Over the past three years, Breguet has placed a large amount of focus on rebuilding and redesigning its Marine collection. Historically, the Marine line is directly influenced by the brand’s background in marine chronometer production, a practice that dates back to October of 1815 when Abraham-Louis Breguet was christened the official “Watchmaker to the Royal Navy” by King Louis XVIII of France. This was one of the most prestigious titles a watchmaker could receive at the time given the onerous nature of maritime horology. The relationship between Breguet and the Royal Navy continued after Breguet passed away in 1823 with his son Antoine-Louis continuing to represent the firm in court for decades after.
Last week on the West Coast, I had the opportunity to attend the official US unveiling of the latest refresh for the Breguet Marine line. These three watches were first revealed at Baselworld 2018 before receiving the update we’re seeing today at the Swatch Group’s Time to Move event in May 2019, but this was the first time that the brand had officially exhibited them in the United States to the invited guests and assembled press. In this article, I’m going to take a look at the development of the contemporary Marine collection since 2017, the partnerships that have been built alongside it, and what Breguet is trying to accomplish with the Marine as we move into the 2020s.
The refresh of the Breguet Marine collection began a little over two years ago at Baselworld 2017 when the brand revealed the Marine Équation Marchante 5887, a timepiece that featured the highly complex Equation of Time complication alongside a 60-second tourbillon and perpetual calendar — a combination that immediately vaulted the watch to the heights of the brand’s current production. One of the reasons that the 5887 was so unique was due to the presence of the running — or marchante — central hand on the dial rather than on a subdial that shows the minutes necessary to be added or subtracted to the current mean time. Most watches that feature an Equation of Time display — including marques like Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, and Patek Philippe — use a hand that sweeps across a subsidiary dial or aperture that is graduated from -16 to +14 minutes. Only a few have a running Equation of Time, which consists of a second minute hand that runs according to solar time, making the difference readable at a glance on the central dial. This hand on the Marine Équation Marchante 5887 is identified by a sun motif. A fourth central hand, tipped by an anchor in honor of marine chronometers, indicates the date on a retrograde scale as part of the perpetual calendar function. In keeping with the marine theme and to reinforce the fact that this complicated watch offers 100 meters of water resistance, the inner dial is hand engraved to resemble waves. Among a number of other design details that we’ll cover later in this article, this specific dial motif has grown to become one of the most immediately identifiable characteristics of the modern Marine identity. Additionally, this watch, as one of the more impressive grand complications debuts we’ve seen in recent years, helped indicate just how seriously Breguet viewed the Marine collection as a flagship part of its immediate future.
In 2018, Breguet followed up the 5887 by building out the Marine family with three new models: Ref. 5517, a classic three-hander with time and date; Ref. 5527, an automatic chronograph; and Ref. 5547, an alarm-equipped watch with date and second time zone. These three models, which all came in either lightweight titanium or in precious white and rose gold, were fixed on alligator or rubber straps, enhancing the overall sporty appeal while still applying the brand’s history of fine watchmaking and traditional craftsmanship to each release. While the 5887 is a technical marvel, these three watches highlighted the brand’s intentions of building out a strong contender in the ever-growing field of luxury sport watches with ample water resistance (two of the three models are specced to 100 meter water resistance, only 5547 is limited to 50 meters) and the ability to be worn year round.
Many of the design choices from the 5887 carry over including the proprietary lug structure, the guilloché waves (although replaced on the titanium versions by a matching sunburst slate gray look — more on this later), a silicon-enhanced movement, applied numerals, and the fluting around the case itself, yet provide a different feel on the wrist in each interpretation. The chronograph model with date is sized at slightly over 42 mm while both the three-hander and alarm version are around 40 mm total. While its more complex forms are certainly appealing, the presence of the three-hand model is what struck me personally when first viewing the watches at Baselworld 2018. While the guilloché waves are certainly missed (I’m partial to the blue dial/white gold combination), the lightweight titanium application and surprising simplicity of design elevates the Marine line into the position of a daily wearer, something necessary for a luxury sports timepiece. It’s as legible as it is wearable and can slip from being worn to the office to lounging around the house with ease. The natural corrosion resistance that the titanium allows as well as the more accessible price point (under $20k) offered a more youthful proposition for a brand that has long been tied to the conservative nature of Swiss horological tradition. The success of this model, as well as all the titanium designs, led directly to the next step for the Breguet Marine collection.
