The Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5377
It was in 1801 that Abraham-Louis Breguet earned the rights to a patent that would last ten years for a special type of regulator called the “tourbillon”. Breguet had the idea of installing the entire escapement inside a mobile carriage that performs a complete rotation every minute to counteract the effects of gravity on timekeeping. The invention of the tourbillon is considered a legendary milestone in Breguet’s career. The Breguet company has always made it a point to honour this invention via its timepieces. And perhaps none more fitting than the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5377. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on one of the world’s thinnest tourbillon watches and what is one of Breguet’s most exquisite timepieces.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The case of the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5377 measures only 7 mm in height, making it once the thinnest automatic tourbillon timepiece in the world. That title has since been passed on multiple times, and now belongs to Bulgari’s Baselworld 2018 debutant, the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic. Measuring only 3.95 mm in thickness, the watch is also the world’s thinnest automatic watch. But we digress. Available in either rose gold or platinum, the case of the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5377 features all the tell tale signs of a Breguet watch. The most prominent of these signs is the fluted case band, which can be found on most of the brand’s modern wristwatches. Then, there’s the straight lugs. Breguet uses screw-pins rather than the more common spring bars to hold the strap, which is the better looking, more ‘luxurious’, and secure way to do it. The lugs are also welded to the case band for rigidity and aesthetic consistency. The entire case is polished including the bezel, which is narrow and thus offers significant real estate for the dial to shine through the sapphire crystal.
The dial features sophisticated decorations and is itself a treasure trove of Breguet elements. Immediately apparent is the barrage of guilloche motifs, all of which are engine-turned. Smooth to start with, the gold dial plate is first worked with a hand graver to outline and hollow out the power reserve indicator and tourbillon aperture, respectively. Engine turning then begins; multiple patterns are applied onto the dial: straight chevrons for the power reserve indicator, clou de Paris hobnailing for the dial center, barleycorn on the dial periphery, and cross hatching for the perimeters. No other manufacturer does it as intricately as Breguet. Even more impressive is the fact that artisans from Breguet accomplish all this using engine-turning lathes designed and built over a century ago. Once the guilloche work is done, the dial is silver coated using powdered silver. For clarity and added contrast, the hour track is simply a flat surface that has been treated to a circular satin finish. On either side of the 12 o’clock hour marker are Breguet’s secret signatures, a token of authenticity. And just beneath, lies the ‘BREGUET’ script followed by the unique production number of the particular watch. Indicating the hours and minutes are flame-blued, open-tipped hands. Better known as Breguet hands, they were designed by Abraham-Louis Breguet himself over two centuries ago and are today widely used by various manufacturers.
Hands on, we felt that the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5377 is appropriately sized given its features. At 42 mm in diameter, it is contemporary in size but does not feel overbearing. Its thinness allows it to slide under even the tightest of dress cuffs. And while the watch is loaded with traditional aesthetics, it too has several modern design aspects to it. Take for instance, the asymmetrical layout of the power reserve indicator and the tourbillon aperture, or the off-centre main dial. The beauty of it all is that in spite of all this asymmetry, the dial feels perfectly balanced and congruent. If anything, this asymmetry has made the dial far more interesting to look at than if everything were perfectly symmetrical.
Powering the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5377 is the 369-part, 42-jewel Calibre 581 DR. The automatic movement boasts a whopping 90 hours of power reserve even while operating at a modern 4 Hz. To rephrase, the movement has 90 hours of autonomy in spite of: a) being a self-winding movement (more hours than most hand-wound movements) and, b) accommodating a tourbillon with a balance that beats at 4 Hz (most tourbillon watches function at lower beat rates to conserve energy). Now, that is watchmaking prowess. According to Breguet, this is all thanks to its patented “high-energy” barrel – not much to go by, but at least we know the credit goes to the power source and not necessarily power conservation.
