Comparative Review: Breguet and Vacheron Constantin

Feb 28, 2011,18:03 PM

Vacheron Constantin and Breguet are two of the most prestigious watch manufacturers operating today. Both houses are at the pinnacle of Swiss haute horlogerie, with each having a rich history filled with important technical innovations and iconic designs, and each sustaining excellence over their centuries of existence. Today both brands are successfully managing to balance their rich heritage with their spirit of innovation to create timepieces that are immediately identifiable as being a Vacheron Constantin or a Bregeut while also appealing to contemporary tastes and sensibilities.

When writing a comparative review of watches from Vacheron Constantin and Breguet there are many potential pairings to choose from, exactly as someone in the market for a watch might explore. When looking for a luxury sport watch, one might compare Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas Chronograph and Breguet’s Type XXI Flyback Chronograph. If you prefer the avant-garde new watchmaking but want the security of the established brands, Vacheron Constantin’s Quai de l’Ile and Breguet’s La Tradition are each compelling timepieces. For cost-no-object multiple complication time pieces, Vacheron Constantin’s Patrimony Traditionnelle Caliber 2755, with tourbillon, perpetual calendar, and minute repeater can complete with Breguet’s Classique Complication 5447, with perpetual calendar and minute repeater. This review will compare and contrast these brands at their minimalistic best: classic dress watches with manual winding mechanical movements that indicate only the hours and minutes: Vacheron Constantin’s Patrimony Contemporaine, reference 81180, and Breguet’s Classique reference 5967.

Some History

Vacheron Constantin was founded in 1755 by Jean-Marc Vacheron. Not much is known about the early years and work of Vacheron, and until the mid-20th Century with the discovery of a document in the Canton of Geneva’s  archives stating that Jean-Marc Vacheron was taking on an apprentice, Vacheron Constantin itself thought that its founding was in 1785! No matter the early details, the firm developed a reputation for creating beautiful watches of the highest quality.

Francois Constantin joined Vacheron in the 1819 and was the consummate marketer and salesman, pushing the watchmakers to new heights and spreading the reach of the brand into more corners of the world, including the United States in 1833. Georges-Auguste Leschot joined the brand in 1839 and he revolutionized watchmaking by creating the tools that allowed for the mass production of parts with great reliability and accuracy, and these technical developments only furthered the brands reputation for excellence.

Vacheron Constantin kept on top of fashion by being an early adapter to creating wristwatches, and developed many interesting designs that set this new form apart from the classic round pocket watch. We owe the development of the “tonneau” case to Vacheron Constantin. From the 1940’s through the 1960’s Vacheon Constantin along with Patek Philippe made the finest wristwatches in the world. Watches from this period represent a golden age, where thin, elegant, time pieces epitomized the style of the period.

Breguet was founded in 1785 by Abraham-Louis Breguet, and his watches quickly earned him a stellar reputation for quality and inventiveness. The Breguet name is also now an adjective as when we talk about “Breguet hands,” “Breguet overcoils,” and “Breguet numbers.” Abraham-Louis Breguet also invented gong springs for repeating watches, and perhaps most famously, the tourbillon.

The firm survived and thrived after his death, but was eventually sold by Abraham-Louis’s grandson Louis-Clement Breguet to the Brown family in 1870. The Brown family kept production continuous, even through the difficult days of World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, but did not have the capital to allow Breguet to compete with Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe in the post war years. The Browns sold to the renowned jeweler Chaumet in 1970, which was looking for a watchmaking division and respected the heritage that Breguet possessed. Chaumet committed the capital to bring Breguet back to prominence, despite the challenges of the “quartz crisis.” Invescorp purchased Breguet in 1987 and rode the early years of the mechanical renaissance. With Swatchgroup’s purchase of Breguet in 1999, and the attention paid to it by legendary Swatchgroup founder Nicolas Hayek, who invested considerable capital into the technical capabilities of the firm as well as in marketing and distribution, Breguet was finally brought back to the top tier of watchmaking.