As you likely know by now, Breguet — and the rest of the Swatch Group — was absent during this year’s Baselworld proceedings. The brand, alongside its fellow luxury compatriots within the Swatch Group’s ranks (Blancpain, Glashütte Original, Jaquet Droz, Omega, and Harry Winston), decamped for greener pastures and unveiled its 2019 novelties during a week-long ceremony where only a handful of press (including WatchTime’s own Roger Ruegger) were present. While Breguet’s equally historic tourbillon invention received a number of attractive updates (detailed here), the Marine family received one more refresh of its own as well seemingly influenced by the success of last year’s titanium releases. Each of the three references — 5517, 5527, and 5547 — received a new proprietary titanium bracelet to complement the titanium case. Not only is this a logical next step for what the brand is touting as its luxury sport range, but its execution is up to par with what you expect from the brand. Speaking frankly, there aren’t very many timepieces fitted with metal bracelets in Breguet’s current catalog. Other than a few ladies’ models, the only references I can find currently outfitted with a metal bracelet of some kind are found within the Type XX/XXI, which are also made of titanium. That bracelet is different with the new model favoring a more traditional three-link style. This new bracelet is, of course, fully integrated with the outward facing links featuring a satin finish and a high degree of polish on the interior. The execution is completed with a butterfly clasp. Sizing arrives at 20 mm for the three-hand and alarm watches and 22 mm for the chronograph.
At the same time that Breguet released the 5517, 5527, and 5547 at Baselworld 2018, it also announced a partnership with the Race for Water foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to ridding the world’s water supplies of plastic, and ocean conservation through educational efforts. Breguet is helping fund a five-year oceanic tour that involves a ship, rightfully named the Race for Water Odyssey, making 35 stops around the world from 2017 to 2021. The vessel is powered by entirely clean renewable energy through a mix of solar, hydrogen, and wind power, proving that a 100-ton boat can travel the world without the usage of fossil fuels. Not only does the boat function as an example of what clean energy can accomplish, but it is also serving as a gathering place for local scientists and politicians in each of its stops to meet with the experts on board allowing them to further educate their community on the importance of our oceans. The most recent stopover for the Race for Water Odyssey, according to its Instagram, was in Jakarta and it is currently on its way to Malaysia. It will stay in Southeast Asia for the rest of 2019 before heading to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo where it will be stationed and offer the visiting global community a chance to learn what the Race for Water is all about. Not only is Breguet offering financial support for the Oddysey’s trip and future endeavors, but it has also provided the ship’s crew with a special edition of the Marine 5517 with a 40-mm titanium case, blue dial, and rubber strap that features the Race for Water vessel in a clous de Paris motif. This version is only available to the ship’s crew.
Just as with any charitable organization that a luxury brand provides financial backing to, Breguet’s relationship with the Race for Water initiative is admirable. What differentiates the partnership is just how much it has impacted the brand’s unlimited production models over the past three years. Swatch Group stablemate Blancpain has released a limited-edition Ocean Commitment watch for three consecutive years (no word on a 2019 model just yet), but that was exactly that: a limited edition. Breguet has, since 2017, developed an entirely new side of its watchmaking business through its desire to build up a more dynamic and youthful side to its current offerings. This dynamism has translated itself even further into the brand’s marketing strategy — take, for example, the brand’s hashtag of choice for 2019, #BreguetExplorer, which replaces last year’s promotional hashtag of #MyBreguetMoment. By transitioning from a social media strategy focused on the present, to one that encourages a more trailblazing look to the future, the brand is saying loudly and clearly that the Breguet Marine, with its sophisticated combination of sporty luxury and classic design, is here to stay, as is the brand’s support for the natural world around it.