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Hands-On The Breguet Classique 5177 Grand Feu Blue Enamel

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What is Breguet known for? For the majority of readers of this site, this question will probably bring a few answers to mind: Certainly, it's known for its eponymous founder, one the greatest watchmakers of all time and probably the single best known practitioner of the horological arts. It's also known for its classical designs, some of which have been adapted from historically interesting pocket watches in order to function as wristwatch designs. It's known for its complications – chief among them the tourbillon, which A.L Breguet himself invented. And it's known for its dials – most often of the hand guilloché type, made by artisans in-house in the Vallé de Joux on antique rose engines. (I've never seen a place, in Switzerland or elsewhere, where so many of these machines are in use.) Less frequently talked about but equally impressive in the Breguet catalog are its grand feu enamel dials. Today, we're going hands-on with a watch equipped with one such dial made in a beautiful blue tone.

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The Classique 5711 Grand Feu Blue Enamel came out earlier this year, but it's quite possible you missed this release; Breguet did not participate in Baselworld, and this reference was rolled out in a soft launch back in February. It's a 38mm white gold automatic dress watch with a finely fluted case and a crown signed with the Breguet "B." While this specific take on the Classique 5177 with its dial in blue enamel is new, the reference itself has been around for over a decade and is a mainstay of the Breguet catalog. With its straight, narrow lugs, minimalist aesthetic, and its use of open-tipped Breguet hands, which Breguet calls "moon-tipped," the 5177 is easily among Breguet's best-known modern watches.

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While certainly not an uncommon quality for a Breguet dress watch, there is a restrained, conservative aesthetic at play here that I for one find calming and reassuring. The dial seems to be where this aesthetic is most deeply felt, starting with its rich blue color, which was inspired by the blued steel watch hands typically found on the 5177. That color has effectively been transposed to the dial itself, and rhodium-plated steel Breguet hands have been employed to provide visual contrast and optimize legibility. Similar to traditionally blued steel watch hands, this watch's dial is achieved through the application of heat, in this case extreme heat.

The unique grain of a grand feu enamel is achieved by subjecting the enamel powder to kiln firings in excess of 800 degrees Celsius; during these firings, the pigments have to remain constant. Moreover, the enamel itself mustn't warp or crack. This of course can and often does happen, and dials with errors have to be discarded. I think our photographs here capture the essence of this special dial quite well, but a grand feu enamel dial, with all its nuance, really is one of those things that you have to see in person to fully grasp. Near the six o'clock position, there is a "secret signature" etched into the dial. Such signatures have been a feature of certain Breguet timepieces since 1795, when it was created by A.-L. Breguet himself. You can't see it just by casually looking at the dial, of course. If you could, it wouldn't be a secret. You have to closely inspect it and tilt it the light just the right way. 

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There is a rigid adherence to design language that marks many Breguet dress watches. Beyond the  dial, with its open-tipped hands and its Breguet numerals, there is the already familiar 5177 case. The two most prominent aspects of this design are its fluted caseband and its lugs, which lend an antique look to the watch, as if recalling a pocket watch whose lugs might have been fused on as an afterthought. And indeed, these lugs are not part of a single block of metal with the case. They've been welded on to it to achieve a look that is right in line with the Breguet Classique range.

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The caliber 777Q is a modern take on classic watchmaking. It's nicely decorated and finished in the traditional manner that marks Breguet watches, but it has some modern updates in the form of silicon components, including for the hairspring, the escape wheel, and the lever. These lend an amagnetic quality to the watch as a whole and also help the movement to run more smoothly with less lubrication. Breguet was an early adopter of silicon technology, and the company has fully committed to its use. There is a dichotomy at play when you see an enamel or a guilloché dial sitting atop a movement with silicon components, but Breguet, for its part, embraces it. Caliber 777Q runs at a standard frequency of 4 Hz and has a power reserve of 55 hours. The rotor here is in white gold, and it has a nice wave pattern that makes up for the lack of guilloché decoration on the dial. 

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I had the chance to try the Classique 5177 on for a few minutes during a visit to New York's Breguet boutique, and I found that it wore quite comfortably. If you've never tried on a 5177, the lugs have what you might expect would be a fairly rigid, unergonomic structure to them. You might be a bit surprised by the watch's comfort; it felt great on my seven-inch wrist. The Breguet Classique 5177 Grand Feu Blue Enamel ticks all the boxes that lovers of Breguet design codes want and expect, but with a bit of a twist on what has been done by Breguet in the past. The retail price is $23,700.

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