May 21, 2010
by Ariel Adams
Please enjoy the original article below by established watch writer Meehna Goldsmith. From magazines to the freer writing form of the web, she is a knowledgeable watch junkie who knows high-end pieces. She contributes to publications such as Robb Report, International Watch, and Watch Journal, among others. You can visit her on her website www.meehnagoldsmith.com.
In the history of watchmaking, the name Breguet is a hallowed one. Abraham-Louis Breguet, who established his eponymous company in 1775, is single-handedly responsible for many of the major horological innovations of the last two-plus centuries, including the Breguet overcoil, tourbillon, keyless works and automatic winding. Even more impressive is that those innovations are still employed today, over 200 years after their introduction.
That company Breguet founded has operated virtually uninterrupted since its inception, but by 1999, after several ownership changes, the brand was languishing. The watches being produced were laughably overpriced and certainly not worthy of bearing the Breguet signature. What was once a premier marque, signifying exclusivity and quality, now turned out mediocre product that wasn’t of interest to connoisseurs or consumers. That’s when Nicolas Hayek, the Grand Poobah of the Swatch Group, swooped in to purchase the company and its subsidiaries with the intention of dusting off the brand and burnishing it to a modern glory.
The Swatch Group made a fortune selling battery-powered plastic watches; now Hayek wanted respect and legitimacy in haute horlogerie. Breguet was to be the crown jewel in the portfolio that includes Blancpain, Glashutte and Jacquet Droz. Now that you’ve got the quick history, let’s take a look how Breguet is doing, specifically with this new Reine de Naples Hour Strike.
The current Reine de Naples line of watches is inspired by the watch Abraham-Louis Breguet created for Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister Caroline, Queen of Naples. In honor of the 200th anniversary of the original, Breguet has introduced a Grande Complication to the collection called the automatic strike. Every hour, two hammers located in apertures at 11 and 1 o’clock remind the wearer that another hour has passed with a double strike, which is repeated three times. Breguet has done a variation of what is called sonnerie en passant, a passing strike that chimes once on the hour.
I love watches that talk to me. I find them not only charming but practical as well. The complication originates from the era before electric lighting left us is its constant glare. At night or in low light situations, if the time couldn’t be seen, it could be heard.
With time racing by at such a lighting pace in our modern world, the striking Reine de Naples is a subtle nudge to remind us of the passing hours. If you’d prefer to lose yourself in the moment, the watch provides that option too. A pushpiece at 2 o’clock sets and deactivates the strike function.
While I adore the idea of this watch, the characteristic egg shape of the Reine de Naples doesn’t entirely appeal to me in this form. There’s something lopsided about the design to my eye. I prefer the aesthetics of the Reine de Naples when the top half of the egg is balanced out by the moonphase and power reserve. Nonetheless, I can’t quibble with the parts (natural mother-of-pearl dial, white gold fluted caseband and diamond set bezel), even though the whole doesn’t completely sum up for me.
Turn over the watch and you’ve got my pulse jumping. One of the signs of high watchmaking is when the movement fits into the case like a hand slipping into a perfectly tailored glove. Breguet designed the automatic egg-shaped movement specifically to cozy up in this space. What’s so breathtaking is that the movement, visible through a sapphire crystal, is an artistic as well as mechanical achievement. The bridges and oscillating weight form an image of a dove, with the design extending to the engraving on the case. As you can tell I’m more entranced with the back of the watch than the front.
I haven’t heard the watch strike in person so I can’t comment on the acoustics. Breguet pride themselves on putting a lot of time and resources into technical achievements so I can safely presume the watch sounds great.
I like that Breguet is taking women seriously and produced a high complication for us. They weren’t entirely brave though because they hedged their bets by packing on the diamonds There are ~3cts on the bezel, ~.14cts on the folding clasp, and another ~.26cts from the one set in the crown, which is reflected in the hefty $139,800 retail price.