While the genius of Abraham-Louis Breguet is generally more evident in his style and his adaptation of practical ideas than in his inventions - indeed, the only inventions he can truly be credited with are the constant force escapement and the tourbillon regulator, both of which he patented – he did, however, improve many inventions of other watchmakers, which would otherwise have soon become obsolete. One example is his modification of the automatic winding system developed by Abraham-Louis Perrelet and patented by Louis Recordon, which optimised its performance. The same is true of the lever escapement, invented in England by Thomas Mudge, and still in use today. It could never have come into widespread use without Breguet’s modification, which consisted in adding draw to the pallets, thus preventing contact between the lever and the rest of the mechanism, and allowing the balance to freely oscillate between the resting and impulse stages.
Most importantly, Breguet created a distinctive style that greatly influenced modern-day watches. It was he who made the best use of the calibre invented by Jean Antoine Lépine, in which the upper movement plate is replaced by bars onto which the elements of the gear train are secured, making the movement more accessible and allowing its elements to be separately disassembled. It also resulted in much slimmer watches. Breguet also considerably simplified the mechanisms of quarter, half-quarter, and minute repeaters.
Breguet’s souscription watch, designed and finalised while he was in Switzerland, arguably made him the father of functional aesthetics, perhaps better known today as “industrial design”. The elements of the movement are symmetrically arranged around the barrel, each one secured on a bridge and thus able to be individually disassembled. The mid-portion of the case is made up of a simple metal band, while the case back and glass on either side are set into grooves, and the pendant consists of a ring sliding within a small metal sphere. The only ornamentation is the grain d’orge engine-turning, while further decorative effect may be created by the contrast between silver and gold. The dials, generally of white enamel, are remarkable for their elegant simplicity, with characteristic hour numerals and divisions allowing time to be read to the minute, by means of a single hand whose narrow extremity indicates both hours and minutes.
Breguet was also what we today would call a marketing genius, his sales tactics earning him enough money to reopen his workshop when he returned to France after the Revolution. They also set him apart from other watchmakers and helped him attract a distinguished and wealthy clientele. However, due no doubt to their high cost, his perpétuelles and sympathetic clocks and watches never achieved great commercial success. They did however help Breguet win an international reputation as King of Watchmakers and Watchmaker to Kings.