Modern-day masterpiece: The Tourbillon Grande Sonnerie

By Breguet Blog
June 18th, 2023


5 And the house which I build is great: for great is our God above all gods.
6 But who is able to build him an house, seeing the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him? who am I then, that I should build him an house, save only to burn sacrifice before him?
7 Send me now therefore a man cunning to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in iron, and in purple, and crimson, and blue, and that can skill to grave with the cunning men that are with me in Judah and in Jerusalem, whom David my father did provide.

—Old Testament, II. Chronicles 2:5-7

BREGUET, HORLOGER DES HORLOGERS. Même ses pairs le disent.

Today few watchmakers are able to work in the tradition of their forefathers and founders. However, Breguet not only continues the tradition but is able to offer a rare and elusive pocket watch fit for a king: The Tourbillon Grande Sonnerie.

Genesis of ref. 1907

In creating the Tourbillon Grande Sonnerie, Breguet has sought to distill the vision of its founder into a modern-day pocket watch. Breguet’s watchmakers took inspiration from older pocket watches to create something fresh and unusual at the same time. To this end, the design team looked at the garde temps, a high-precision watch also known as a regulator. Breguet applied this description to his own watches fitted with lever escapements, according to the manufacturing and sales ledgers.1

The following example of a sleek pocket watch in white gold serves as a starting point for the birth of what would later become ref. 1907. A pared down dial with oversized chapter rings for both minutes and seconds make this an extremely practical timekeeper. The design is quite modern too, elements which were infused into the Tourbillon Grande Sonnerie. The most remarkable difference is of course the addition of the tourbillon, Breguet’s own invention, and a sonnerie. Serious complications indeed and an appropriate way of commemorating the heritage of Abraham-Louis Breguet.

Photograph Montres Breguet S.A.
Breguet no. 3448, marine chronometer-type pocket watch, sold 12th July 1820 to M. Bouvard, astronomer, for 1,800 francs.

Do we need pocket watches anymore?

The scythe of time has seen fashions come and go yet some things transcend cultural trends. That thing which is often called progress, ushered in by the machine age and now knocking on the doors of Artificial Intelligence, boldly declares the obsolescence of mechanical trinkets. From the paperless office to smart watches that make and receive calls and the eagerly awaited so-called Internet of Bodies. Life promises to be sheer bliss when everything around us is managed by Bluetooth and Wi-Fi!

Books, paper, pens and LPs were supposed to have been superseded by the digital age – even though LPs have seen a resurgence. Add to that wristwatches, pocket watches and clocks, all of which may seem antiquated in our fast-paced world and for those in busy and hectic environments. It is worth remembering that clocks have stood the test of time by their presence in and on schools, public buildings and churches. Tangible data carriers and mechanical timepieces therefore have their uses alongside evolving technologies from quartz to solid-state storage.

But it is precisely amid the noise and confusion of modern life that some appreciate the quiet stability and longevity that comes with physical artefacts. For they do not require ‘upgrades’ and are generally low-maintenance and give great pleasure, often to generations of owners.

A triumphant achievement

Ref. 1907 is a fitting tribute to the early pocket watches made by Abraham-Louis Breguet. A striking mechanism is combined with the tourbillon that was originally designed to compensate for the influence of gravity on the balance of a pocket watch worn or carried vertically. In this position the tourbillon acts as a regulator of the escapement as it rotates continuously on its axis completely through 360 degrees negating the effects of poising errors in the balance.

Photograph Montres Breguet S.A.
Ref. 1907 main dial evinces a symphony of harmony and elegance.

The dial layout is one of simplicity and legibility well suited to pocket watches. Here it can be seen in the form of a regulator dial displaying the hours, minutes, and seconds on three separate axes. Once upon a time, the regulator was a precision clock in the watchmaker’s workshop that gave the reference to which all clocks and watches in production were set or adjusted. To ensure maximum precision, the hands are positioned above the wheels inside the movement. The hour, minute and second hands are all on individual axes and not on the same axis as is usually the case.2

Each aspect of the silvered gold dial is wonderfully decorated by Breguet’s master guillochers, hand-engraved on a rose engine: clous de Paris adorns the main dial while the inner chapter ring for the hours is decorated with panier alterné. An off-centred chapter ring lends additional subtlety to the overall design.

To top it all off, ref. 1907 is endowed with the rarest and most luxurious set of complications – the Great-Strike. This is a complication so rare that to put it in perspective, few of the greatest names in watchmaking venture into this arena. The watch contains four separate options for the strike:

  • Great-Strike or Grande Sonnerie, the watch rings on the hour every hour and every quarter hour, with low sounds for the number of hours and with a high-pitched and low double sound for every quarter;
  • Small-Strike or Petite Sonnerie, the watch rings on the hour every full hour and the quarters at each quarter not corresponding to a full hour (no repetition of the hour at 15, 30 and 45 minutes past the hour);
  • Silence, the watch does not ring any passage; nevertheless the minute-repeater function is still available;
  • Minute-repeater or Répétition Minutes, pull the slide of the minute-repeater down as far as possible; the strike gives the time in the minute-repeater fashion: by a first low sound the hours, on two tones the quarters and finally the minutes with high-pitched sounds.

