Abraham-Louis Breguet and the Souscription watch
Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747 –1823) is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest horologists of all time and was known as one of the foremost and innovative watchmakers of his day, with a clientele that included many leading public figures and members of the European nobility. Born in Neuchâtel, but spending most of his life in Paris, no aspect of watchmaking escaped his study, and his inventions were as fundamental to horology as they were varied.
In 1762, 15 year old Breguet became apprenticed to a Versailles master watchmaker. The young Breguet soon astonished his master with his aptitude and intelligence, and pursued further education through evening classes in mathematics at the Collège Mazarin under Abbé Marie, who became a friend and mentor to the young watchmaker. It was through this relationship that Breguet was first introduced to King Louis XVI of France, an introduction which would lead to invaluable commissions. His career started with a series of breakthroughs: the development of the successful self-winding perpétuelle watches, the introduction of the gongs for repeating watches and the first shock-protection for balance pivots.
One his most successful innovations was that of the souscription watch. A simple watch of relatively large diameter (61mm), with a single hand, enamel dial, and equipped with a special movement of great simplicity. First conceived in 1794 and sold in 1796, the souscription watch owed its name to the way in which the watch was purchased on a subscription basis. As Breguet explained in the brochure he had printed for its launch in 1797, “The price of the watch… will be 600 livres; a quarter of this sum will be payable on subscription; there will thus be no delays in the manufacture, and delivery will be according to the order of subscription…” This deposit brought with it much needed capital, which allowed Breguet to produce these watches in a fashion similar to a mass-production line. Reliable and affordable, the souscription watch enjoyed great success and attracted many new clients, with over 700 examples made in either gold or silver cases.