With Breguet Certificate dated March 2014.
The present tourbillon regulator, Abraham-Louis Breguet's very first four minute tourbillon and only his third tourbillon watch ever made, is one of the most important witnesses of Breguet's work to appear in public in recent years. Consigned by an important private collector, of noble provenance, outstanding rarity, quality and condition, Régulateur à Tourbillon No. 1176 is unquestionably the quintessence of Breguet's mechanical ingenuity and radical approach to complex problems, paying tribute to the master's genius.
Believed to have been invented in 1795 and patented in 1801, the purpose of Breguet's revolutionary "tourbillon" (French for whirlwind) mechanism was to compensate for fluctuations and errors in time measurement caused by the position a watch is placed in. Watches with traditional movements may keep excellent time when resting on a desk horizontally but when placed vertically in a pocket, gravity affects the frequency or rate of the escapement and thus its accuracy.
Breguet's invention compensated for these gravitational effects by placing the escapement in a revolving carriage. As the tourbillon carriage revolves (usually one entire revolution per minute), its position constantly changes and consequently the fluctuations in rate caused by gravity are averaged out. Once properly adjusted, the effects of gravity are essentially nullified, regardless of how the watch is positioned.
The tourbillon was not only one of Breguet's most famous inventions but also one of the most difficult to realize - according to the archives of Breguet, only 35 examples were sold between 1805 and 1823, underlining the rarity of these exceptional timepieces.
Breguet's very first timekeeper featuring his newly invented tourbillon was numbered 282 and signed Exte. en Messd. An 8 (Executed in June/July 1800) and "1er régulateur à tourbillon", (first tourbillon regulator), using an Arnold spring detent escapement. Possibly never meant to leave Breguet's workshops, the watch is described in his archives simply as "garde temps" and was not sold until 1832. The officially second tourbillon, no. 169 with a variation of the chronometer escapement, the Peto cross detent, was completed in 1809 and presented to the celebrated watchmaker John Roger Arnold in 1809 in memory of Breguet's friendship with his father.
The present no. 1176 is Breguet's very first four minute tourbillon watch. Its gold dial was delivered by Tavernier on 17 November 1806 and on 28 January 1807, Michaud received the order to engrave the plate, showing that its movement must have been completed and left its experimental stage by November 1806 - three years before the completion of the second official tourbillon, no. 169. The sumptuous case was made by the celebrated Amy Gros, one of Breguet's most talented "faiseur de boîtes".
Fitted with Breguet's own escapement, the "échappement naturel", it is fascintating to imagine that the master may have personally worked on it, together with his most important watchmaker Michel Weber. Close examination of its construction reveals its experimental nature, including a number of unique variations compared to later four minute tourbillon regulators: instead of being in one piece, the upper plate consists of three separate cocks, allowing modifications to be carried out without having to disassemble the entire movement. The échappement naturel shows some interesting features previously unseen: the double teeth are curved in a similar way to those in Arnold's escape wheels; the escape wheel actually consists of two wheels so that their relation to each other can be adjusted. The lever itself does not have the two springs usually seen in this escapement providing the banking protection, but only one spring instead, allowing an even rest on both escape wheels.
And last but not least tourbillon no. 1176 impressively illustrates Breguet's advance for his time in yet another regard: its balance vibrates at the impressively high rate of 21,600 vibrations per hour, as opposed to the usual rate of 14,000 to 18,000 of the period. The improvement in rate resulted in the balance being less affected by the movement of the watch while worn and consequently in obtaining better accuracy. Breguet used this high rate exclusively in his tourbillons until the introduction of watches with lever escapements in 1815. It was however only in the 20th century that such a high vibration rate was employed again, now in the movements of wristwatches. By sliding the lever in the bezel to 2 o'clock, the tourbillon carriage is stopped, allowing the accurate setting of the time.
The combination of the state-of-the-art complicated movement, the sumptuous gold case, the harmonious layout of the finely engraved gold dial and its remarkable minute indication by means of an elongated hand render the present timepiece a feast for the eyes and a must for the aficionado of horological marvels.
The following lists Breguets four minute tourbillon watches known to date:
No. 1176 - the present watch and earliest example, sold to Comte Potocki in 1809. Echappement naturel, gold dial
No. 1188 - sold to Don Antonio of Spain in 1808. Echappement naturel, now with later enamel dial
No. 1297 - sold in 1808. Robin escapement
No. 1918 - sold in 1822 to Comte Razzoumofski. Echappement naturel, silver dial
No. 2396 - sold in 1815. Echappement à force constante
No. 2483 - sold in 1819 to the Bishop of Cambrai. Echappement naturel, silver dial
No. 2555 - started in 1809 and sold to Lord Trafford in 1841. Peto cross detent escapement, silver dial
The échappement naturel
Following the introduction of detent chronometer escapements with compensated balances, very close rates could be achieved in marine chronometers and to a lesser degree in pocket chronometers. This was mainly due to the minimal interference with the balance during unlocking and impulse, and this was partly due to the lack of the need for oil on the escapement's working surfaces. The detent escapement as used in pocket chronometers was prone to stopping as a result of motion. Breguet realized that this fault could be removed and many of the advantages of the detent escapement retained if an impulse were given in both directions rather than just one direction of swing of the balance. To achieve this, he geared two escape wheels together, one escape wheel driven by the fourth wheel, in turn geared to and driving a second escape wheel. A pivoted detent swings freely between them and locks each wheel in turn on pegs projecting above the rims of the wheels. The escapement has been described by several authors such as P. Chamberlain in It's About Time and in George Daniels The Art of Breguet, pp. 319-321.
Breguet made less than thirty examples of this exceedingly rare escapement, almost half of which are watches described in public sources: four surviving examples in the 'development' period for the escapement, eight made in the second period of production, all with tourbillion carriages. In addition to the watches, some marine chronometers and carriage clocks used the escapement.