This ultra-complication allows the minute-repeater to override the strike if it is activated while the strike is functioning. As a result the watch must be wound in sequence to avoid damage and users should study the manual carefully before operation.

The movement is breathtaking in its mastery and a mechanical marvel. The observer is invited to linger over a ‘cityscape’ of fine and minute parts, beautifully polished and harmoniously assembled. A loupe will heighten one’s appreciation of the masterful execution from Breguet’s watchmakers: with anglage to perlage to Geneva stripes or côtes de Gèneve, the works exhibit specular highlights thanks to Breguet’s flawless finishing and poli noir screws. The plate of the movement bears the inimitable maker’s mark in the form of a hand-engraved oval plate showing the name and unique number of the manufacture. As expected, the watch has been adjusted for all six positions, reserved for Breguet’s rarest timepieces.

Photograph Montres Breguet S.A.
Ref. 1907 works as seen through the sapphire case back.

Pocket watch ref. 1907 is the result of painstaking work and collaboration among Breguet’s master watchmakers and is so much more than a mere journey through the archives. The Tourbillon Grande Sonnerie is a modern-day revival of the spirit of Abraham-Louis Breguet. The addition of a grande et petite sonnerie alongside Breguet’s revered tourbillon adds refinement of the highest quality to an otherwise simple regulator pocket watch. Such watches are rarely seen and present an opportunity for connoisseurs to own a Grande Complication that is exceptional enough to be exhibited in a museum.

Description

Classique Grande Complication pocket watch in 18-carat yellow gold, with grand-strike and tourbillon. Manually engraved hand-wound movement with 2-way rotating crown. Off-centred chapter ring. Centre minute hand. Silvered gold dial, hand-engraved on a rose engine. Sapphire caseback. Diameter : 56.50 mm.

Photograph Montres Breguet S.A.
A magisterial work and an object lesson in the use of these complications.

Technical Specifications

Movement

Winding: Hand-winding
Power reserve: 56 hrs
Calibre: 508 GS
Lines: 16½
Jewels: 43
Frequency: 18,000 vph (2.5 Hz)
Balance-wheel: Load screws
Escapement: Right-angle lever
Balance-spring: Breguet
Number of components: 525

Case

Metal: Yellow gold
Skeleton: No
Sapphire case back: Yes
Case shape: Round
Diameter: 56.6 mm
Case thickness: 21.95 mm
Water-resistant: No

Price

1907BA/12 (Yellow gold with white gold guilloche dial)
Price on request.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Breguet London and Mr Stuart Kerr, Boutique Manager, for graciously showing us the watch.

Notes

1 The following definition is given by Dr. George Daniels, the acknowledged authority on Breguet and his creations:

Garde Temps A term used by Breguet for watches specifically intended for precision time-keeping. Before 1800 the term was sometimes used by him to describe high-grade repeating watches with his form of ruby cylinder escapement. After 1800 only watches with detent escapements were recorded as Garde Tems (sic) or Simple Garde Tems.

—George Daniels, The Art of Breguet, p. 365

2 Other examples of regulator-style pocket watches listed as Garde temps in The Art of Breguet by Daniels are: no. 11, 3rd series, sold 1807; no. 12, 3rd series, sold 1809; no. 147, 3rd series, sold 1805; no. 153, 3rd series, sold 1810; no. 224, 3rd series, sold 1809; no. 2461, 3rd series, sold 1811; no. 3288, 3rd series; no. 3545, 3rd series; no. 3787, 3rd series, sold 1823; no. 4216, 3rd series, sold 1824; no. 4217, 3rd series, sold 1825; no. 4227, 3rd series, c. 1825; no. 4397, 3rd series, sold 1843; no. 4652, 3rd series, sold 1830; no. 4792, 3rd series, sold 1841; and, no. 4873, 3rd series, sold 1847.

A number of regulator-style pocket watches are also listed in the famous catalogue Breguet by Salomons: no. 2794 (Cat. no. 4, Watch of Louis XVIII, regulator-style with two sub-dials showing time and central seconds hand); no. 2461 (Cat. no. 18); no. 4993 (Cat. no. 37, “Inking Chronograph”); no. 2520 (Cat. no. 67); and, no. 4420 (Cat. no. 97, sud-dials for hours, minutes, no seconds).

Bibliography

https://www.breguet.com

BREGUET, Emmanuel, Breguet: Art and Innovation in Watchmaking, USA: Prestel (2015). ISBN 978-3791354675.

DANIELS, George, The Art of Breguet, Switzerland: Sotheby’s Publications (1986). ISBN 0-85667-004-9.

SALOMONS, Sir David Lionel, Breguet. (1747-1823.), London: Kent and Sussex Courier Company (1,000 copies printed). Illustrated with over 150 photographic reproductions & other parts (1921).

SALOMONS, Sir David Lionel, Supplement. Breguet. (1747-1823.), London: Kent and Sussex Courier Company (1,000 copies printed). Illustrated with over 40 photographic reproductions (1921).

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