of the Roman numerals (as well as that of the dial text) dates to A.L. Breguet himself — a continuity within the Breguet brand that illustrates the company’s profound appreciation for its own history and past. There’s a seamless connection between the different generations of Breguet watches, all sharing an underlying elegance that is unique to their aesthetics.
This piece displays the time, phase of the moon, power reserve, and date, all in the classic Breguet layout with power reserve and moonphase indicator balanced on opposite sides of the dial and the date at 6 o’clock within the sub-seconds register. Additionally, as with most Classique pieces, the caseband is finished with a fluted design (also commonly referred to "coin edge" finishing) for further visual intrigue at a portion of the watch that is often left unadorned.
For practical use, this watch is outfitted with an automatic-winding movement featuring a micro-rotor, the use of which allows the timepiece to preserve its slim case profile in spite of the many dial complications. The movement itself is beautifully decorated, with a solid gold rotor featuring a barleycorn pattern engraved on its surface, while Côtes de Geneve striping adorns the rest of the bridges. This level of finish ensures that the movement and the dial are both equally well treated.
Finally, the dial is set with now-iconic ‘Breguet’ hands, which are yet another hallmark of the company’s classic 18th-century origins and styling. (The fact that a brand has a handset named after it speaks volumes about that company’s ingenuity and impact!) The watch is finished with a signed brown alligator strap featuring a deployant clasp — a nice touch for a dress watch, and one that is typically only found at higher ends of the pricing spectrum.
All told, this oversized variant Classique Moonphase Power Reserve comes in just north of the $20,000 mark. When comparing precious-metal dress watches of this quality, one is generally considering time-only models with tang buckles and plain dials. In this case, there are multiple complications, a hand-finished dial with extensive decoration, and a precious-metal deployant clasp. In many cases, watches of this quality and price are the entry-level models for top-shelf brands like Patek or Lange (the Calatrava and Saxonia collections, respectively). The Classique Moonphase Power Reserve, however, is a core Breguet offering despite its complication. These watches are also trading below retail on the secondary market, which is a large part of their value proposition, and in truth, they are priced fairly at retail. Obtaining one pre-owned at a discount only sweetens the deal.
(Also see a standard-size variant HERE)
The Sport Complication: Breguet Type XXI Flyback Chronograph
Breguet Type XXI Flyback Chronograph - IN THE SHOP
In addition to the beautiful dress watches Breguet is known for, the marque is famed for its military pieces, which were originally commissioned by the French government beginning in the mid-20th century.
In the 1950s, the Aéronautique Militaire issued a standard for pilot’s watches — the Type 20. Breguet’s Type XX was made directly to order for the military, using the specifications demanded by the government. While the aesthetics of the Type XX were consistent with the styling of other military chronographs of the era, it also featured the practical flyback feature that was invaluable for pilots. (When the chronograph is reset, it immediately begins counting anew, thus allowing for easy timing of navigational legs in the air.)
The original Type XX received a highly limited production — an estimated 200 examples, roughly — but Breguet has since reissued the model and built out a collection based on the original design language. The Breguet Type XXI we have here is a luxurious reimagining of the Type XX, fashioned from rose gold rather than more utilitarian steel. (This is analogous to a solid-gold Rolex Submariner, which is still a tool watch, to be sure, but one with added luxury appeal.)
Just like the Classique, this watch is a tasteful modernization of past design: The Type XXI preserves the visuals of the original Breguet Type XX, albeit with the modernized case. The lugs, dial layout, registers, syringe hands, and bezel are all reminiscent of the classic Breguet design language. Once more, its leather strap features a deployant buckle — a rare feature on a pilot’s watch, which is typically a more pared-back tool.
From a value standpoint, it’s quite difficult to find a sporty Swiss chronograph in precious metal just north of $10,000. Here, you get precisely that, plus the flyback function — a complication that is uncommon even at a significantly higher price point. Additionally, this piece provides an added level of interest as a result of its historical significance and role in the Breguet story. This is precisely the Breguet philosophy: Visual beauty and mechanical complexity available at prices that don’t necessarily smack of haute horlogerie.
While the Classique features the quintessential Breguet aesthetic, this watch is quintessential to Breguet’s history, recalling the role A.L. Breguet had in French political life and high society. (On the one hand, Breguet had a built-in market for his high-end timepieces — on the other, he was forced to flee the country as a result of his political affiliation with the unpopular government during the French Revolution.) Regardless, Breguet’s relations with French nobility played a substantial role in the brand’s development over the years, which this watch represents beautifully.
The Avant-Garde Beauty: Breguet Tradition 7037
Breguet Tradition - IN THE SHOP
Lastly, we have one of Breguet’s most well regarded models, the Tradition Reference 7037, which was introduced in 2005 and helped to popularize open-worked dials. With its distinctive style based upon early Breguet watches, this piece once again fuses one of the key facets of Breguet’s history with a modern package. Breguet was equally innovative in the world of business as he was in watchmaking, introducing the concept of a souscription (subscription) model, whereby clients would pay a portion of the watch’s value as a down payment in advance of receiving it (usually around 25%).
The Tradition Ref. 7037 is based on an early souscription pocket watch made by the manufacture; indeed, the layout, finishing techniques, and bridge aesthetics are a startlingly accurate replica of the pocket watches produced under this system. Simultaneously, Breguet has incorporated a miniature version of its iconic guilloché dial at 12 o’clock. The result is a watch that many enthusiasts today view as entirely avant-garde before learning of its historical influence.
This wonderful balancing act that Breguet has established between contemporary charm and historical respect is part of why the Tradition line has been so successful. While the Classique line is “status quo” for Breguet, the Tradition was a bold release, and one that was more risky. Today, the Tradition line is thriving, and now incorporates GMTs and other complications. The Ref. 7037 is the purest manifestation of this style, with only time and power reserve on the dial and a beautiful movement on full display.
Once more, a fluted caseband and the straight, protruding lugs serve as reminders that this is a classic Breguet timepiece in spite of its unique aesthetics. In addition to showcasing the souscription watch architecture, the Tradition also displays several of Breguet’s other horological innovations: An overcoil hairspring, “pare-chute” shock absorption system (introduced in 1790 as one of the earliest such systems), Breguet handset, and of course, a guilloché dial all feature into the design. Usually, the pare-chute and overcoil are obscured, but here, as a result of the open-worked system, these major contributions are on full display.
Given its unique aesthetics and tremendous feature set, the Tradition is truly an excellent conversation-starter watch. First, the dial begs onlookers to ask about its open-worked, seemingly avant-garde design. Then, the host of Breguet innovations makes for an excellent way to communicate the brand’s significance and contributions to the watch space. What better timepiece is there to take to a Red Bar meetup as a conversation starter?
Entries into a Storied Brand
Breguet is simultaneously one of the most significant and least appreciated watchmakers in the current horological landscape. Indeed, the number of collectors who admire Breguet timepieces and yet never seem to buy one is staggering! We at Analog:Shift have always loved the brand, and would be hard pressed to think of better watches to epitomize the gamut of Breguet offerings than the aforementioned three.
A classic dress piece with traditional Breguet aesthetics and hallmarks; a sporty piece that demonstrates Breguet’s broader role in the military watch space and French society; and an avant-garde choice that showcases many of the company’s innovations and represents the more modern end of its brand identity. These three watches would make for not only a great Breguet collection, but also a great collection in general.
Check out our full section of beautiful Breguet watches at Analog:Shift today!