New Breguet Marine Models: All Hands To Battle Stations!
by Martin Green
It may come as a surprise, but there is a downside to being a manufacture with a history as rich as that of Breguet: there is a risk of dwelling too much on the past at the expense of the present.
At the same time, in taking your collection forward the public’s reaction is often directly rooted in fidelity to the brand’s history. The trick is to create new watches that bring the brand forward, yet respect history at the same time. That’s not an easy task.
Many brands with a substantial history do this with evolution: small changes that keep the watch contemporary without ever going too far in one step. However, sometimes you need to take a larger leap forward, more of a revolution than an evolution, and this is what I feel that Breguet has done with its new Marine collection.
Plan of attack
Breguet has always had great potential, yet unfortunately much of that potential has either been unrealized or underutilized.
Breguet was in a sort of limbo until the 1970s, kind of like Cartier after World War II, when it was resurrected by the Chaumet brothers. It was then acquired in 1987 by Investcorp and a group of international investors, a group that also acquired movement manufacture Lémania, which had been working closely with Breguet in developing movements.
Nicolas G, Hayek (1928-2010), then chairman of the Swatch Group, bought Breguet (and Lémania) in 1999 and the brand became his pet project. Breguet is now managed by his grandson, Marc A. Hayek,
Over the course of just a few years, the market for brands with a focus on classic watches encased in precious metals has changed dramatically (see The Death Of The Dress Watch: Is It Time To Write Its Obituary?). The social position of thin, gold dress watches has eroded, its place taken by far sportier watches, most of them not even crafted in a precious metal (see The Tool Watch Revolution: Utilitarian Goes Upmarket).
In a technical sense, Breguet is in tip-top shape, as the brand invested substantially into the technical advancement of its movements and the technology used in them.
For example, silicon escapements are now used in nearly all Breguet models – and going forward silicon is set to become the standard. The brand has even turned magnetism, the archenemy of mechanical watches, into an asset with the development of the magnetic pivot and strike governor. But this is all “under the hood,” and only die-hard watch connoisseurs buy watches purely for their movements.
Breguet also has its Type XX, XXI, and XXII aviation watches, but in today’s market that might win you a battle; it will not win the war. Breguet needed more ammunition and has now found it in the Marine collection.
In the past, the Marine line was the least classical of the brand’s collection, even though these models were still crafted from precious metals and exhibited all the typical Breguet design hallmarks including guilloche dials and blued hands.
Why charge when you can ambush?
One of the heroes of the Hundred Years’ War between France and Great Britain was Bertrand du Guesclin. Born a lower nobleman, he became France’s leading military commander. Because the French knights often directly charged the British armies, many were cut down by skillful Welsh archers before they even reached the British lines.
Du Guesclin applied a different tactic, introducing ambushes and cunning attacks to French soldiers with considerable success.
Business and war share many similarities, so instead of Breguet launching an entirely new Marine collection (direct charge), it staged a sneak attack in 2017 with the Marine Équation Marchante Reference 5887.
The Marine Équation Marchante was so impressive technically, that fans hardly noticed and easily accepted the new case style, which was, in fact, a radical departure from the previous generations. This watch was my “best of show” from Baselworld 2017.
In 2018, Breguet followed up with a salvo of new, more mainstream models to further expand the contemporary Marine collection.
Breguet Marine Reference 5517
While the Marine Équation Marchante Reference 5887 is a very impressive watch, even in the world of Breguet it is exotic.
The complexity and price of the Équation Marchante will keep its production, and so its contribution to the brand’s bottom line, low. That is what makes the three new Marine models introduced at Baselworld 2018 so important: these are the watches that will hold Breguet’s position and hopefully even conquer new ground.
The Breguet Marine Reference 5517 is a relatively simple watch displaying time and date, however it plays with the “DNA” of Breguet.
As well as in precious metals, the Reference 5517 is also available in titanium with a beautiful grey sunburst dial. With its applied Super-LumiNova-filled Roman numerals and revised lugs, it is a surprisingly modern watch while remaining very much a Breguet.
The 5517 also boasts playful touches such as the trapezoid-shaped date window, which Breguet balances by making the numeral on the right side of the double-digit date slightly larger. It is a small detail, but one that makes a big difference.
Another clever move by Breguet is the use of different case materials for different client segments. The white gold version features a blue dial with a simple, yet stunning wave pattern reminiscent of being on the high seas.
The pink gold model features a similar pattern but in silver, making it the most classical of the three variations.
The straps also make a dramatic difference on these new Marine models: the rubber strap gives them a sportier look, while more traditionally inclined clients will likely favor the alligator skin strap.
The power of this strategy is that with just three versions and six different straps, Breguet can cast a rather wide net to capture different client segments. Instead of raising an army, Breguet built a stealth commando unit.
Breguet Marine Chronographe Reference 5527
With the Marine Chronographe Reference 5527, Breguet follows the same strategy regarding materials and dial finishes as well as playful elements such as the two chronograph counters, where the minute counter covers the hour counter slightly.
Personally, I think this makes the design stronger, but some of my colleagues were less impressed. Sometimes a bit of polarization, especially when it concerns a detail and not the whole watch, is not a bad thing.
The Marine collection also offers the Alarme Musicale Reference 5547, featuring the same base movement as the Le Réveil du Tsar Reference 5707, though here with a central second hand.
This turns the Marine collection into a bona fide world traveler, displaying a second time zone and alarm as well as power reserve indicator, time, and date.
The Marine Alarme Musicale is available in the same three metals – white gold, pink gold, and titanium – and dial finishes as the time-only and chronograph models.
Winning the war?
As the resident gentleman of Quill & Pad, I should be the first to raise an eyebrow over the new Marine collection models as they represent quite a departure from the classic Breguets of which I am rather enamored.
However, being a gentleman is a way of life that is not synonymous with living in the past.
I personally think that Breguet found a perfect balance between a more progressive design, while also securing the purity of the brand’s “DNA.”
Within a relatively compact collection, you should be able to find a watch to both complement a polo shirt and sneakers when you take your McLaren for a spin and a Harris Tweed suit for a ride in the Rolls-Royce.
Such versatility is not only to be commended but will also put these new Marine models on the radar of people who would perhaps previously have not considered a Breguet as a next wristwatch purchase.
I for one would not be surprised if this doesn’t increase Breguet’s relationship to the favorite word of any watch collector and connoisseur: “INCOMING!”
For more information, please visit www.breguet.com/en/timepieces/la-marine.
Quick Facts Breguet Marine Reference 5517
Case: 40 mm, white gold, titanium, or pink gold
Movement: automatic Caliber 777A, 55-hour power reserve; lever escapement with silicon pallet fork and balance spring, frequency 4 Hz/28,800 vph
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: $28,700 (pink and white gold), $18,500 (titanium)
Quick Facts Breguet Marine Chronographe Reference 5527
Case: 42.3 mm, white gold, titanium, or pink gold
Movement: automatic Caliber 582QA, 48-hour power reserve; lever escapement with silicon pallet fork and balance spring, frequency 4 Hz/28,800 vph
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, chronograph
Price: $33,880 (pink and white gold), $22,600 (titanium)
Quick Facts Breguet Marine Alarme Musicale Reference 5547
Case: 40 mm, white gold, titanium, or pink gold
Movement: automatic Caliber 519F/1, 45-hour power reserve; lever escapement with silicon pallet fork and balance spring, frequency 4 Hz/28,800 vph
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, second time zone, alarm, alarm power-reserve indicator, and alarm on/off indicator
Price: $40,900 (pink and white gold), $28,600 (titanium)