The Breguet Tradition Indépendant Chronograph was undoubtedly one of the highlights of Baselworld 2015, an innovative piece in which the chronograph function is kept completely separate from the time functions by means of two movements, each with its own balance wheel, and separate power sources. The time functions are powered by a conventional mainspring barrel that provides a power reserve of 55 hours, while the chronograph is powered for its maximum of 20 minutes operation by a compact blade spring, loaded simply by pressing the reset button. Separating the two functions solves a problem that has always afflicted watchmakers: in a conventional chronograph watch, when you activate the chronograph, some of the power driving the time functions is used for the chronograph mechanism, and this has a detrimental effect on precision.
But this is not the reason why the Tradition Indépendant could be a landmark watch. One of the most frequent causes of damage to fine mechanical watches is overwinding, turning the crown a bit too much or a bit too energetically. The blade spring in Breguet’s chronograph on the other hand is charged by a single pressure on a pusher. It’s not hard to imagine this system being used for the mainspring of a watch, so that say four or five presses of the pusher could provide enough energy for a day’s functioning. It would alleviate the problem of overwinding, making a manually-wound watch more practical to use.
The Tradition Indépendant will reach boutiques only in December this year (2015), and it will cost about €78,800 (the price has gone up since my previous post on this watch). It’s beautiful to watch in operation, and its pushers are precise in their action, operating with a satisfying click. Amazingly, the pressure required to reset the chronograph and recharge the blade spring feels no different from that needed to start and stop the mechanism. The 5 Hertz chronograph balance produces ten vibrations per second, so that in theory the precision of the chronograph is to the nearest tenth of a second. The seconds ring on the bevel inside the bezel is marked in fifths of seconds.
Of course this is all just a good story. The 78,800 euro Breguet will never reach the precision of a 50-euro Swatch or any other quartz watch, and its innovations, while fascinating for watch lovers, have as much relevance to contemporary needs as a Montblanc ink pen or a Chanel handbag. But this is what fine watchmaking is about: creating dreams for people who can afford them. When Jean-Claude Biver purchased the failing company Blancpain in 1982 and set about restoring it to health, his concept was that a mechanical watch was no longer a product used to tell the time, but an item with very different functions linked more to lifestyle. Ten years later, he sold Blancpain to Nicolas G. Hayek’s Swatch Group, where he became a director and masterminded the same sort of process for another Swatch Group brand, Omega. Biver and Hayek gave a new lease of life to the watch industry, enabling it to work on exquisite complications, perfectly attuned to the dream world that high-end mechanical watches have become.