Breguet numerals, when indexes make a difference

Written by:Lorenzo R.|

When we hear about Breguet numerals or indexes we immediately think of an unusual timepiece, for which watch-lovers are ready to pay very high premiums.   
Let’s find out together whether Breguet numerals are just a trend, or behind them lies a story worth being told.

Breguet numerals

A little history

It is easy to guess who, first, introduced these numbers with such elegant and timeless shape.
We are obviously talking about Abraham Louis Breguet, considered one of the greatest watchmakers ever, inventor of the tourbillon movement, and founder of the eponymous Maison.

Their advent dates back to before the French Revolution, although they acquired their definitive (and much-loved) shape in 1790.
At the time, Breguet numerals were only used on enamel dials. For this reason Breguet, trying to remain as faithful as possible to the dictates of its founder, still uses these indexes only on enameled dials.

Breguet pocket watch

Breguet indexes and Patek Philippe

Since the early 1900s, Breguet numerals have spread all-over the business, as they are also used by other maisons, such as Patek Philippe.

Nevertheless, the number of examples is very limited, since Breguet numerals never entered production as standard indexes, generally speaking.
Often, we find them in special orders, commissioned by customers, or very limited series of dials produced for the most important dealers.

Even today, Breguet numerals are produced on unique dials or in very limited edition.
Let’s take as an example Patek Philippe, who reserves them almost only to his own flagship production, namely the super-complicated, such as repeaters and tourbillon.

In addition, Patek Philippe has created unique pieces equipped with Breguet numerals, like Eric Clapton’s 5970.  

That being said, it’s easy to see why every time a watch with Breguet numerals appears on the market, collectors will battle each other to win it.

Patek Philippe 5970 Eric Clapton Breguet numerals

Important sales

Let’s look at some examples to better understand how the presence of Breguet numerals affects the value of a watch. As we can see below, often the presence of Breguet indexes is combined with other connotations very popular among collectors, such as signed dials or unique pieces.



Patek Philippe Ref. 1436

The Ref.1436 is the first rattrappante chronograph ever made by Patek Philippe.
Breguet numerals’ presence underlines the importance and exclusivity of this timepiece, which at the time, was one of the most expensive and complicated watches in the entire watch scene.
The 1436 was designed for a category of wealthy racing enthusiasts, specifically cars and horses.

This one was auctioned by Phillips for 340.000€.


Patek Philippe Ref. 565

At the last November auction, which we talked about here, Phillips has auctioned a very special Patek Philippe 565.

First of all, let’s talk about the layout of the dial, from which we can tell that the timepiece had to be a special order. In fact, the “military style” dial (due to the radium indices) makes this Patek Philippe Ref. 565 a perfect companion for all outdoor activities, even in low light conditions.

Confirming that Breguet numerals were often reserved for unique pieces and sent to prestigious dealers around the world, we can notice, at six o’clock, the signature of the London-based dealer Asprey.
If you want to learn more about the history of Asprey and many other jewelers, you can click here.

This 565 has all the features that excite collectors: uniqueness, dealer signature and Breguet numerals. It is no coincidence that this timepiece set a new record for 565s, reaching a really important price:  274.000€.

We also have a full article on the history of Patek Philippe Ref. 565, click here to find out more.


Patek Philippe 5004, formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton

The famous guitarist and collector Eric Clapton must have a soft spot for Breguet numerals, since they equip many unique pieces from his collection.

Below we present a Patek Philippe ref .5004, equipped with a virtually unique configuration. The dial is, in fact, a magnificent faded blue that contrasts against the platinum case. Breguet numerals complete the uniqueness of this extraordinary timepiece, personally commissioned by “slow hand“.

Auctioned by Phillips, it realized a whopping 722.000€.

In conclusion we can say that Breguet numerals are not just a fashion trend, but that they deserve the lovers’ appreciation. Their refined shape represents an idea of timeless elegance, independent of media phenomena and destined to last over time.

Recent trends, both market and product, are confirmed, and the historical trend also supports this phenomenon.

To date, there is only one maison without Breguet numerals in catalog. A maison that in its history has used very little this configuration… You know the name!


Translated by Lorenzo Spolaor

Author

Auditor & Author
Est. 1999. Economics student. He has been a watch enthusiast for 5 years now, with a focus on the vintage world. He is an active member in many watch blogs so he can finally connect is attitude for writing with his passion for timepieces.
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