Science Museum celebrates the inventor of the self-winding watch, Abraham-Louis Breguet

The man who invented the self-winding wristwatch is the subject of a new exhibition at the Science Museum to mark the 200th anniversary of his death.

The France-based inventor, Abraham-Louis Breguet was born in 1747 and in his lifetime was considered the leading watchmaker of his day, with a list of clients that included pretty much everyone who was anyone in Europe.

Alongside his friend and contemporary John Arnold, Breguet is now widely acknowledged as one of the greatest horologists of all time, and the Science Museum has managed to bring together 25 of his timepieces for this bicentenary display.

One of the highlights in the display is an exceptionally rare gold four-minute tourbillon watch made for King George III in 1808. This cutting-edge pocket watch was ordered for the King while England was still at war with France, and interestingly, bears the signature of Breguet’s London agent, Louis Recordon, perhaps to disguise its French origins at the time.

The watch is labelled as a ‘Whirling About Regulator’, another literal translation from the French ‘Régulateur à Tourbillon’, meaning ‘whirlwind’. The tourbillon mechanism was developed by Breguet to help pocket watches keep good time and its invention in 1801 is considered one of the greatest technical achievements in watchmaking.

An interesting document caught my attention – a subscription service, where people could pay in increments for a watch, an early form of hire-purchase. One of the subscription watches is here as well, a simple-looking watch with just a single hour hand that was intended to be easy to repair by any watchmaker.

One of the odder, as I thought it, was a ring thermometer, which could tell the heat of the wearer. A scientific novelty at a time when such an item would have been quite a rarity.

A display of watches doesn’t take a lot of space, so this exhibition is just one display case, but it’s a case filled with wonders.

The exhibition will be at the Science Museum in the 2nd-floor clockmakers display for about a year. It’s free to visit.

This coming Sunday (17th Sept) marks the bicentenary of his death in 1823, so you should certainly spare a few minutes to watch this Dave Allen sketch about telling the time.

This article was published on ianVisits


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