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Swiss Watches

Swiss watchmakers are taking timepieces to a bold newlevel
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
J.P. Morgan, Mar/Apr 00

(continued from page 3)

Breguet's flagship piece is the $170,000 Equation of Time, a unique self-winding perpetual calendar that indicates the difference between the mean solar time measured by watches and clocks and apparent solar time that would be shown on sundials. "We only make about 15 of these a year, and it's definitely my favorite, for we're going against the myth that the day is 24 hours," says Jacober, the president of Breguet's management team (the company has recently been acquired by Swatch). "There are 360 days, which are really plus or minus one to 15 minutes. We measure that, so this watch is our rebellion.  

"But even though you have to be affluent to buy this piece, I want the dream of owning a Breguet to be accessible to more people. In line with that strategy, we're going to celebrate the 225th anniversary of the company with a very simple $15,000 to $18,000 item with enameled hands and hand-painted numerals which tells the time and date. We recently launched our Art Deco-inspired tonneau, or barreled-shaped, Heritage chronograph [$26,000] and we're also right on target with pieces that look nothing like classical Breguets: the sporty Type XX Aeronavales and Transatlantiques."  

The Type XX watches, originally designed in the 1950s for the French air force and navy, are fitted with the retour en vol, or fly-back, function, which returns the chronograph hand to zero by a single touch of the lower button. There are three sundials for second, 30-minute and 12-hour counters, and the new titanium version has a self-winding, 25-jewel movement. The carbon fiber dial with luminous hands and Arabic numerals is a handsome tribute to Louis Breguet, one of the founder's descendants and an aviator instrumental in the creation of Air France in 1933.  

The Retrograde Perpetual calendar, with indicators for day, month and date in 18-karat yellow gold, and the Tourbillon Chronograph, featuring a hand-engraved movement and dial with skeleton back in 18-karat rose gold, are also worthy of Breguet's time-honored stature. Both complications are painstakingly crafted by an elite team of watchmakers cloistered in the factory's research and development sanctum.  

"Breguet complications are mechanically superb," says Leon Adams, the president of Cellini, a New York watch emporium. "We just don't get them back for repair. Too many of the other companies' grand complications are temperamental. But Breguets work, and are truly exemplary."  

Carlos Dias and Roger Dubuis are seated at a Geneva restaurant, smoking Montecristo A's and conjuring up watch designs on paper napkins. In an industry bound by tradition, it's quite unusual to find a Portuguese ready-to-wear fashion mogul (Dias) associating with a scholarly Swiss developer of complex mechanical watch movements (Dubuis).   Yet Dias and Dubuis are stirring excitement among the cognoscenti. The duo founded Manufacture Roger Dubuis only five years ago and offers timepieces from $10,000 to $1 million.  

The Sympathie Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar Chronograph, in a square-cambered 18-karat rose gold, white gold or platinum case, epitomizes Dubuis's devotion to moving art ingenuity and flawless mechanics. This fly-back piece (the two hands, known as bi-retrograde hands, indicate the month and day of the week) also features phases of the moon and date, and is mechanically programmed for two centuries; it is the first time that these horological functions have been combined into a single watch. Like all of Dubuis's meticulously assembled pieces, this limited-edition watch, which sells for as much as $59,100, bears the Geneva Seal, the highest hallmark of quality given to Swiss timepieces.  

"The critical difference between us and other brands is that if someone buys one of our pieces, they know it's only one of 28 watches in the world," says Dias, who financed the shop setup and now manages the business, in addition to designing all the dials and cases. "We want to be unique, to present new complications that automatically become collector's items with lasting value. That's the dream. To let our imaginations soar way into the future, and to develop a whole new heritage of innovative movements."  

That ambitious goal has already been partially realized by the Hommage self-winding window perpetual calendar with moon phase in 18-karat white gold, the $260,000 Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar Minute Repeater, and their newest creation, the Much More mono-push chronograph with a large 47-by-34-millimeter case and ivory-lacquered dial.  

Dias and Debuis are now working on a table clock, due to be released this year, that they will sell for $6 million. A gem-studded timepiece with a Grand Sonnerie, a bi-retrograde perpetual calendar, a constant force tourbillon, and 32 days of power reserve, this pièce de résistance is a yearlong effort that's meant to usher the firm into another rarified market.  


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