With Breguet Certificate No. 3824 dated 13 August 1984 and later custom-made burgundy leather presentation box. Furthermore delivered with copy of the letter to Lord Harris bearing the original stamp "Belmont, Faversham, Kent - Received 29 Aug 1944", extracts from the workbooks as well as copies from Breguet's notebooks describing the watch in detail and including several drawings.
Consigned by a private collector and distinguished by its very crisp, original overall condition, the present watch is an important discovery both from a technical and historical point of view. The most noteworthy and interesting aspect is its "échappement naturel", the first example of Breguet's form of free escapement ever made. Like the detent escapement, it did not require oil on the impulse surfaces and was 'Breguet's ultimate solution to the problem of a free escapement with natural lift' (George Daniels, The Art of Breguet, p. 319). The copy of its design in a notebook in Breguet's hand and copies of workshop records provided with the watch show that its manufacture took nearly four years and involved some costly development work. Other points of interest include unusual details of the construction of the movement and the case and the colourful life of its first owner, the Duke of Infantado, at a turbulent time in European history - the Napoleonic Wars.
When watch number 1135 was delivered on 16 January 1806, almost four years after the order, its price on delivery was 4,200 Francs, an extraordinary amount for a watch without additional complications or a jewelled case. For comparison, at the time Breguet's first class gold repeaters cost around 2,000 Francs, depending on the optional extras requested by the client.
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, in watch 1135 he geared two escape wheels together, one brass escape wheel driven by the fourth wheel, in turn geared to and driving a second escape wheel in steel. 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 George Daniels, op.cit., p. 319-321, although neither shows precisely the early form of escapement in watch 1135.
Breguet made less than thirty examples of this exceedingly rare escapement, almost half of which are watches described in public sources: four surviving examples, including the present watch, 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. The two earliest watches were the present example and no. 1711 (an à tact watch, escapement made in 1804), both of small size, with rarer gold dials, and apparently planned to have new escapement at the outset. The other two watches, 1484 and 1085, were of larger size, with silver and enamel dials, seemingly neither initially planned to contain the new escapement but were taken from stock and upgraded.
Breguet's best escapement maker, Charles Bernaudat, made the first attempt at the escapement and delivered it in March 1803. It is assumed that this was to Breguet's initial designs as shown in the manuscript notebook. Bernaudat altered some aspect of the escapement in April 1804 and then made two final alterations to the escapement in September and December 1805. The work on the escapement in December 1805 was presumably the final modification since the watch was delivered to the Duke of Infantado in January 1806 and the Breguet firm did not see the watch again for 32 years. The total of about 1900 Francs (although including around 300 Francs for repassage) is believed to be one of the largest sums paid to Bernaudat and should be compared with payments for constructing the escapement of later échappements naturels, a rough average of 300 Francs each.
The layout of its movement is in many respects similar to Breguet's ruby cylinder movements, jewelled to the centre like Breguet's very best watches. It however differs significantly by the separate removable platform or plate holding the two escape wheels, the detent and the balance. Similar removable platforms were subsequently used by Breguet for his twin-barrelled marine chronometers, enabling him simply to swap the entire escapement if a rapid repair was needed and facilitating the construction of the most intricate part of the movement. Such a separate plate is very rare in his watches and is only found in one or two of the watches with experimental escapements. It has the added advantage of being a means of adjustment of the depth between the drive train and the escape wheel(s).
Its case, serial number 1945, was made in 1802 by Pierre Benjamin Tavernier, one of Breguet's best early workers, and more frequently used by Breguet than any other case maker. Constructed from 20K gold, it is of savonnette (hunter) form, a form used by Breguet in only about one in every twenty of his watches. Another unusual and noteworthy feature of the case is its decoration. The case of number 1135 is engine-turned with an unusual pattern in the form of concentric 'chiselled' rings where the cutter moved in and out of the case rather than transverse waves as for the barleycorn pattern. Very few of Breguet's engine-turned watch cases were decorated this way, possibly only around ten and all sold between 1805 and 1808, all with gold cases and mostly with gold dials (notably watch no. 83 sold to the Prince de Galles, later King George IV of Great Britain). The case originally had a gold front cover, presumably with a similar form of decoration and quite possibly with a coat of arms. At some time, probably about the 1830s, the centre of the hunter cover was replaced by a second rock crystal so that the time can be read without opening the cover.
With a diameter of 42 mm, watch no. 1135 is one of Breguet's smallest repeating garde-temps. In his advertisements of the time he states that 'All men's watches are of mid-size, e.g. 20 à 25 lignes' (45-56 mm). Small watches with diameters between 35 and 45 mm. were therefore not part of Breguet's normal production for men's watches.
The gold cuvette, a feature used in Breguet's more expensive watches, repeats the unusual engine-turning of the case, and bears the engraved inscription 2me Echapt Libre Inv.té par Breguet en L'an 10. The first échappement libre or detached escapement that he employed was the lever escapement, used from 1786 (George Daniels, op.cit., p. 304). Year 10 in the Revolutionary calendar corresponds to September 1801 to September 1802, spanning the dates that watch 1135 was ordered and the construction started. Breguet only rarely inscribed such claims on his watches indicating that this watch was the first to be fitted with this invention.
The dial of watch 1135 is of engine-turned gold, a material used by Breguet on only one in fifteen of his watches. It has the usual secret signatures found on metal dials, either side of the 'XII'. The signature is particularly crisp on this dial, possibly because gold dials do not tarnish and therefore do not need cleaning very often. The seconds dial is placed in Breguet's typically idiosyncratic way, wherever the movement layout demands, in this case at the 8.30 position. It is worth noting that the orientation of the dial numerals relative to the case bow follows the English fashion for hunter-cased watches, with the pendant next to the numeral 'III'.