Breguet, Abraham-Louis

SUBJECT AREA: Horology
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baptized 10 January 1747 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
d. 17 September 1823 Paris, France
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Swiss clock-and watchmaker who made many important contributions to horology.
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When Breguet was 11 years old his father died and his mother married a Swiss watchmaker who had Paris connections. His stepfather introduced him to horology and this led to an apprenticeship in Paris, during which he also attended evening classes in mathematics at the Collège Mazarin. In 1775 he married and set up a workshop in Paris, initially in collaboration with Xavier Gide. There he established a reputation among the aristocracy for elegant and innovative timepieces which included a perpétuelle, or self-winding watch, which he developed from the ideas of Perrelet. He also enjoyed the patronage of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. During the French Revolution his life was in danger and in 1793 he fled to Neuchâtel. The two years he spent there comprised what was intellectually one of his most productive periods and provided many of the ideas that he was able to exploit after he had returned to Paris in 1795. By the time of his death he had become the most prestigious watchmaker in Europe: he supplied timepieces to Napoleon and, after the fall of the Empire, to Louis XVIII, as well as to most of the crowned heads of Europe.
Breguet divided his contributions to horology into three categories: improvements in appearance and functionality; improvements in durability; and improvements in timekeeping. His pendule sympathique was in the first category and consisted of a clock which during the night set a watch to time, regulated it and wound it. His parachute, a spring-loaded bearing, made a significant contribution to the durability of a watch by preventing damage to its movement if it was dropped. Among the many improvements that Breguet made to timekeeping, two important ones were the introduction of the overcoil balance spring and the tourbillon. By bending the outside end of the balance spring over the top of the coils Breguet was able to make the oscillations of the balance isochronous, thus achieving for the flat spring what Arnold had already accomplished for the cylindrical balance spring. The timekeeping of a balance is also dependent on its position, and the tourbillon was an attempt to average-out positional errors by placing the balance wheel and the escapement in a cage that rotated once every minute. This principle was revived in a simplified form in the karussel at the end of the nineteenth century.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Horloger de la marine 1815. Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur 1815.
Bibliography
Breguet gathered information for a treatise on horology that was never published but which was later plagiarized by Louis Moinet in his Traité d'horlogerie, 1848.
Further Reading
G.Daniels, 1974, The An of Breguet, London (an account of his life with a good technical assessment of his work).
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Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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