Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) conceived of the idea for the “souscription” watch in 1794. It was one of the many “inventions” resulting from his period of forced exile in Switzerland during the French Revolution. The concept was both simple and brilliant: to offer his clients a watch that was ordered in advance and delivered upon completion.
In silver, with the gold rims being the only decoration, the “souscription” watches were of a large diameter allowing the enamel dial to be divided in such a way that both hours and minutes could be read from a single hand. The movements had a single plate, the spring barrel mounted in the centre and the wheels elegantly positioned and retained by bridges. The single hand was driven directly off the barrel arbour, eliminating the motion work and the intendant friction, and the ruby cylinder escapement was fitted with a parachute (shock protector) and a compensation curb to assist in correcting temperature errors; features that were the norm for all of Breguet’s first class watches.
To further reduce the selling price, Breguet decided to produce these watches in small series (between 12 and 20 examples at a time), with the buyers paying an account of 25% in advance and the balance on completion. Hence the term “de souscription” (by subscription).
The success of these watches enabled Breguet to both re-establish his business, which had understandably been badly affected by the French Revolution and his exile, and to finance much of his research into other areas of horology.
Breguet will then produce some gold “souscriptions” and others “à tact”.
The success of these timepieces encouraged other watchmakers – whether pupils of the master or not – to produce them. While these were duly signed by these watchmakers (such as Charles Oudin), others produced them by forging Breguet’s signature. These watches were often produced in Switzerland (Geneva or the Neuchâtel mountains), whereas the example produced here appears to have been made in France; the case being stamped with the gold title mark in force in France between August 16, 1819, and May 9, 1838.
For a note on the history and development of Breguet’s “Souscription” watches see the catalogues:
· Antiquorum, Geneva, auction, April 14, 1991, The Art of Breguet.
· Antiquorum, Geneva, auction, October 18, 1997, lots 13-15, 17-20, 37, 116, 124.
· Antiquorum, Geneva, auction, October 14-15, 2006, pp. 32-33.