The tourbillon itself may be an anachronistic precision device but Breguet has (somewhat) managed to bring it into the 21st century. Its carriage is crafted in lightweight titanium, the formula of which is protected by (you guessed it) several patents. The balance spring within is made of silicon, another modern age innovation, while the escapement is in silicon and anti-magnetic steel. Another feature worthy of discussion is Breguet’s use of a peripheral rotor in the Calibre 581 DR. It is rather ingenious, incorporating a self-winding a system that firstly, does not impede the view of the movement, and secondly, does not add to movement thickness. But one wonders if the watch would have been better off sacrificing automaticity and fitted with a more traditional hand-wound movement instead that would come with the aforementioned benefits AND shave 2 mm off of case/movement diameter. Perhaps Breguet’s decision to use a self-winding movement comes from the sentiment of a supposedly-more-precise tourbillon watch being pointless if one forgets to keep it powered up. Or perhaps it’s just about giving the wearer the convenience of not needing to wind his/her watch. Regardless, the peripheral rotor remains a smart innovation and solution to the drawbacks brought forth by legacy winding rotors and is still a fascinating feature to have.
From a decorative perspective, the Calibre 581 DR is every bit as spectacular as the dial is. Let’s start with the tourbillon – its long, straight bridge resembles a steel beam and is polished to a sheen. The cage, just as industrial-looking, is satin-finished with polished chamfers on the edges. As you turn the watch on its back, you will find that the movement is mostly covered by plates and bridges – but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to see. Quite the contrary, these plates, bridges, the mainspring barrel, as well as the peripheral rotor are adorned with stunning engravings – a remarkable sight to behold.
The Competitive Landscape
The Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5377 is Breguet through and through. Thanks to its unique aesthetics, it will never be mistaken for another watch. The tourbillon watch market may be saturated these days but truly spectacular tourbillon pieces – especially one made by Breguet – still commands reverence. Fine works of art come with a price, and that price is SGD214,800 for the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5377 in rose gold (the model is also available in platinum).
Interestingly, for Baselworld 2018, Breguet introduced a novelty similar to the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5377 – similar in some way, but so very different in others. The new Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5367 has identical case dimensions and design, dial layout, and is equipped with the same Breguet hands and tourbillon. What’s different is that it lacks a power reserve function, uses stylised Breguet numerals as hour markers, and of course, is fitted with a lustrous white grand feu enamel dial. The result is a timepiece that is palpably cleaner than its predecessor. Powering the watch is the relatable Calibre 581 with the same peripheral rotor and similar decorative engravings compared to the Calibre 581 DR – all that’s missing is the power reserve function. Both Breguets are equally marvelous in our opinion, and it purely comes down to design preference: power reserve plus guilloche dial, or a clean grand feu enamel dial? The Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5367 is priced negligibly less than the 5377 at SGD211,900.
Also a fellow newcomer to the scene is the Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Tourbillon. The watch is noticeably less dressy than either Breguets, with its large applied numerals, lumed hands and indices, and chunkier case. In contrast, the tourbillon in the FiftySix Tourbillon appears more refined. That, perhaps, should come as a surprise to no one familiar with the industry, as Vacheron Constantin are known to build one of, if not the most gorgeous tourbillons in contemporary watchmaking. No shortcuts were taken when it came to the design and creation of the tourbillon: an uncanny resemblance to the Maltese cross, black polished cage, sharp outward AND inward angles, and a mirror polished, rounded bridge, all executed to perfection. In our opinion, the tourbillon found in the FiftySix Tourbillon is aesthetically superior to the Breguet. The movement that powers the watch is the Calibre 2160. While it is not quite as ornate as the Breguets, it is no less well-finished with plenty of angles and chamfers to boast about. Of course, it too is wound by a peripheral rotor, allowing the watch to retain a respectable thickness of 10.9 mm. While the Calibre 2160 does achieve a power reserve similar to the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5377, it does so by means of reducing energy consumption: a balance that operates at a comparatively sedate frequency of 2.5 Hz. At SGD174,000, the FiftySix Tourbillon is SGD40,000 less, and more accessible, than either Breguets. Sure, it doesn’t come with a dial proper that makes you go “wow” or deep artistic engravings all over the movement, but we reckon that stunning tourbillon is enough for all its shortcomings to be forgotten.
With the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5377, Breguet has shown that it knows how to stay current while being deeply rooted to its own heritage. The watch may be 4 years old now, but it is still a must-consider for those in the market for a high-end tourbillon piece.
Extra-plat or extra-flat?
Plat is French for flat.