RIDING THE WAVE
Watchmaking transformed seafaring and changed history. Breguet’s maritime heritage is the inspiration behind its revamped Marine range
Breguet’s latest Marine range celebrates the brand’s maritime heritage.
Watches and the sea have been linked for a long time. The best-known association is with divers, from the pioneering World War II Italian frogmen, whose Panerai watches continue to set the template for the brand today, to the naval associations forged by the likes of Rolex, Tudor and Blancpain in the 1950s and ’60s (supplying the British, French and Americans respectively, although not exclusively).
But this is not where the association began. Horology has had a key role in seafaring for centuries, and timepieces played a pivotal part in the geopolitical developments of the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly the spread of empire from Western Europe.
How so? The development of accurate timekeeping at sea was fundamental to proper navigation, as it enabled on-the-go calculations of longitude, but the challenge of creating a reliable and accurate clock to go on board a ship was enormous. The seemingly intractable problem was solved, after a few prototypes, in 1761 when the English clockmaker (and former carpenter) John Harrison presented his “sea watch”, the H4 marine chronometer, to the Royal Society. His success helped ensure British naval superiority over its rival European powers and, indirectly, contributed to the spread of the British Empire.
Which brings us to the French. In 1815 Abraham-Louis Breguet plied his trade as a watchmaker in Paris. Already established as the era’s pre-eminent watchmaker, having created landmark pieces for royalty around the world (including Marie Antoinette), Breguet was named official supplier of marine chronometers to the French Navy, and was subsequently responsible for a stunning number of innovations. He invented the tourbillon, a device which negates the distorting effect of gravity. He also made groundbreaking steps in the manufacture of balance springs, shock absorbers, escapements and other mechanisms.
Although the modern-day Breguet brand is better known for fine works of classically →
designed high-end watchmaking than for its seafaring connection, back in 1990 Breguet launched the Marine line of watches in honour of the founder’s post-Napoleonic contract to make naval watches. This year the collection gets its first major makeover since 2006.
The heart of the Marine range is the 5517, a 40mm time-only watch that is easily the most successful design of the collection. Above that sit an alarm watch and a threeregister (three sub-dial) chronograph that are accomplished designs, but not quite as desirable as the 5517. The new line-up does away with the heavy lugs of the outgoing range in favour of a slimmer integrated design (which also means you can’t change straps with the weather, but you can’t have everything). Coupled with the introduction of titanium-cased options, this gives the happy sense that the design has been modernised nicely.
It’s a shame that the titanium watches only come with a sunburst slate-grey dial and not the blue offered with the white or yellow gold models, because the blue dial is comfortably the easiest thing to love about the new Marine line. Engraved with a wavelike pattern, it’s a nice nod to the sea-watch story – even more so when you realise that the pattern is made using hand-operated rose engine lathes that date back to the era of Abraham-Louis, following techniques laid down by the man himself. The pattern isn’t exactly Hokusai, but it’s a darn sight more evocative than, say, the stylised design on Omega’s new (and admittedly much more pragmatic) Seamaster. It’s nice to see Breguet, a brand usually more strait-laced, being more poetic.
What’s also nice to see is that Breguet timepieces are once again setting forth upon the seven seas. Under the auspices of a newly signed partnership with the Race for Water Foundation, Breguet is supporting a global “odyssey”: a 100-tonne solar-, wind- and hydrogen-powered vessel is under way as you read this, making 35 stops around the world to bring scientists and politicians together to raise awareness around sustainable energy, pollution and ocean preservation. Naturally, those on board have Breguet Marine watches to wear, and theirs are a special limited edition in titanium – with that blue dial. Rather than the wave motif, it bears a design of the boat itself (see previous page), which – as it is covered in geometric solar panels – looks more like a mosque, or perhaps a Fifth Avenue skyscraper, which has curbed my jealousy somewhat. It’s not for sale, so will be a real rarity in years to come.
The wave pattern is made using lathes that date back to the era of Breguet himself
BELOW FROM LEFT: The Marine Date 5517 in rose gold, RRP £21,600; Marine Chronograph 5527 in titanium, RRP £16,900; and Marine Alarm 5547 in titanium, RRP £21,500