Tourbillon watches: A marvel of mechanics
The word to describe what is inarguably the most revered complication in the world of watches is borrowed from the French language – “Tourbillon” meaning “whirlwind”, as the name describes, is a component that turns 360 degrees within a watch. To be precise, the escapement, which is found in all mechanical watches, is modified to make a full rotation every minute in order to counter the gravitational force that is exerted on it. This is to improve the overall accuracy of the watch and because of their mesmerising mechanics and the sheer skill that goes into creating this masterpiece, tourbillons are held in very high regard amongst watch enthusiasts.
A whirlwind on the wrist – a closer look at the tourbillon and its functions
The tourbillon was invented in 1795 by Abraham-Louis Breguet, the legendary watchmaking visionary. The patent was granted to Breguet in 1801 in Paris. The complications prime function was to compensate for inaccuracies caused by changes in a pocket watch’s position relative to the gravitational force that was exerted on the watch.
The Breguet Tourbillon’s escapement is placed within a carriage that makes a full revolution in regular intervals around the centre seconds pinion. Due to that rotation, the gravitational force is exerted in equal parts at each point of the escapement, in essence negating the effect of gravity on the critical points of the movement by taking it out of the equation, thus correcting for gravitational error.
Unlike a pocket watch, wristwatches are usually in frequent motion throughout the day, thus achieving the same effect a tourbillon would on a static timepiece. Nonetheless, the ability to create tourbillon is equatable to a badge of honour in horology, as it is at the pinnacle of fine watchmaking. Its purpose may be primarily aesthetical, but it is a spectacular addition to a watch that is held in high regard for good reason.
The Tourbillon: variants and innovations
Throughout history, several different variations on the tourbillon have been created. From the Tourbillon to the Gyrotourbillon, let us have a look at the different creations the great masters of horology have invented.
The Danish watchmaker Bahne Bonniksen invented what is called a “Carrousel” to achieve the same function as a tourbillon. Unlike the tourbillon though, it is mounted on an additional gear to connect it to the wheel train. The balance spring and balance wheel remains centred within the carriage as it rotates. This alternative to the tourbillon is reminiscent of a carrousel, but it is heavier than the tourbillon. It rotates hypnotically to make a full revolution at regular intervals.
In 1920, the watchmaker master Alfred Helwig invented the flying tourbillon. In this exciting development of the Breguet tourbillon, the bridge that holds the cage is dispensed with and the tourbillon is only held from the bottom-side, allowing a clear view of the mechanics of the tourbillon.
The Gyrotourbillon created by the Swiss watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre is also a development of the classic tourbillon. The basic tourbillon is capable of counteracting the effect of gravity on the watch when in static positions, yet not when in frequent motion, say as whilst jogging. The Gyrotourbillon, on the other hand, has a complex mechanism which continuously rotates the escapement around three axes. The improvement in accuracy is rather secondary though, more so is the technical achievement and the visual delight the tourbillon provides which motivates watchmakers to create what is essentially a piece of art, and that is exactly what Jaeger LeCoultre’s marvellous Gyrotourbillon is.
Double Tourbillon and double-axis tourbillon
The Double Tourbillon was introduced in 2004 by the watchmaker Greubel Forsey, called the "Double Tourbillon 30". It showcases a smaller tourbillon within a larger carriage which itself rotates. This is done to further improve the accuracy of the watch. In 2003, the German watchmaker Thomas Prescher developed the Mysterious Automatic Double Axis Tourbillon. As the tourbillon turns around two axes, the precision of the pocket or wristwatch is meant to be improved. In 2004, Thomas Prescher further pushed the envelope when he created the Triple Axis Tourbillon.
The Top Tourbillon watches
Numerous watch brands offer tourbillon models in their collections. To be sure, the tourbillon is a highlight amongst watches and enjoys a status of great esteem.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon
Jaeger-LeCoultre is the quintessential watchmaker’s brand. The magnificent models they produce are powered by exceptionally reliable and beautiful tourbillons manufactured in-house. Truly, the Swiss watchmaker reaches new heights of artistry in watchmaking with their creations. Jaeger-LeCoultre channels decades of experience together with modern technical finesse into these watches, producing models beyond admiration. Dazzling examples of this are their Gyrotourbillon watches, whether the which are sold in very limited numbers.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon GMT Concept
Audemars Piguet a high-calibre manufacturer of tourbillon watches. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon GMT Concept combines a creation of haute horlogerie with a watch of legendary status, the Royal Oak. The remarkable watch is convincingly stylish and sporty. For those looking for something less avant-garde, the Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Tourbillon is a fine example of a classic tourbillon. The mesmerising revolving escapement at 6 o’clock is the work of the master watchmakers at Audemars Piguet – an impressive feat showcasing their artisanship.
A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar
It is not only the Swiss that have mastered the art of the tourbillon. The German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne, nestled in the quiet town of Glashütte, produces magical machines of beauty. One of these is the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calender, which combines two ingenious complications, namely a tourbillon with a perpetual calendar – truly remarkable.
Breguet Classique Grande Complication Tourbillon
Let us not forget the inventor of the tourbillon: Breguet. The watchmaking company, founded in 1775, has produced some of the most spectacular wonders in the world of watches. Amongst these is the Breguet Classique Grande Complication Tourbillon, a masterful creation in the realm of haute horlogerie. The bridge of this model enshrines the tourbillon elegantly, framing and creating a focus on the heart and highlight of this piece.
TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon
The TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T is a true value proposition amongst tourbillon watches. Released by TAG Heuer at Baselworld to amazement and shock, it offers tourbillon model at an unfathomably low price. Not only this, it is a bold, handsome, and a thoroughly impressive model. The cage of the tourbillon is fashioned from titanium and carbon fibre, keeping in with the dark-coloured visage of the whole model. The skeletonised dial allows one to see the tourbillon, as well as the mainspring barrel at 12 o'clock. A limited “Black Panther” edition is almost completely black and there are only 250 of them that were produced by TAG Heuer.
Breitling for Bentley Mulliner Tourbillon
Breitling has also launched several tourbillon watches to add to their impressive range of models. One of these striking tourbillons is the Breitling for Bentley Mulliner Tourbillon. This impressive timepiece marries classic and elegant design with the highest level of watchmaking artisanship.
Girard-Perregaux Tourbillon With Three Bridges
Girard-Perregaux offers grandiose tourbillon models in their “Haute Horlogerie” collection. For the discerning gentleman, the Girard-Perregaux segment offers impressively striking tourbillon watches. The three-bridge design Girard-Perregaux has conceived is as elegant as the tourbillon itself. All the models in their “Haute Horlogerie” collection are a wonder to behold – refined, stunning, and beguiling.
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Traditional Tourbillon
The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Traditional Tourbillon is a magnificent watch. Its grand appearance and impressive mechanics make it a favoured contender amongst the most refined of tourbillon models.