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A (very) brief overview of Breguet the company up to the 1999 acquisition by Swatch Group

May 20 2003 at 10:38 AM

ThomasM  (Premier Login thepurist178)
AP Discussion Group

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Part 1: background overview -

After AL Breguet passed away, the company bearing his name continued to produce some interesting and innovative products that carried on the spirit of the founder, for a period of time. Whether these new models were executions of designs and ideas from the master himself, or new developments, I am not sure. I would guess that it was a combination of both.

The decades passed, and in 1870, control of the conmpany passed out of the Breguet family and on to the Brown family, whose family members were involved in the Breguet watchmaking company for quite a few years before assuming control. As a historical aside, the Breguet family became quite renowned in telecommunication, aviation and defense.

The Brown years are generally considered caretaker years - very little true innovation, though in 1926 there was the patent and introduction of the pocketwatch with no traditional hand indicators, time shown by rotating dial minute indication, with aperture jumping hour; production of new watches was mostly limited to models that were created and first put into production long ago, the release of models based upon outsourced movements, dials, cases, in the etablisseur tradition; case and dial designs that bore little stylistic resemblence to "classic Breguet" designs - an example is the Type XX flyback chronograph delivered to the French Airforce in the 1950's (this was also delivered by J. Auricoste, Dodane, Airain, and Vixa, and were based on the Lemania cal. 15TL modified for the flyback feature); and the bulk of the workshop activities were dedicated to servicing privately owned, vintage and historical pieces. Many liken the Breguet brand and company in those years to a faded world class gemstone.

In the late 1960's, The Chaumet brothers, of Chaumet Jewelry fame, realized that the Breguet name was just such a gem, and felt they could polish the Breguet brand up and become glamourous and regain its world class prestige again, and do this as part of Chaumet's grand plan to launch themselves onto the world stage of luxury goods. Thus, in 1970, Chaumet acquired Breguet from the Brown family. Leading the charge to re-establish Breguet as a brand with a clear look and product line was Francois Bodet, a manager who was already working for the Chaumet's.

I have heard comment that a young and talented Daniel Roth was brought in to the watchmaking operation, but I have not verified this with credible primary sources, though I believe this to be true. What Mr. Roth actually accomplished while with Breguet, under Chaumet, I do not know. I mention this here now because Mr. Roth has since become a highly regarded Master Watchmaker. (clarification - It has been pointed out, more reasonably, that Mr. Roth worked at Lemania, rather than at Breguet proper. This makes more sense, but would also make it nearly impossible for him to have been part of the Chaumet period, as Nouvelle Lemania was not merged with Montres Breguet until 1992, after InvestCorp took over. TM)

The internal machinations were complicated, some even say felonious, but whatever the case, Breguet fell victim to the fall of the House of Chaumet, and the House of Breguet went bankrupt along with the rest of Chaumet. InvestCorp, a Bahraini holding company, stepped in to the breach and "rescued" the brand and company in 1987. Mr. Bodet stayed on, continuing to strengthen the watchmaking side as well as continuing to develop the model lines and solidifying the Breguet "look."

As part of this effort, InvestCorp acquired Valdar in 1991, then Nouvelle Lemania in 1992, to complete the grand vision of bringing Breguet as a brand and as a company back to the heights of mechanical horology, to fulfill the failed vision of the Chaumet brothers. All of this was to take place under the aegis of Groupe Horloger Breguet (GHB) Jean Joseph Jacober was brought in to head the company in 1995 (RS 062403)

Under InvestCorp, GHB grew from 17 employess in Breguet alone, to over 250 in the group, including Nouvelle Lemania and Valdar, with turnover of 100M Swiss Francs (source: Bilanz, InvestCorp, other business and financial reporting sources)

Bear in mind that the high mech renaissance was well underway, with the success and birth of Chronoswiss, and the "rebirth" of Blancpain and Ulysse Nardin in the early 1980's (1982-1983)

On Sept 14, 1999, Swatch Group announces its intention to acquire GHB from InvestCorp, amid a flurry of high profile acquisitions in the high end watch industry.

So why was Breguet, for some time, not considered part of the "Big Three?"

Some thoughts on that to come, in Part 2.




Lemania was part of SSIH, the predecessor to the Swatch Group, when it was re-organized in 1981 as Nouvelle Lemania under a management buyout with the financial backing of Claude Burkhalter. InvestCorp acquired Nouvelle Lemania in 1992.

It is ironic to note that SSIH and ASUAG were merged to form SMH, which was later renamed Swatch, who now own the Groupe Horloger Breguet companies.

Valdar was acquired by GHB in 1991, and produces high precision micro-mechanical components for haute horlogerie, aviation, and medical equipment.

This message has been edited by thepurist178 on Jun 26, 2003 6:21 PM

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