Breguet  5377 BR 12 9WU 01

The Breguet 5377, an extra-thin tourbillon

Horology is a dynamic art with endless space for creativity. Some horologists achieve surprising results when going down memory lane. It's the fountainhead of many of the most beautiful timepieces. Breguet, for one, excels in this field.

By Eric Othenin-Girard
Specialised journalist

In horology, some seek innovation in design by revolutionising the shape of watches. But only few of them know how to surprise and seduce. Then there are others, like the people at Breguet, who are still able to astound by taking a fresh look at what has already been done.

Abraham-Louis Breguet, inventor

By the year 1800, Abraham-Louis Breguet had already been working as a watchmaker for 25 years. In that time, he managed to thrill his community of followers with outstanding creations that were extremely well received by the aficionados. However, the problem of accuracy and irregular rates of mechanisms at the time continued to plague him; he needed to find a solution to improve their chronometry. So he set to work and came up with the tourbillon. The system, which was patented in 1802, did produce watchmaking progress.

Breguet Classique extra-thin tourbillon

As time went by, the tourbillon proved its worth and thus became very popular. The little rotating cage containing the watch's escapement gradually conquered the world. In fact, Breguet's invention was so well integrated in the industry, that it was used in most workshops far and wide. American horology, for example, which saw its finest hours at the end of the 19th century, was very fond of tourbillons and manufactured them in great abundance. Obviously, quality is profitable and so, by 1895 – and the laws of supply and demand – prices for tourbillon-equipped American watches hit rock bottom. Some were even available for $1, and while a dollar back then was worth more than today, it was still an extremely low price. And so, the tourbillon fell almost totally into oblivion.

Another factor also contributed to the decline of the tourbillon. The Swiss had invented the lever escapement, whose chronometric results were almost exactly the same as those of the tourbillon. This new system did not cost as much as the tourbillon. The “whirlwind’s” fate was eventually sealed with the transition from pocket watches to wristwatches in the 1920s.

The tourbillon had been invented to compensate for the impact of gravity on pocket watches, which hung in a single position inside waistcoat pockets. Wristwatches, however, change position all the time along with the movements of the wearer. This essentially made the function of the tourbillon moot, so it naturally lost its exclusive status.

The tourbillon’s comeback

Nevertheless, such a clever invention could never disappear completely. As mentioned already, horology is a dynamic art. As soon as watchmakers learned all the techniques needed to make wristwatches, which were smaller, they turned their attention to introducing complications. Perpetual calendars, repeaters, chronographs with flyback or rattrapante functions began appearing. Ultimately, towards the end of the 1980s, the tourbillon made a highly conspicuous re-entry into the horological atmosphere.

Needless to say, Breguet was an active participant in the revival of this regulating system, which purists define as an escapement rather than a complication. This is not the place to attempt settling such a trivial dispute. Recognition is due, however to the exceptional technical skills of the engineers, developers, watchmakers and other experts for the construction and grasp of this system.

Nowadays, the tourbillon is a sign of exceptional elegance. Its role is no longer to merely animate the dial; it also permits the owner to dream a little by watching the one-minute rotation, which is a little like “seeing time go by”.

Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra Plat 5377

Extra-thin tourbillon

Ever since its comeback, the one place a tourbillon was not found was in an extra-slim watch. Naturally, Breguet decided to do something about it. Their engineers, designers and watchmakers got down to work to produce the self-winding extra-thin Reference 5377 Classique Tourbillon. This pink gold timepiece, with a diameter of 42 millimetres, exudes all of Breguet’s signature qualities. See for yourself: a hand-guilloché dial, the company’s tradenmark blued steel "pomme” hands, welded attachments, fine fluting on the case, the individual production number and, of course, the “secret” signature. This pure Breguet timepiece features an off-centre tourbillon, whose design generated several patents. For instance, the tourbillon cage is in titanium and  the balance-spring is made of silicon. The escapement is made of silicon and anti-magnetic steel.

The new Calibre 581 DR powering the timepiece has a frequency of 4 Hz (or 28,800 v.p.h.), quite high for a tourbillon, and a power reserve of 90 hours thanks to the patented “high energy” barrel.

Breguet Classique Extra flat tourbillon

Breguet watchmakers designed a platinum oscillating mass that rotates bidirectionally on the edge of the calibre, which enables a 3-millimetre movement and a 7-millimetre case.

In terms of aesthetics, the dial blends symmetrical lines with the asymmetry of the various elements. Four types of hand-guilloché patterns underscore the refinement of the work. A clous de Paris motif was chosen for the hours and minutes area, which is encircled by a barleycorn motif. The power reserve indicator at 8.30 o'clock features a straight chevron guilloché, and cross-hatching was used to separate the different elements. A blue sapphire festoons the centre of the tourbillon bridge as a way to draw the eye’s attention away from the watch's hands.

The most beautiful at BaselWorld 2013

One thing is sure: in the past thirty years, Breguet’s innovation has turned out to be very profitable for many watch brands. The very fact of equipping a watch with a tourbillon can propel its price into the six-figure range. The reasoning behind this is that not many brands are skilled enough to pull off such a complicated feature.

Breguet Classique Extra flat tourbillon

Brands with less know-how boughttourbillons from suppliers, some of whom no longer exist.  Clients needing to service their older watch may well encounter a friendly but clear:“Sorry, our supplier is no longer available, there is nothing we can do”. This is not not very professional. In fact, it’s repulsive. Fortunately, there are professional brands offering well-made, well-designed, elegant and lasting timepieces. This extra-thin tourbillon is one of the most beautiful of those. In fact, such is its beauty, that many of my colleagues and I did not hesitate for a second to declare it by far the most beautiful watch introduced at Baselworld 2013.

Technical sheet of the Breguet 5377BR/12/9WU

  • 18-karat pink gold case with a finely fluted case band. Sapphire back. 42 mm in diameter. Welded lugs, screwed bars. Water-resistant to 3 bar (30 m).
  • Silvered 18-karat gold dial and hand-guilloché in four different patterns. Individually numbered and signed ”BREGUET”. Hour markers in Roman numerals. Polished steel open-tipped BREGUET hands.
  • Tourbillon, self-winding extra-thin mechanical movement. Small seconds on the tourbillon axis. Numbered and signed ‘BREGUET’. Cal. 581DR. 16 lines (33.92 mm). 42 rubies. 42-hour power reserve with indicator at 8:30.

Breguet 5377 extra-thin tourbillon open-worked caseback

  • Barrel on ball-bearing runners. Silicon and anti-magnetic steel reversed lever escapement. Silicon balance-spring. Frequency  4 Hz (28,800 v.p.h.). Adjusted in 6 positions.
  • Leather strap with triple folding clasp.
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Breguet 5377BR /12 /9WU Extra-thin Self-winding Tourbillon