While most of our attention these days is on wristwatches, Breguet is among those few renowned manufactures who are still very much involved in creating exceptional pocket watches. This is of little surprise when we consider the defining involvement of the company’s namesake, Abraham-Louis Breguet, in the conception and creation of truly remarkable pocket watches, owned by world leaders and the absolute elite of the late 1700s and early 1800s. Just recently, we were among the first in the U.S. to see in person a prototype of the Breguet Classique Complications 1907, Breguet’s bold new, million-dollar pocket watch.
The star of this particular show is the 525-piece movement contained in the gold case and, appropriately, this is the side of the watch we first saw. We often admire mechanical watches for what we can see, even though large parts of most are obscured by plates or, perhaps, a rotor. Not so here on the Breguet Classique Complications 1907. Through the large sapphire crystal, you can see quite a bit.
While I will not pretend to know the names of every piece showing, I certainly can appreciate the combination of art and engineering that is on display – this is a movement that I would love to have an oversized schematic of to hang up on the wall to pore over and try to understand. Interestingly, the 508GS caliber offers a very rare display of the components of a chiming mechanism: in the lower right segment of the case in the image below, you see what makes it such a marvelous piece of engineering. As opposed to most other movements where much of the chiming mechanism is hidden between the dial from the front and the bridges of the movement from the back, here the countless snails, cams, wheels, and pinions are on show, and as the repeater function is in operation, you see all these parts sliding along and on top of one another – all in an effort to chime you the exact time on demand.
All of the bits and bobs in the movement, of course, enable the Breguet Classique Complications 1907 to keep time (with a central minute hand and an offset hour hand on a sub-dial). The 16 1/2 line movement also contains a tourbillon, and a chiming complication (both a grande and a petite sonnerie). Unfortunately, we were unable to hear the watch in action – while the hammers were in place, the gong which the hammers strike had not been installed. Such is the life of those who get to see rare prototypes! No matter, given the Breguet reputation for amazing sounds coming from their watches, I can assume that this one will chime clearly for those who own one.
Some of the parts of the movement are also viewable through the dial side of the Breguet Classique Complications 1907, and this side is certainly no slouch either. On closer inspection, there are two different textures applied to the surface, courtesy of a rose engine which is operated by hand; this is how the textures get on to the silvered gold dial. Use of the rose engine to get these sorts of guilloche patterns onto a dial is certainly a rare thing to see these days and something we more commonly see done via stamping. Needless to say, this centuries-old method of applying geometric grooves to the dial that Breguet went with results in a much crisper look; the guilloche dial is a sight to behold and one that allows light to play on this fantastic texture in a way that has to be seen live to be fully appreciated.
After the fantastic guilloche patterns, the eye is next drawn to the cutouts on the dial. The one at the 5 o’clock position is, of course, showing off the tourbillon with its typically Breguet skeletonized cock, three-spoke cage, and gold balance wheel with screws in its periphery. Right next to it are two more apertures that reveal the mirror polished hammers – as I mentioned just above, we were not able to hear the hammers in action, though they certainly were functional. The tourbillon was also functional here and, as always, this is a complication that is a treat to watch in action, dubious as its impact on accuracy may actually be.
When it comes to housing something like this, with its hand-engraved dial and movement, you do not simply slap it into any old case. No, the Breguet Classique Complications 1907 comes in a massive – and beautiful – 56.5mm-wide and almost 22mm-thick gold case that has a weight unlike anything else I have held. Sure, you have your steel divers, and those generally feel hefty… With this watch, all I can say is that it is a good thing that it was built as a pocket watch. If you had something this heavy (and, no, unfortunately, I do not know the actual weight) on your wrist, you would no doubt have a very tired arm at the end of the day. The weight is not the story, though; it’s the finishing.
While there are indeed plenty of polished surfaces, there are vertical lines on the side of the case that break up the monotony (as well as hiding fingerprints), and the cover on it has a rather beautiful engraved surface as well. The inner surfaces of both covers are at a mirror polish, perfect for finding stray bits of caviar in your teeth.
I do jest, of course, as there is no avoiding the exclusivity of a pocket watch like the Breguet Classique Complications 1907. For starters, yes, the price is indeed a million US dollars. Add to that that most folks are not really carrying pocket watches these days, and you can be assured that seeing one of these in out in the wild is going to be as rare as a unicorn… and you know what? I am totally fine with that. While this piece is, for obvious reasons, not something I would ever see myself owning, the engineer and watch enthusiast parts of me take delight in the fact that something like this watch exists.
Not so much for its price tag, but for the level of work, materials, and finishing that makes that price seem, well, reasonable for what it is. And for me, it is an exercise in engineering artistry, to see how much a watchmaker can do – and do well – without the constraints of a budget. For the fortunate souls who will add one of these to their collection, you will need to get in touch with Breguet (likely through your local Tourbillon Boutique) and wait for about six months as they build your piece. For the rest of us, I will leave you with one suggestion: if you have the opportunity to see the Breguet Classique Complications 1907 in person (before it heads back to Switzerland at the end of September), make the time to see this horological treat, whether or not you find yourself drawn to pocket watches. A piece like this really transcends the consideration of how it is carried when it comes to appreciating the artistry. Pricing for the Breguet Classique Complications 1907 is approximately $1,000,000. breguet.com
Technical Specs from Breguet
- Winding: Hand-winding
- Power reserve (hours): 65
- Calibre: 508GS
- Jewels: 43
- Frequency: 2.5 Hz
- Balance-wheel: Load screws
- Escapement: Right-angle lever
- Balance-spring: Breguet
- Number of components: 525
- Metal: Yellow gold
- Dimensions: 56.5 mm in diameter, 21.95 mm thick