Destiny, they say, plays funny games. And this holds so true for Abraham-Louis Breguet, the maker of Breguet watches, whose life is rife with incidents that makes one think: but what if it had not happened that way?
What if his mother had not remarried?
Born in Switzerland in 1747, Breguet lost his father when he was just 10. His mother remarried Joseph Tattet, a watchmaker with a showroom in Paris. Since he was no longer going to school, the natural incline was to entice the little one into the trade. While he refused to budge, then, five years later, at age 15, he gave his nod of agreement, and was sent to apprentice with an unknown master watchmaker in Versailles – a place where the best watchmakers had established themselves.
What if he was not the bright one?
While he worked in the mornings, he studied mathematics in the evening and soon was thinking of new ways to refine the then-available pocket watches. The horology industry must be thankful that this happened, for in the years to come, he introduced many innovations that redefined watchmaking, including the tourbillion and the gong spring.
What if he did not have royal patrons?
Breguet had started his career with a series of firsts. He developed the self-winding perpétuelle watches, introduced gongs for repeating watches, and the first shock-protection for balance pivots. And with such a reputation, it was no wonder that royal patrons like Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, and the Duke of Orleans fostered him; so much so that once Marie Antoinette ordered a new watch from prison!
What if he could not escape the guillotine?
It was 1773. Seeds of the French revolution were being sowed. His friend Jean-Paul Marat discovered that Breguet was marked for the guillotine, thanks to his association with the French nobility. Repaying a favour, Jean helped him escape to Geneva, where Breguet continued his watch making in Le Locle. He even travelled to England to work for King George the III.
What if he could not negotiate his way with the French authorities?
By this time, back home, his passport expired. Even his premises and machinery were nabbed by the new French authorities. But what luck! Their watch production was dying a slow death, and the new government, navy, and scientific community were in dire need of timekeepers. The genius watchmaker used his negotiation skills and soon the government had returned all this equipment.
What if he did not think out of the box?
He got to work and had soon re-engineered the watch from the ornate, decorative original to sleek, accurate, and minimalistic. They included complications like perpetual calendars, stopwatch, among others. He even invented the Parachute, a mechanism that made the watches shockproof. These watches made way to the 1798 Paris exhibition, and contributed even more to his success. His popularity with the royalties and nobility rose like never before. His clientele now included the Russian Tsar Alexander I, the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon and the likes. He had so many commissions that it took years to complete the demand.
And did you know? Brequet was responsible for making the first wristwatch, ever! It was in response to a commission from the Queen of Naples on 8 June 1810. It was Breguet watch no. 2639 and took two years to complete.