Watch­mak­ing trans­formed sea­far­ing and changed his­tory. Breguet’s mar­itime her­itage is the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind its re­vamped Ma­rine range

Business Traveller - - WELCOME - WORDS CHRIS HALL

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

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