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the eclecticum


analysis, Breguet, Novelty 2020, watches

The Refreshed Breguet Marine – Or: The Generational Problem of a Traditional Manufacture

In its early years, Breguet was a powerhouse of innovation and a style-setter. Today, the iconic style is considered conservative. Is the current, modernised Marine collection the much needed 'fresh blood'?

(Modern) Breguet, as ironic as it might seem, was always a conservative brand – its opulent cases, the traditionalist style and above all the elaborate dial decoration finished in carefully hand-made guillochage.

The style was always distinctive, and apart from being adapted to the form factor of a wristwatch, essentially has changed little in the last two centuries. Breguet watches are bona fide classics, and herein lies the foundation of both its success as well as its problems.

Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 automatic guilloche titanium
(Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 – side view)

While we think the success story is well known, the (potential) challenge to stay attractive for an ever changing clientele is a problem that many brands married to a certain aesthetic such as Breguet face, and therefore warrants a few thoughts. The recently refreshed Breguet Marine Collection is a good study subject.

The Generational Problem of a Traditional Manufacture

Although Breguet, destined as the innovative powerhouse within Swatch Group by the late patron Nicholas G. Hayek, has developed and industrialised a considerable amount of technical innovations (including groundbreaking ones such as the 10Hz escapement, magnetic bearings of the balance wheel, innovative chronograph and minute repeater mechanisms, or small but nonetheless important improvements such as a general adoption of silicon escapement assortments or a really cleverly devised solution of the jumping chronograph seconds hand issue), the brand has not seen off its conservative image.

Breguet 4640C handwound guilloche(Breguet Classique 4640C is an archetype distillate of the house’s style)

This is a pity in two ways: it all to easily makes people overlook the innovative potential at work in Le Sentier, and also, maybe even more crucial, limits its attraction to a new generation of affluent people who are just entering the watch collecting hobby. And these budding collectors, many of them in Asia, crave for finest watchmaking quality, but demand it being presented entirely differently from ‘their dad’s watches’.

This generational change has proven to be a fundamental challenge for the established, notably traditional, brands. Several of them have released sporty, youthful lines (e.g. the Blancpain L’Evolution), sometimes at odds with the brand identity (note example). Some have refreshed their best suitable collection (note new colours at Patek Philippe, e.g. the Aquanaut Chronograph 5968A or the more recent Calatrava 6007G), while others went all into rejuvenation mode (best example is the formerly traditional Genevan manufacturer Roger Dubuis).

How Breguet Responds

Breguet in a way acted as a pacemaker here by offering a luxurious but sporty collection, called Marine collection (aptly recalling Abraham-Louis Breguet’s nomination as official watchmaker to the French Navy), already in the late 20th century which back then however still was a decidedly conservative incarnation of a ‘sports’ watch, essentially (just) a more robust classical Breguet: more watertight and with crown protectors – yes – but with all the typical (and expected!) design cues of the brand. Problem here: it stood not really out from the rest! While the watch was appreciated by great a number of aficionados, it looked a bit dated.

Breguet Marine Ref. 3400 5517 5817 automatic guilloche
(Evolution of the Breguet Marine: from the 35.5mm Ref. 3400 (ca. 1990) over the 39mm Ref. 5817 (2004) to the new 40mm Ref. 5517; images © Christie’s (Ref. 3400), Breguet)

A more fundamental change came in the early 2000 years with the Ref. 5817 and others, when finally steel cases were offered, the design refreshed and made more distinctive. Still, it felt quite close to the overall ‘Breguet’ design language and probably looked more ‘entry level Breguet’ than intended.

The brand eventually recognised this and reworked the Marine collection from ground up, but in a way that made the changes pass by largely unnoticed as Breguet choose a technical tour de force, the Breguet Marine Équation Marchante Ref. 5887 of 2018, as the harbinger of change. One year later, when Breguet carried the new design language over to the more simple watches in the Marine collection, everybody realised – and many were irritated!

