June 2010. "Montre a tact" signed by none other than Abraham-Louis Breguet

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Mar 26, 2009
La Chaux-de-Fonds
Abraham-Louis Breguet, Paris

Watch “à tact”

Gold, silver, enamel, brass.
Diameter: 40 mm. Thickness: 8 mm.
Dust cap signed: Breguet N° 602
Movement signed: Breguet N° 602

Circa 1800

The enamel painting on the case cover depicts rays of light bursting forth from a pansy, the symbol of remembrance, against the backdrop of a cloudy sky. On the rotating enamelled case-back, Cupid fires a gold arrow whose tip, set with brilliants, points to the hours engraved in Arabic numerals on the silver caseband. A tactile reading of the time is possible by means of the protruding buttons at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock.

A small, silvered eccentric dial, engraved with the hours in Arabic numerals, can be seen through the pierced dome. Two blued steel “jumping” hands indicate the hours and minutes.

The movement, with individual cocks, is fitted with a central hanging barrel, a ruby cylinder escapement with a twelve-toothed steel escape wheel, a brass three-armed balance, and a flat balance spring. The watch can be regulated through the dome by a pin affixed to the blued steel index.

The International Watch Museum has two other à tact watches: one, bearing the number 3801 (Inv. I-473) and made by Breguet and Son, was sold in 1826 to Mr. Rigaud. It has a gold case with an engine-turned back and a movement fitted with a lever escapement. The other (Inv. I-1325) comes from the workshop of Basile-Charles Le Roy: based on the same principles as Breguet’s watches, it has an enamelled case and a movement with a virgule escapement.

This kind of à tact watch was invented by A.-L. Breguet between 1796 and 1800. Not only could it be used to tell the time in the dark or, if one was in company, by discreetly touching the case-middle, it could also measure a period of time. When the à tact hand or case-back was turned until it met resistance, the watch would continue to function, while the à tact hand remained stationary.

Breguet’s invention made quite a stir in the early 19th century, as can be seen from the following entry in the archives of the Société des Arts de Genève in 1800[1]:

“Citizen Boissier asks Citizen d'Eymar if he would be kind enough to show the Society a watch made by Citizen Breguet. This watch, which has no apparent dial, is designed to replace, for the night, repeater watches that are useless for the deaf, its price being less, & it offers the advantage of aiding the memory of those who want to know how much time has passed between the beginning and end of an activity. This can be done by putting the hand on the moment of the first period, then moving it with the finger to the salient point which indicates the actual time that one looks at it again ... The mechanism of this piece is very simple, the idea seems good and it could give our watchmakers new kinds of work."

MIH: 1961, p. 49, illus.; 1974, p. 65, illus.
Cardinal, 1983, pp. 88-89, illus.
Daniels, 1985, pl. XII, p. 92, illus.
Breguet, 1997, p. 152, illus.

[1] Archives of the Société des Arts de Genève, Volume IV of Minutes, 15 Germinal, year 8 (15 April 1800) 73299.jpg
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