The term “tourbillon” comes from the French and means “whirlwind”. The watch models known under the name are, as the special name already betrays, something very special that has been mixing up the market for many years. This ingenious masterpiece is a device that compensates for deviations in the accuracy of the movement caused by the uneven effect of the two compensation arms and the resulting center of gravity of the balance, even in the finest movements of mechanical watches. The balance wheel is a small wheel that generates movement, which in turn drives the hands. The more accurate the balance, the more accurate the watch. Each movement, however, makes the balance less precise. For this reason, the escapement parts of the Tourbillon are stored in an extra delicate frame and the entire system rotates jerkily at high speed. This sophisticated production technology manages to neutralize the gravitational force when the timepiece gets stuck in a certain position – thus guaranteeing accuracy. Over time, the classic tourbillon has undergone numerous further developments.
The Tourbillon Evolution
The dream of the Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet was to make the balance wheel work perfectly at all times. The first tourbillon was produced by him around 1795. At that time the production was a month-long act, because every single one of the 80 components had to be made by hand. Nowadays there are CNC machines, but the production is still challenging. Unfortunately, Breguet did not immediately succeed in turning his vision into reality. The tourbillon technology was also powerless in the case of the many moving watches. In 1896, the Danish pocket watch manufacturer Bahne Bonniksen began to manufacture so-called “carousel clocks”, in which the mainspring barrel acted as a rotary bearing and the movement as well as the balance were mounted on a rotating carousel.
The clock regularly carried out a position compensation with a complete rotation, which made the advantages of the Tourbillon usable for the first time without disadvantages. In 1920 the watchmaker trainer Alfred Helwig invented the “flying tourbillon”, a special further development of the Breguet tourbillon, which dispensed with the upper bridge for mounting the cage.
It is only mounted on the underside of the cage. Another well known version is the “Gyro-Tourbillon” of the Swiss brand Jaeger-LeCoultre, which is only able to compensate static disturbances and not dynamic ones, which are caused for example by vibrations. The Gyro Tourbillon has a complex mechanism that rotates the balance wheel around three axes. The accuracy of the balance, however, is of secondary importance and the technical refinement is in the foreground.
In addition, Greubel Forsey even launched a double version with the name “Double Tourbillon 30” in 2004. The watch has an additional smaller tourbillon built into the tourbillon frame. The tourbillon, which is angled by 30 degrees, further improves the accuracy of the movement through the interaction of the two cages, which are inclined at an angle to each other, because these cages cancel out the rate deviations caused by gravity – and this in really all positions. Four years later, Greubel Forsey produced this gem with even more technical sophistication: The “Quadruple Tourbillon à différentiel” contains two double Tourbillons in one case. This timepiece also has a spherical differential that links the four tourbillon frames together. This guarantees an even transmission of power. The development of the movement took a whole five years, it contains 531 individual parts specially made for this watch and the polishing and decoration of the movement alone took 500 hours. On the basis of these data, a production of only six pieces per year is possible. Considering the enormous effort of production, this model is even a bargain for a million dollars. Meanwhile, there are enough copies on the market for only a few thousand euros, mostly from China and Russia. However, these do not necessarily offer the best quality and of course cannot offer the special feeling that the impressive original conveys.
Popular classic all the time
Nowadays, the position compensation is partly only a technical gimmick, but plays with some watches but actually still a role, especially in terms of aesthetics and elegance. In addition, other tourbillon types are still being developed and the classic is being reissued again and again. This special type of watch is still in great demand, even though it is so price-intensive due to its elaborate and time-consuming manufacture. The demand among lovers does not stop, because the fascinating timepiece type stands for technical refinement Deluxe. Every collector would like to have one of the unique pieces in his collection. The complicated workmanship is something very fine – and connoisseurs appreciate it. The special charisma of the Tourbillon is particularly evident in some wristwatches. The small filigree pieces of jewellery are particularly suitable for more exclusive models, which justifies the usually high price. For school watches with tourbillon collectors often pay six-digit amounts. However, buyers should be on their guard against cheap counterfeits and at best rely on a well known dealer. Especially as a layman in this field, it is often difficult to determine whether it is a tourbillon or an open balance. Those who want to buy such a high-quality watch that is also worth its price should play it safe.
