Inside The Manufacture: With Breguet In Switzerland, Pt. 1: The Sympathique, The 18th-Century Equivalent Of An iPod Dock

By Arthur Touchot

It’s difficult to think of a timepiece more welcoming than the Sympathique. The little table clock, whose name means literally means “likeable” in French, is one of the first pieces any visitor sees when entering Breguet’s manufacture in the Vallée de Joux. And it is perhaps the most appropriate introduction to the watchmaker, as it offers a glimpse at one of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s earliest inventions as well as the company’s current direction.

The clock at home in Breguet’s restoration department is number 13, a designation reserved for non-commercial pieces such as this exposition piece, and it is part of the latest production of Sympathique clocks, which has run from 1996 through to today. The clock displays the hours and minutes, plus the month, day, date, phases and age of the moon, and equation of time, in addition to having a centigrade thermometer and a power reserve indicator built in too. But what makes this clock special is what sits front and center, just above the clock’s time display – a detachable watch that docks into the main clock itself.

breguet sympathique clock watch dock

But before we get into this Sympathique, let’s look at where the intriguing clock/watch combo started. Designed by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1793, a few years before he created the tourbillon, it was the first clock capable of automatically regulating and setting a portable timekeeper. The very first Sympathique simply displayed the hours and minutes, and the removable watch was of course for the pocket, but it was an utterly revolutionary creation. The idea was that the wearer would dock his watch every night before going to sleep and in the course of an hour or so the watch would be brought into synch with the more accurate clock. In the morning, the watch could be pulled out, placed in the pocket, and worn like normal. Nothing like this had existed before and it must have seemed like magic to Breguet’s contemporaries (as did most of clockwork, if we’re being honest).

Breguet only made five examples during his lifetime, some of which can be traced to illustrious owners such as Mahmud II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and George IV of England (that clock we know to have been delivered in 1814, when he was Prince Regent). The best known example however was made for the Duc d’Orléans …read more      

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