Breguet Marine Tourbillon Equation Marchante 5887(Breguet Marine Tourbillon Equation Marchante 5887)

For the first time in the collection, Breguet now offers a titanium version. This one is of course not only the most affordable, but also it is aesthetically a bit set apart from the rest, with an even plainer dial. We chose this version of the essential time-only Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 to delve deeper into the new collection.


The updated Marine line came with a redesigned case whose characteristic features are the integrated, central lug, bolder and at the same time simpler dials, and numerals and other details which are inspired by maritime symbols, e.g. reminiscent of the marine alphabet.

Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 automatic guilloche titanium wristshot
(Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 – wristshot)

The case is slightly enlarged from 39 to 40mm compared to the predecessor Ref. 5817, the fluted caseband has been redesigned to appear flatter, with a finely detailed Breguet crown with wave-form crown protectors. The overall appearance is that of a compact, sturdy, but yet refined object:

Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 automatic guilloche titanium case details
(Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 details: crown and strap attachment screw)

And then, there is this characteristic new central lug! Again, this is a sturdy design which combines robustness with a sporty appearance and technical sophistication: note the superb design of the screws, with their heads resembling cardinal marks used in maritime pilotage to indicate the position of a hazard and the direction of safe water (here: both marks point inwards = west). The full versatility of the lug design can only be appreciated when the excellent matching metal bracelet is mounted – it makes the optional bracelet look organically integrated into the case design:

Breguet Marine Alarme Musicale Ref. 5547 automatic guilloche titanium(Breguet Marine Alarme Musicale Ref. 5547: here on the titanium bracelet)

A Breeze of Fresh Air on the Dial, but where’s the ‘Guilloché Main’?

The refreshed maritime theme continues on the dial: The new bold indices, fashioned like a ballot of marine flags, dominate the dial, and this in an interesting way. A boldness of numeral indices generally comes with a problem Breguet cleverly mastered: the 12 roman indices are composed with up to four elements, which might cause some very different optical weight between the indices. Breguet however designed them such that are reasonably similar while still easily discernible, using minuscule differences in how the individual components are modeled. Attention to the detail, which we like!

Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 automatic guilloche titanium
(Breguet Marine Ref. 5517: close-up on indices and the hand-guilloched frame around the Breguet logo)

The hands are largely iterations of the classical Breguet ‘Pomme’ hands used on the existing Marine, or better, a sporty re-interpretation of those, yet still caused quite heated discussions. Generously filled with luminous material, but now with an arch dividing the circle in two halves – just like if William Tell had a go on them… the new design of both indices and hands is a dynamic advancement of the proverbial namesake hand design, and more complex to manufacture (read: lume fill) than that of their predecessor.

That leaves us now with the dial plate itself: on the titanium version, a rather plain but well executed affair, with a sunburst decoration centered around the Breguet logo, in other words, something apparently not-so-Breguet. And to pour oil into the fire, Breguet even inscribed ‘guilloché main’ at 6 o’clock – but where did all these lustrous engine-turned patterns go?

Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 automatic guilloche titanium
(Refreshed Breguet Marine: hands design with nautical cues and  ‘guilloché main’ inscription)

The answer is subtle but in fact readily visible for the seasoned aficionado: What started already with the Équation Marchante Ref. 5887 (and in the same way the versions in precious metals are executed), Breguet sought to rejuvenate the art of engine-turned engraving and strip it of its oftentimes quite baroque appearance, such as to offer a future path of its characteristic decoration technique. Named complicated watch tickles the eye with is wave-like sparkle, evoking the notion of light reflecting on the seas, a fitting implementation for a maritime timepiece. This pattern has been carried over to other precious metal versions of the Marine, such as this Ref. 5517 in white gold:

Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 automatic guilloche white gold