The most popular models
There is a wide range of tourbillon watches on offer, because the special timepiece is often a kind of calling card for ambitious master watchmakers. Today, every brand with a name has a model as a masterly showpiece in its assortment. Due to its technical sophistication, the dial of the watch is always opened to allow a clear view of the fine component. Below is a presentation of ten tourbillons that are something very special and give you a glimpse of the diversity of the market. Who knows, perhaps your personal favourite will be one of them. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar:
The German cult manufacturer A. Lange & Söhne also offers tourbillons. The Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar model combines a tourbillon with a perpetual calendar – an unusual combination. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon GMT Concept: The open design offers a modern technical sensation with a particularly appealing look. Its look is stylish and sporty, making it ideal for those who prefer a down-to-earth tradition rather than bells and whistles.
A classic that will never go out of fashion. In addition, the watch delivers acoustic pleasure thanks to the loudest and clearest minute repeater on the market.
Blancpain Tourbillon Carrousel: Blancpain is known above all for its carousel watches, Tourbillon models are rarely seen. However, the highlight of the house is the Tourbillon Carrousel, a watch that combines both technical highlights.
A real feast for the eyes. Breitling for Bentley Mulliner Tourbillon: There is also the ideal tourbillon option for all fans of the traditional Swiss Breitling brand. The Bentley Mulliner Tourbillon is a particularly noble piece that you simply have to love. Classically elegant design meets the highest watchmaking artistry – style and technology at the highest level. Breguet Tradition Répétition Minutes Tourbillon: This timepiece is something very special – here the tourbillon technology is actually stolen the show, because the focus is on the innovatively designed minute repeater.
The two newly shaped tongues are attached to the bezel and struck from the movement side – one of them even goes beyond the tourbillon escapement! Cartier Rotonde de Cartier Earth and Moon: Cartier has come up with something quite unusual for this timepiece – the tourbillon of the Rotonde de Cartier Earth and Moon is concealed to indicate the phases of the moon. If you use the pusher on the four, the meteorite disk slides in front of the tourbillon, so that the remaining part of the rotation represents the moon phase – crazy and ingenious at the same time.
Hublot MP 05 LaFerrari Sapphire: Another special case is this jewel from Hublot. The watch is transparent and a very special eye-catcher, because the vertical tourbillon ideally complements the eleven also vertically arranged barrels.
Thanks to these, a remarkable autonomy of 50 days is possible! Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon: The Sky Moon Tourbillon by Patek Philippe contains an impressive number of complications, including some of the most complex. A minute repeater with a striking mechanism with two “cathedral” sound springs, the tourbillon and a perpetual calendar with a retrograde hand date are just the showpieces of the front. On the back, the timepiece also has a stardate and map, as well as moon phases and angle movements. The lugs, case, crowns, sliders and hands are all engraved by hand. This watch is clearly one of the most breathtaking in the world. TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02 Tourbillon:
This tourbillon comes with a chronograph, automatic winding mechanism and chronometer certificate, but in an industrialized design – a particularly interesting mixture. The open, symmetrical construction is also a guaranteed eye-catcher. Ulysse Nardin Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon: The Tourbillon is the only classic part of this watch. Ulysse has come up with something quite different for the time display here.
The watch has a jumping hour with two separate discs and a minute hand, which is drawn over a linear scale from the sides. The rollers that move the thread are reminiscent of the winches that tension the mast when sailing. Of course, each of the “ticking whirlwinds” has its price, which often causes dizzy spells – exclusive pieces can cost up to one million euros. But don’t forget what kind of work of art you are holding in your hands. This makes a tourbillon a very noble and beautiful status symbol with special significance – an investment that pays off.
This post is also available in: German