Inside & Out Book Edition: The New Edition of Breguet (1747 -1823)
When was the last time any of you bought a book about watches?
When there are many free resources available online and when most reference books sell for hundreds of dollars I can imagine it's quite a while. Last year I bought a copy of A Grand Complication, The Race to Build the World's Most Legendary Watch by Stacy Perman. At $1 used on Amazon, it is an absolute must for anyone interested in Patek Philippe, grand complications and the history of timepieces. Yet as much as I enjoyed that book, I struggled to convince myself to buy more books about watches. Why? Because they cost a lot.
The only two places I know where books dedicated to watches are available are the Hodinkee Shop and Mondani Books. The prices of these books range from $26 for a Patrizzi pocket guide to $4350 for Ultimate Rolex Daytona. So when Hodinkee first announced a re-printing of Breguet (1747-1823) by Sir David Salomons in April, 2015 and it was just $75, I was excited. Still, despite my excitement I waited.
Why did I wait? Frankly, I don't like the idea of spending $75 on a book. That might sound silly or even hypocritical coming from someone who said that the Nomos Minimatik Nachtblau is a bargain at $3800 but when most of my book purchases are $10 or less, $75 is a bit steep. Finally in 2016, I dropped not so subtle hints to my family that I would like a copy of Breguet (1747-1823) for Christmas.
Sir David Salomons, or to use his full title Sir David Lionel Goldsmid-Stern-Salomons, 2nd Baronet, was an English polymath, politician, solicitor and art collector. His collection of Breguet timepieces, totalling 124 at its peak, is regarded as the best in the world. Sir David, orphaned at a young age and raised by his Uncle, had a fantastic mind and whilst his contemporaries might have used a similar position of wealth to lounge throughout life, he took it as an opportunity to learn. He converted part of his Father's estate into a science theatre, practised mechanics on his fleet of cars and even invented an automatic railway signaling system.
At a young age, Sir David became enamored with wristwatches and soon was heading into London to visit watchmakers and jewelers to learn more about the craft. Over time his understanding and appreciation for the work of Abraham Louis Breguet grew, as did his collection, and towards the end of his life, he set about writing a treatise about Breguet and his work. This was an important step for collectors as Breguet never published a single sentence explaining or speaking about his work, though he did start work on a manuscript just before he died.
Sir David's book, Breguet (1747-1823), was printed in 1921 and there were only 1000 copies ever made. Hodinkee's reprinting, dubbed 'The New Edition' is the first and only reprinting of the book and is 100% faithful to the original.
There are no Hodinkee branded pages, no introduction by Benjamin Clymer, and no back cover blurb, instead there is only the original text between a beautiful blue silk and linen covering. There was no expense spared in regards to the printing of this book. The paper used throughout has a wonderful weight to it and the choice of Smyth-sewn binding means this will be staying on my shelf for many years to come.
Smyth-sewn binding is one of the highest quality bindings available today and it shows. The pages are sewn together along the fold and then further reinforced with fabric binding and adhesive; this means that the book opens flat, large sections of pages can't get unstuck over time and no text gets lost in the gutter between pages. Picking up a mass market paperback after reading this book made me come out in a rash.
So what is this book about? Well Sir David draws attention to a problem in the opening pages of the book, namely how can you write an accurate history of someone who died 100 years ago? His answer is that you don't. Whilst there is a brief biography of Breguet's life, the main focus of this book is Breguet's creative output of timepieces. There are chapters on Breguet's life, entitled 'The Firm of Breguet' and 'The Life of Breguet' but they only take up 10 pages.
In total there are 233 pages with an additional 52 page addenda to the appendix that was included in the last 750 copies of the original book. The majority of the book is taken up by Chapter V 'Description of 87 Watches Taken From Their Certificates, With A Few Additional Remarks of Interest' and the collection of plates (photographs) of watches and clocks. This wasn't what I was expecting but I suppose one never knows what a book has in store before reading it! This is an example of what one of those descriptions reads like.
Not exactly a page turner. Sir David clearly knew his stuff about Breguet and whilst some of his technical descriptions fly past the reader quite quickly, his writing is engaging, entertaining and at times quite humorous. "Because they are scarce and dear, many idiots with money collect Breguet watches, although they are people who cannot distinguish between a fine watch and one worth "two and six". Collectors of this kind exist in abundance"
I would have also appreciated knowing that pages 77 to 115 are in French.
Comparing A Grand Complication and Breguet is like comparing chalk and cheese. Stacy Perman talked with historians, auctioneers and collectors who came into contact with the Patek Philippe Supercomplication and hers is a much more human story. Whilst there are technical details about the timepiece, she seamless weaved a story of two men around these details. Sir David attempts no such literary devices and most of the book is simply a description of Breguet's watches. This is not to fault Sir David as he wrote in the style fitting of the period and of a man of his social standing.
So consider this less of a book but rather more of an extended series of descriptions.
In 1921, I can imagine that this would have been of extraordinary value to collectors but in 2017, it's less impactful. When any number of websites are providing excellent written content for free and can provide high-def video and photographic content, suddenly the small 2 inch photographs are less impressive. There are some photographs that are less than an inch tall that sit alone on the page.
I won't be revisiting Breguet (1747-1823) like I would an old favorite, well-worn book. It also won't sit on my coffee table (Not that I have a coffee table) for my guests to browse through as a copy of Ultimate Rolex Daytona might. This book, like my small collection of catalogues and reference books, will be used sparingly across the years as a guide for study. When the occasion arises I'll walk over to my bookshelf and thumb through the pages till I find what I'm looking for, then I'll jot it down and place it back in its place.
Should you buy Breguet (1747-1823) by Sir David Salomons? If you have $75 spare and you have or want a collection of vintage Breguet pocket watches then yes, go buy it. It will prove an invaluable asset. If you're a novice enthusiast looking to learn more about Breguet's work then I would say no because the value of those plates and descriptions is not worth as much to you. There is a free archived copy available online that will suit you fine. The plates aren't as legible but the text is more than readable on a desktop screen or iPad. If after reading that you want to see the plates or simply want the enjoyment of an old fashioned, well-bound book in your hands, then go get the reprint.