With the even sportier titanium version only, Breguet reduced the guilloché to the max: On the dial, only the tiny frame around the Breguet logo is hand-engraved with a diamond tool. This has been received with quite some consternation, as this looks like a cost reduction effort (certainly an effect Breguet considered), and might even smell like a bad joke given the above mentioned ‘guilloché main’ inscription. But there are two additional aspects to it: in terms of product differentiation (and thus clearly from a maker’s perspective), the reduced guilloché on the ‘mundane’ case versions offers clear variety to the precious metal ones, while it still can be considered in a way as a ‘connoisseurs’ detail’: in most cases such a frame would be stamped, but here it isn’t and the guilloché technique used by Breguet reveals itself to those who know through its bright and unmistakable shine of the groves.

Unusual Sights on the Movement

But that is not all: turn the watch by 180° on its back: the movement, called Cal. 777A, is equipped with pretty much all current technologies at the manufacture: inverted straight-line lever with silicon horns, flat silicon balance spring and a free-sprung balance with timing screws. The power reserve is 55 hours. Pretty much standard for Breguet!

Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 automatic guilloche titanium Cal. 777A
(Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 back view)

What is unusual is the decoration of the movement: at first view unspectacular, but note closely the execution… this is not the usual Côtes Genevoises – this is different:

Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 automatic guilloche titanium Cal. 777A
(Breguet Cal. 777A in its Marine version: decoration details on rotor and bridges)

Breguet hand-guilloches each bridges with a diamond-tipped graver to achieve a boat-deck-like pattern before a precisely matched decoration with Geneva stripes is applied:

Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 automatic guilloche titanium Cal. 777A diamond cut
(Movement plate of the Breguet Marine and the diamond tipped guillochage tool used for engraving)

This requires considerable precision as the different decorations are applied on separate machines, hence requiring strict alignment tolerances between the machines in order to have the decorations minutely overlapping.

The rotor itself is designed like a ship’s wheel tops off the nautical theme.

Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 automatic guilloche titanium Cal. 777A


So, how does it wear? Very pleasant, for sure. The light, grade 5 titanium gives an excellent wrist comfort, with a light and warm appearance. The watch is very legible and offers a lot of details to marvel upon.

Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 automatic guilloche titanium
(Breguet Marine Ref. 5517: the watch wears well)

The comfort is further enhanced by the central lugs which afford considerable flex close to the case, thus ensuring a snug fit of the entire watch to the wrist, even smaller ones (something which as, due to the long and straight lugs of the classical Breguet watches, often been an issue of discomfort, at least for some). The ornamental deployment clasp in our opinion is at odds with the overall design of the watch, and might warrant a more fitting revision.

Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 automatic guilloche titanium
(Refreshed Breguet Marine strap lugs and deploying clasp)

The Bottom-Line

First of all, if a renewed version of a watch causes noise within the collector’s community, this means something: its gets noticed. This happened when Breguet refreshed the Marine line with a number of considerate design choices. The changes brought more elaborate and bold cases, indices and hands, plus movement finishing, at the expense of the previous generous areas decorated with guilloché adornments that are so typical to the watchmaker. Particularly the latter was heavily criticised, but it also took away the baroque styling which made Breguet not necessarily attractive to a younger clientele. What Breguet did here is that it retained guilloché in certain ways, certainly on the movement (which was an unexpected move) and to a much lesser extend, but still!, on the dial.

Breguet Marine Ref. 5517 automatic guilloche titanium
(Breguet Horloger de la Marine…)

As a result, we think the identity of the Marine line is intact, preserved, and even reinforced, which is important for a brand with a century-spanning history. On can clearly identify the areas where Breguet invested most (case construction, production technologies) and where the manufacturer sought to save in terms of costs and manpower (dial), with aim to be competitive and efficient in this specific market segment, while still representing the maison with a design language appropriate for the 21st century.

The fact that the update of a relatively ‘simple’ watch in their collection triggers such emotional reaction is therefore we think encouraging for a brand.

It shows that people care for it!

‘the eclecticum’