The Watches

Vacheron Constantin’s Patrimony Contemporaine was originally introduced in 2004 as the Patrimony “Grande Taille.” It dramatically expanded the size of a simple dress watch for the brand, and the designers thought that it would stand apart as something different yet instilled with the essential characteristic of a Vacheron Constantin dress watch. Prior to its arrival, a simple manual winding two or three hand watch would have been no larger than 36 mm in diameter. Reception of the watch in the marketplace (especially in Italy) was favorable from the start, and now the 40 mm size has become the norm for the brand, rather than the exception!

Breguet, which has been slower than Vacheron Constantin to employ larger cases, introduced the Classique 5967 in 2009. This watch is 41 mm in diameter, and has many of the hallmarks that distinguish a Breguet watch. There is the classic coin edge finishing around the edge of the case, the hand soldered lugs, and a guilloche dial with roman numbers and blued steel Breguet hands. What distinguishes this watch from the more typical Breguet is the particular artfulness of the pattern on the dial.

Historically, Breguet dials featuring guilloche have had one basic pattern on the dial, a tight “clos de paris” pattern. Sometimes watches that had subdials or other power reserve arc might employ a contrasting pattern for that particular indicator, contrasting it from the main dial:

Detail of the contrasting guilloche patterns of the Breguet Reference 3137

Breguet has committed to expanding its expertise in dial making and its in-house artisans have been freed to express their creativity by developing new patterns that can be produced on rose engines. The particular pattern on the 5967 is called “Art Deco Damier,” which translates as checkerboard from the French. The stacked cube design absorbs and reflects light in a dramatic fashion.

The dial for the Patrimony Contemporaine is less dramatic on its appearance, though no less fine in terms of the craftsmanship required in making it. Like with Breuget’s guilloche dials, the base metal of the dial is 18K gold. A subtle point about the dials in the Patrimony Contemporaine series is that the base is made from the same color alloy of gold as the case, so the white gold watch has a white gold dial that has been silvered and the rose gold watch has a rose gold dial that has been silvered. Set the watches side by side and the difference is noticeable, though hard to tell in photos.

On the dial are applied markers to indicate the hours and cabochons for the minutes, giving a hint of depth to the dial. The hands are made from polished gold and are classic baton style, emblematic of Vacheron Constantin since the 1940’s.

Inside the watch is Vacheron Constantin’s manufacture caliber 1400, first introduced in the Malte Grande Classique in 2000. While arguably being the most beautiful caliber made by any brand, with its gorgeously shaped bridges and cocks and stellar finishing which has earned it the Geneva Hallmark, it is a small movement, only 20 mm in diameter and a mere 2.3 mm thick. While a sapphire crystal on the back would look wrong, the small movement does allow for the dial to be curved, a detail that was occasionally used in vintage Vacheron Constantin watches. The solid back leaves plenty of room for an engraving (which Vacheron Constantin’s supremely talented engraver could be commissioned to creates to personalize the watch).

Movement photos by John Davis

The Breguet 5967 is animated by a movement originally designed for pocket watches. The Breguet caliber 506.2, based on Frederic Piguet’s Lepine Caliber 15, is just over 36 mm in diameter and well suited for display through the sapphire crystal case back. This movement is characterized by its thinness, it being all of 1.9 mm thick. Like with most pocket watch movements where the balance can be larger than with wristwatch movement, the beat rate is a more leisurely 21,600 pulsations per hour. While less artfully crafted than the Vacheron Constantin 1400, it is well finished, attractive, easy to service, and reliable.


Both the Vacheron Contantin Patrimony Contemporaine and the Breguet Classique express the distilled essence of their respective makers. Both watches would hold a place of pride any collection, and I would be thrilled to have either or both watches reside in my collection.

At the time of this writing, the respective retail value of the Patrimony and Classique in yellow gold is $13,900 and $16,400. The Patrimony is available in rose gold and platinum while the Classique is not. Respective retail value of each model in white gold is $14,700 and $17,300. I attribute the premium for the Breguet to the extra labor involved in crafting the hand-guilloche dial. I think that both watches are fairly valued in comparison to simple dress watches from other brands (Patek Philippe 5196, Lange Saxonia, and Audemars Piguet 15056).

