If watchmaking has a founding father, it’s Abraham-Louis Breguet. The year before America declared its independence, Breguet opened up his Paris shop and began revolutionizing horology. He made the first tourbillon, self-winding watch, shock protection system and wristwatch. Fast forward to today and let’s face it: the really important innovations live in the digital domain. Leaving . . .
a traditional watchmaker producing around five-thousand mechanical timepieces per year.
That’s a fraction of Patek Philippe’s 60k or Audemars Piguet’s 40k pre-Coronageddon output. But it’s still enough to require an assembly line. And once you base a business on a certain throughput – in this case about 96 watches per week – it’s damn near impossible to shift gears. Especially if your workforce is unionized and you’re paying rent at the Bellagio.
Just like any other luxury watchmaker, Breguet’s has its bread-and-butter model lines. To easiest way to keep the ball rolling (i.e., make money): tweak commercially proven designs with new materials.
Which brings us to the three newest members of Breguet’s Marine Collection: titanium, white gold and rose gold versions of the Marine 5517, Marine Chronographe 5527 and Marine Alarme Musicale 5547.
The Breguet Marine 5517 above is the most elegant of the three and thus, in my mind, the most successful. In this guise, that is. The blue dial and titanium case and bracelet work together to form a coherent whole.
The waves motif is a bit too literal – See? I’m a MARINE watch! – but the irregular, undulating lines don’t overwhelm the rest of the design. In fact, they create a subtle calming effect.
The date window’s matching color background and placement are unobjectionable (the highest compliment for any date window).
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the gold Breguet Marine 5527 is a different watch. In many ways it is.
The silver waves crash into – and are contained by – a highly visible silver rehaut. Are they waves now? Or just squiggly lines? Anyway, the Roman numbers look blobby and the outer ring adds another design element, creating a three-ring circus (if you will).
The gold Marine 5527 loses a huge margin of the titanium models’ legibility. Except for the date window, unfortunately.
The Breguet Marine 1775 Chronograph is a bit busy, sure, but it gets the macho gestalt right. It’s big! It’s bold! It’s gold!
The chronograph’s three subdials fill what was a vast negative space with symmetrical purposefulness. The waves on the subdial hubs add interest and make the indices surrounding them a feature.
The gold pushers project a sense of polished purposefulness. The only major ding: the date window destroys what would have been perfect symmetry, screaming out a simple question: “Why am I here?”
The Marine Chronograph design works less well in titanium and blue.
Here the subdials all blend together, making the Roman numerals seem enormous – out-of-proportion and confusing. The wave pattern on the subdials makes the face look disjointed, choppy.
The pushers seem small and insignificant. The only good news: the date window – with its blue background – is once again only mildly offensive. In case you didn’t know that Roman and Arabic numerals go together like chalk and cheese, now you do.
The date window ends its journey south at the bottom of the Breguet 1775 Alarme Musicale. Which, to my eyes, is a disaster.
It’s a horological farrago of waves, subdials, pushers/crowns, numbers, surface textures, fonts and hand styles. A technical triumph certainly, no doubt assembled with Breguetian precision. But an aesthetic affront, made worse by the semi-monochromatic dial.
The titanium model is better, marginally redeemed by the date window’s final, relatively demure appearance. But really, there’s no helping this thing.
It looks like what it probably is: a marketing move made metal without consulting the brand’s archives or anyone with a modicum of refined taste.
Opinions are like . . .
I don’t fault anyone for disagreeing with my assessment of these three pieces. If someone loves one or more of these watches, I respect their emotional connection to the brand, materials and design.
That said, there are watches that stand the test of time. Most of these watches seemed destined to fail at the first furlong. But if their existence helps Breguet make enough money to produce the deeply conservative Breguet watches I admire, they’re most welcome.
Just not on my wrist. Except for the first one, and my birthday is coming up . . .