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Breguet, who have been creating impeccable Swiss watches for almost 250 years, are confident that their exquisitely timeless Classique line faithfully reflects the technical standards, horological art and traditional values that have made their brand so successful. Within the collection are a series of models which serve as a magnificent distillation of the attributes distinguishing the House of Breguet, whose innate refinement has been inspiring ladies and gentlemen in search of pure elegance since 1775.
On this special occasion, Breguet have brought together under one roof some of Mayfair’s most prestigious craftsmen specialising in luxury goods and all having in common a historical connection to the illustrious British statesman. I’ve been exclusively invited by Breguet to go and watch Madama Butterfly at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera. Back in 2016, Breguet initiated a partnership with Glyndebourne, the British Opera festival with its world-renowned auditorium and standards of excellence.
Glyndebourne is an annual opera festival held at an English country house near Lewes, in East Sussex, England. Surrounded by the rolling hills of the South Downs, you get the chance to explore the beautiful gardens before you go into its 1,200-seat indoor auditorium. Glyndebourne is committed to presenting opera of the highest quality, commissioning new work, developing new talent and reaching new audiences. Through this association, Breguet is able to showcase the best of its values and synergies enabling the festival to stage opera that is truly world-class.
Glyndebourne began with a love story when, in 1934, founder John Christie, met soprano Audrey Mildmay. It is now one of the finest and most celebrated opera houses in the world and delivers performances to some 150,000 people across its summer festival and autumn tour. Its continued employment of inspirational directors, world-class orchestras and performers, and the ongoing drive to commission new work, now go hand in hand with digital innovations such as online streaming to reach new audiences.
Entering the opulent Oak Room at the Glyndebourne house, Breguet hosts their guests throughout the day with a glass of champagne upon arrival and we are surrounded by elegant guests wearing evening dress and black tie as part of their long-held tradition. It is a welcome opportunity to dress with such etiquette and style and wonderful to see the tradition is still alive today. My own personal choice is a black tie from the British brand, New and Lingwood, with a single-breasted shawl collar evening jacket. The jacket is a traditional Savile Row, semi-canvassed construction with slanted flap pockets with matching trousers and black bow-tie, finished off with a pair of ornate slippers from Manolo Blahnik that sparkle just brightly enough. Last but not least, I am wearing a final very important item for this occasion – one of Breguet’s elegant timepieces, the Classique 5277 wristwatch in 18-carat white gold. It boasts a hand-wound movement with seconds sub-dial, a 96-hour power-reserve indicator and a silicon balance spring. Appreciating the silvered gold dial, hand-engraved on a rose engine with a sapphire case-back, it was a sheer joy seeing this masterpiece on my wrist for the first time – love at first sight!
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Now for a brief history about Abraham-Louis Breguet and how an innovation was born. Breguet was apprenticed in 1762 to a watchmaker at Versailles. He took refuge in Switzerland during the French Revolution and, upon his return to France, became a principal watchmaker of the empire. Among Breguet’s many inventions and innovations were the over-coil, an improvement of the balance spring that was incorporated into many precision watches, and the tourbillon, an improvement that rendered the escapement immune to errors caused by the changing position of the watch while being carried. Breguet succeeded Pierre-Louis Berthoud as the official chronometer maker to the French navy in 1815 and was admitted to the French Academy of Sciences in 1816. Considered to be one of the greatest watchmakers of all time, Breguet had in his lifetime a worldwide reputation and clientele, and he influenced watchmaking throughout Europe.
One of the most influential watches Abraham ever created is The Breguet No.1160 – a grand complication, more commonly known as the Marie-Antoinette or the Queen, who also called it ‘a poem in clockwork’. By the standards of the day, it was an astronomically expensive piece, including as it did the most valuable materials (such as gold, platinum, rubies and sapphires) which were used with no limit placed on time or cost. The watch is encased in gold, with a clear face that shows the complicated movement of the gears inside. Breguet used sapphires in the mechanism to decrease friction. It took almost thirty years to complete. Marie Antoinette never lived to see the watch as it was completed 34 years after she had been executed during the French revolution. There is another signature watch of Breguet’s Reine de Naples collection which is inspired by an early bracelet watch A.-L. Breguet created for Bonaparte’s sister Caroline, Queen of Naples, with their customary care and precision. Breguet’s watchmakers have created a symbol of feminine refinement in a contemporary jewellery watch.
Before the performance begins, let me briefly tell you about Madama Butterfly. Madama Butterfly, Giacomo Puccini’s heart-rending 1904 opera about love, abandonment and self-sacrifice, represented a turning point in his career. In some respects, it capped a period of great professional success: this opera, like its predecessors La Boheme (1896) and Tosca (1900), swiftly became central to the core international operatic repertory. Yet Madama Butterfly simultaneously prompted critical reactions that would send Puccini into a prolonged period of soul-searching and artistic experimentation.
The storyline of Madama Butterfly is a heartbreaking tale of love crushed between two utterly different cultures. In Nagasaki, Japan, Lieutenant Pinkerton of the US Navy is purchasing a house which comes with a bride, the young geisha Cio-Cio-San. This is a conveniently non-committal arrangement for him as, according to Japanese law, a marriage is declared over if the husband has been absent for more than a month. The US Consul Sharpless warns Pinkerton that, although he is not taking the marriage seriously, to Cio-Cio-San it is real. At the wedding, the high priest denounces Cio-Cio-San for converting to Christianity in order to marry Pinkerton, and her family and friends follow suit and turn against her, but Butterfly, naïve and deeply in love, is content with her new husband and new life. Three years later, Pinkerton has long since vanished, and Cio-Cio-San, her young son and loyal servant Suzukiare are living in poverty. In spite of appearances, she is utterly convinced that he will return – and at long last, he does, but with a new American wife and devastating consequences…
This is a perfect opportunity to watch Madama Butterfly in a rural setting and performances continue until 18th July. For more information, you can look on Glyndebourne’s website here. I would like to say a big “Thank you” to Breguet’s team and Billion Dollar Boy PR for this ultimate experience. Now, London is calling!