Angus Davies reviews the Breguet Marine ref 5827BR/Z2/5ZU, a watch bearing a historic and prestigious name. Abraham-Louis Breguet supplied the French Navy in the 19th century with marine chronometers, hence the naming of this Breguet seems very apt.
John Harrison (1693 – 1767)
In the early 18th century, ships would sometimes prematurely curtail their journeys on rocks or other maritime obstacles. The absence of a suitable means of assessing longitudinal position presented a significant risk to shipping.
Latitude was less of a problem as the declination of the sun at noon could be assessed using suitable tables and the latitude could then be determined.
The issue of longitude became increasingly important as ships ran aground. In 1707, the fleet of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell was wrecked off the coast of Scilly. This led to Parliament passing the Longitude Act 1714. This established the Board of Longitude and the offer of a £20,000 prize for the person who could invent a means of finding longitude to an accuracy of 30 nautical miles after a voyage from mainland England to the West Indies.
The marine chronometer was invented by John Harrison, a Yorkshireman, in 1735. Over the years that followed, disputes would arise between Harrison and the Board of Longitude who would argue about his work satisfying the criteria in full and hence Harrison would received lesser payments over a number of years. This would sometimes involve the intervention of Parliament to provide partial remedy to Harrison.
Captain James Cook used a copy of John Harrison’s fourth timepiece, a pocket watch, on a voyage between 1772 – 1774. On his return, Cook was highly complimentary about Harrison’s watch and its accuracy as a marine chronometer.
Over his lifetime, Harrison expended much effort improving his chronometers. The prize was never claimed, however, disbursements were made totalling £100,000 of which Harrison was the largest beneficiary.
Abraham-Louis Breguet and the marine chronometer
Whilst Harrison met the needs of the English Navy in the 18th Century, Breguet would furnish the French Navy in the 19th Century with marine chronometers.
Breguet designed a completely original movement for his marine and pocket chronometer in 1815, the double-barrelled marine chronometer.
Breguet did not follow convention with a fusée and chain but used a lever escapement. The modular design of the escapement mounted on a removable plate, meant it could be removed by an experienced watchmaker and repaired or exchanged. This would reduce time spent in repair.
By favouring a lever escapement in preference to a fusée and chain, the pocket watch could be slenderer in proportion.
A modern day marine chronograph
Today we would be unlikely to use a chronometer to evaluate longitude, but would seek the expedience and user-friendly interface of GPS.
The one constant that remains relevant to today is graceful form, exquisite execution and fine finishing that is synonymous with the Breguet brand.
The Marine is a Breguet collection which fuses new and old in a magnificently cohesive form.
Breguet dials are complicated in construction, yet clear in their presentation. They are intrinsically beautiful but eminently practical.
The dial of this model is black rhodium gold, hand engraved on a rose engine. No CNC, but time-served patience exemplified by an artisan who pursues perfection every day.
Adjacent the Guilloché sits a brushed finish with gold Roman numerals adeptly applied. The numerals stand proud, affording a three-dimensional quality which engages the eye.
Stare intently at the hour circle and you may catch sight of the “secret signature” etched into the brushed metal surface, a practice dating back to 1795, to counter the misdemeanours of the counterfeiters.
At 6 o’clock the Satiné circulaire features an aperture for the date. Above this aperture is 12-hour totaliser for the chronograph function. Neat Arabic numerals depict the hours with half hour integers marked with a black dot.
At 9 o’clock is a subdial for the seconds.
The hours and minutes are shown with Breguet hands in rose gold rather than the usual blued finish typical of this famous brand. They co-ordinate perfectly with the hue of the case.
Centre chronograph minute and seconds hands also feature on the dial affording interest, imparting information but without over-complicating the offer.
The chapter ring features Arabic numerals showing minutes in 5 minute intervals and outside of this, luminous dots depict the hours. A further aspect which provides visual interest is the 15-minute sector with each minute depicted with a luminous mark.
Below 12 o’clock resides the name of the finest watchmaker to have ever lived, Breguet. Adjacent to the Breguet surname is a number. This number is unique to the watch and provides the owner a further means to confirm the watch’s provenance.
The case does not eschew the much-admired watch architecture typical of the prestigious marque.
The sides of the case are enhanced with fine grooves referred to as caseband fluting. These grooves are vertical and interface with horizontal double beading, further testament to the attention to detail of this fine exemplar of haute horology.
The lugs are seemlessly welded to the case, affording rigidity and strength as well as providing a further nod to aesthetics. The strap or bracelet does not attach to the lugs with mere sprung bars often preferred by mainstream brands but is secured with screw-pins which provide a neater and more steadfast fixing.
The calibre is self-winding in keeping with many other wristwatches produced in the last 100 years providing more convenience for everyday wear.
Breguet have always been associated with the finest finissage and this watch does not disappoint.
The hand engraved 18-carat rose gold rotor is delightful in its execution. An artisan has toiled at a rose engine to ensure it is worthy of the name proudly displayed on the dial.
The watch has a chronograph with the customary pushers at 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock. Their highly polished surfaces are the fruits of time-consuming effort. The precise operation of the pushers imparts joy, no graunching or grinding, but a sublime smoothness that I never tire of sampling.
Côtes de Genève, perlage and blued screws all take their place in a movement of marvellous majesty.
The Marine Chronograph treads a careful path, fusing modern and vintage aesthetics perfectly.
The purchaser can choose from bracelet, leather or rubber strap. I favour the latter in black with textured pattern. It is practical, comfortable, contemporary in appearance, yet sits wonderfully against the warm rose gold case.
Breguet are simply adorable to behold. The delicate styling flourishes never appear superfluous but provide delight to the wearer, wherever the eye momentarily rests.
The quality and finishing are beyond reproach and worthy of the Breguet name.
Whilst we no longer require chronometers to navigate the seas, I would be delighted to wear this timepiece wherever my travels took me. As I navigate through life, I could look at my faithful horological ally knowing that reliable service was assured for many years to come.
Model: Breguet Marine
Case: 18-carat rose gold; 42.00 mm diameter; water resistant to 10 bar (100 metres); sapphire crystal to front and back; fluted caseband; caseback hand-engraved on a rose engine; screw-locked crown.
Angus is a self-confessed watch addict and is frequently asked to contribute to various printed magazines and websites around the globe. He also writes for individual watch companies on matters of horology and has appeared on television and radio as an industry expert.