My only criticism of the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Contemporaine is that the movement is so much smaller than the case (and I could apply this criticism to those even smaller references of Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet above), but I recognize that this is only an intellectual problem, not an aesthetic one. The caliber 1400 was the only in-house option available when the watch was designed, and I value the watch more highly for having this movement than I would if it used an ebauche sourced from some outside supplier. Winding the watch is a true pleasure. Wearing the watch is a joy.

The Breguet Classique 5967 is a contemporary classic. It beautifully combines the timeless stylistic characteristics of the brand with a fashionably appropriate size and visually stunning postmodern textured dial.

Over the course writing this review I came to appreciate the Patrimony Contemporaine for its classic elegance, conservative styling, and contemporary size. Where before I had thought that the American 1921, Patrimony Traditionnelle Self-Winding, or Quai de l'Ile was going to be my next watch, I am actually going to make room in my collection for the 81180. It suits my personality today and I'm confident that it will suit me well for decades to come.


This message has been edited by WHL on 2011-03-05 06:51:46

More posts: 31375447ClassiqueClassique Grande ComplicationClassique Power ReserveHeritageSaxoniaTourbillonType XXType XXI

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What an excellent Review

 By: gimly : March 1st, 2011-03:33
I personally would always go for Breguet, purely because I am A Breguet nut....If I were to buy any other brand it would probably Vacheron or of the best

Thank you for reading....

 By: WHL : March 8th, 2011-09:49
it was fun to write about a brand other than VC for a change. While my passion is for VC, I really appreciate Breguet's work. Bill

Thanks a lot Bill for this superb topic.

 By: foversta : March 7th, 2011-11:25
I am seduced by the 5967... it is the reason why I've just posted a review of this watch. Fr.Xavier

Breguet has kept quiet about the 5967....

 By: WHL : March 8th, 2011-09:50
and the watch seems to be "under the radar." Funny how we both had big articles about it ready to post at the same time. Your review of it is excellent. Bill

Very nice review

 By: ED209 : March 9th, 2011-20:31
Both are beautiful watches, but my preference is still with the Breguet because of the dial appeals more to me. Thanks for a great review and comparison of the VC and Breguet. Regards, ED-209

Thanks Ed.

 By: WHL : March 12th, 2011-12:21
Not that I should be surprised, but responses to the review on the Breguet forum show a preference for the Breguet and on the VC forum a preference for VC! Bill

Very interesting comparison...VC use a small cal in the...

 By: eelstub : March 26th, 2011-14:22
new Aronde as well, though like you say, it's an intellectual thing. Would love to see a comparative review of the Type XXI and the Overseas if you ever do get the chance. Would personally favour a Piguet chrono movement over a Lemania cam movement. If th... 

Thank you for reading....

 By: WHL : April 5th, 2011-08:12
An article comparing the Overseas Chronograph and the Type XXI would have to be quite technical, because the difference in movements is material to the cost difference between the two watches. I realize that comparing the gold Overseas Chronograph with th... 

That's PuristSPro: you come home and read a fanctastic article ...

 By: COUNT DE MONET : April 1st, 2011-07:52
... to calm down from a stressful day at work. Many, many thanks for this great post - very enjoyable. What I like about the VC movement is the usage of a shockabsorber for the anchor wheel (if I am not mistaken). What is your personel opinion about the b... 

Hi Mortiz...

 By: WHL : April 5th, 2011-07:57
Thank you for your kind words on the article. I am a fan of the Boutique Edition watches from VC, which for those who don't know, feature rose gold cases and black dials. Very elegant. If the size of the 40 mm Contemporaine is a problem for you, perhaps a... 

Just found the Traditionelle Boutique on the net ... WOW

 By: COUNT DE MONET : April 5th, 2011-11:17
That is now a VERY tough to decide between both! Read also your review of it and very good to know that VC did not use rhodium for the case, as I like to polish the cases of my wathes myself. That is also a very tempting aspect to choose the Traditionell ...