Breguet X Frieze London: In Conversation with Lionel a Marca
Words and interview by Patrick Boyle
Breguet and Pablo Bronstein present the second iteration of their partnership at Frieze London 2022. The international contemporary art fair saw 160 galleries from across the globe gather in Regent’s Park to showcase the world’s most significant artists, from the emerging to the iconic.
The collaboration between Breguet and Frieze commenced this year and will run until 2024. Frieze has established itself as one of the world’s principal voices in contemporary culture, recognised for being avant-garde, creative and innovative. These traits made for a natural fit with Breguet, a Swiss watchmaker steeped in a rich history of innovation and design, stemming from its founder Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1775. Each year, Breguet will collaborate with an artist from a selection proposed by the contemporary art fair to create a series of works for the watchmaker. The first is renowned Argentinian artist Pablo Bronstein. Bronstein’s work spans print and drawings, to choreography and performance, always with a focus on architecture.
“I am within the realm of aesthetics. I’m not trained as an architect. I have no real interest in structure and how buildings stay up. I love the aesthetic of buildings staying up, I love cranes and scaffolding and machinery and all of these things. But I don’t care if they work or not. In the wallpaper for Breguet, the machines aren’t real, they are ambivalent machines. They don’t really need to work” – Pablo Bronstein
Bronstein has created four wallpapers in total for Breguet, one for each Frieze Fair 2022. The wallpapers chart the rise and fall of a machine, creating a narrative arch across the different fairs.
“In the first wallpaper in New York, the machines are classically proportioned, they look beautifully preserved in space. Everything is clean. This is a guillotine, this is a drill and so on. Then in Seoul, it is about the machine at its height. The machines are talking to each other and everything is working. And then in London, it is machine meltdown, civil war, mayhem. In Los Angeles, it will be post-apocalyptic. Which for me feels appropriate for Los Angeles” – Pablo Bronstein
The Breguet lounge at Frieze London immerses visitors in the world of the brand. Historical pocket watches from Breguet’s archive and timepieces from their latest collections are showcased side by side within the theatre of Bronstein’s panoramic wallpaper. Guillochage demonstrations from an artisan of the watchmaker’s workshop display the labour-intensive processes involved in intricate detailing for design and function. The technique is a distinct hallmark of the house. Introduced by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1786, the process is still employed to this day.
Lionel a Marca is one of the rare watchmakers at the helm of a renowned Swiss luxury watch brand. Respecting the watchmaking heritage of the house and the visionary spirit of its founder, Breguet’s CEO is focused on drawing from the past to create the future. As the watchmaker approaches its 250th anniversary, I sit down with Mr A. Marca in the library of The NoMad Hotel to discuss the collaboration between Breguet and Frieze, the future of the company under his leadership and the everchanging watch industry.
How did the partnership with Frieze and the collaboration with contemporary artist Pablo Bronstein come about?
Abraham-Louis Breguet was a designer ahead of his time. He not only introduced a refined, elegant and minimalistic style in watchmaking, but he also created a watch aesthetic allowing optimal readability for the user. Which is a completely revolutionary approach for a time when the Baroque spirit was in fashion. It is therefore natural that contemporary art has become an interesting theme for Breguet today. Frieze highlights contemporary artists who are just as revolutionary in their approach to art as Breguet is in watchmaking and it is for this reason that we wanted to partner with them. Frieze suggested us three artists from which we selected Pablo Bronstein. I felt that the latter, with his interest in architecture, the 19th century and the industrial revolution was the ideal person. If you look at the Tradition Line, which is the one highlighted in our collaboration with Frieze this year, you can easily understand that our universes connect with each other.
How do you balance staying true to the incredible heritage of Breguet, while ensuring that you innovate to the changing consumer?
The past is very interesting. I want to draw on the past to create the future of the brand.here to preserve Breguet’s heritage, but of course watchmaking is evolving and I’m going to use some elements from the past to introduce a new approach in watchmaking, something that will appeal to watch enthusiasts. Breguet clients should be people who are not simply interested in wearing a watch because it is trendy, but who are interested in the history that the watch conveys, in the heritage of our House and in what our founder brought to watchmaking. In all the six collections, each has its own story to tell, and this year at Frieze we wanted to highlight the Tradition line.
You are a trained watch maker. What advantages do you think that this brings you in your role as CEO of Breguet?
Obviously, my training as a watchmaker and repairer is a great asset for me. It allows me to have a good knowledge of the product, the technique and the development. Exchanges are thus, facilitated with certain departments.
How do you see the watch industry changing?
Like many others, watch trends are cyclical. Large, complicated, with or without a heavy dial, traditional… watchmaking is a perpetual renewal. Today, I see above all a return to the vintage, to more classic dials. But obviously the search for innovation is constant, you can see this with the number of patents filed each year. At Breguet, we don’t follow trends because our brand is timeless. Our goal is to bring successful new products to the market that add value to our entire collection. It is important to emphasize that reliability is very important at Breguet. All our parts and components undergo a series of tests before a timepiece is launched. My main priority is the satisfaction of the customer who wears a Breguet on their wrist. It must be an extremely reliable watch. Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to speak to several Breguet customers, who own a number of Breguet watches. None of them mentioned any technical issues with any of their watches. It’s a source of pride for me. Technically perfect. The customer must be satisfied, it is the priority.
What can we expect to see from Breguet in the future? Do you see Breguet engaging in collaborations with more artists and other brands?
For me, loyalty is a key value. I will not be looking for other art fairs that we can associate with. Of course, we have other partnerships in the fields of arts, such as our sponsorship with the Teatro Real in Madrid and the legendary Carnegie Hall, but I will continue to work with Frieze because I really like our common approach in this partnership. Every year we will commission a different artist, next year will be another story to tell. Pablo Bronstein’s final artwork will be in Los Angeles in February, and after that we’ll have a new artist, new vision, new collaboration.
What watch are you wearing today?
Today, I am wearing a titanium Marine watch. Usually, I rather wear the model 7057 in rose gold from the Tradition collection. With my past as a watchmaker, I particularly like this model where you can see all the movement on the dial side. Also, that it is a manual winding piece, I like having this interaction with the watch that I have to wind it every day when I wake up.