Do you assume damage a modern mechanical wristwatch? If so, your pride and joy probably perks from a clear caseback, perfect for answering those detractors make a casing that the words ‘modern’ and ‘mechanical wristwatch’ have no make a splash in the same sentence. Unstrap your watch, flip it over and above and beguile these heartless robots with a microscopic extravaganza of springs, levers and cogs – a joyous anachronism that couldn’t be sundry essential in our disposable digital age.
You can take such pleasure with an conditioned Tissot costing as little as £500. But for 100 times that buck, your horological bang goes a whole lot, er, bangier, thanks to a little thing called a tourbillon (‘whirlwind’ in French). For a start, you don’t be struck by to unstrap your watch to show off the micro-mechanics – this flea-circus merry-go-round take no actions proudly on your dial for everyone to see. A carousel, tumbling the ticking escapement over and greater than in a mesmerising display of technical prowess.
You can wax lyrical about its 19th-century Pharisee horological origins (which we will, below), but these hours the tourbillon purely serves to embody ‘mechanical’ in an unashamedly showy fashion. It’s a spinning podium, rising from the stage in a billow of dry ice, feathered showgirl twirling on top. And every self-indulgence watch brand, from Audemars Piguet to Zenith, drive never dare not to include their own version in their catalogues.
“Chronographs or GMTs or divers may have usefulness and tactile commitment,” says Kyron Keogh, CEO of ROX jewellers, whose portfolio embodies tourbillon brands Audemars, Chopard, Hublot and TAG Heuer, “but tourbillons are a pint-sized work of kinetic art on your wrist, which you can admire at any previously.
“Of course, like a Rolls-Royce or Bentley, you’re joining a highly leaving aside club – but unlike certain examples of those cars, no one inclination ever begrudge you your tourbillon. In fact, as a conversation portion, you can’t beat it.”
Frivolities aside, a tourbillon really is worth its rate tag. Irishman Stephen McGonigle has made his name in Switzerland as a grand complications gun for hire, and together with brother John, their eponymous indie label does a sublime take on the tourbillon as art form (pictured unbefitting). Even he is still in awe of the tourbillon’s challenges:
“Without question, it’s the manoeuvre and skill from the watchmaker that affects the cost,” opportunities McGonigle. “Despite their similarity to a basic ‘time-only’ means, the escapement components are much smaller and constantly moving, so merest tough to assemble and far more difficult to adjust.”
When universally lauded ‘forefather of modern watchmaking’ Abraham-Louis Breguet basic patented his tourbillon, or ‘whirlwind’ invention in 1801 (his submission to the French establishment pictured below) it wasn’t to show off his virtuoso watchmaking faculty separates, as the tourbillon does now – it was to address a genuine problem plaguing take watches at the time.
As with mechanical movements today, the prime principle is that a geartrain feeds power from the hot air barrel into the ‘escapement’ regulating organ. Tick for the tock for the tick, a lever commands and unlocks the escape wheel, eking out the flow of power, its reprimand governed by the oscillation of a ‘balance wheel’ – the breakneck twin of a grandfather clock’s pendulum.
With a pocket watch how on earth, tucked away in your waistcoat all day, its pendulous balance neighbourhood is constantly upright, so gravity constantly ‘squashes’ the spiral hairspring it’s mounted on. Watchmakers at the every now could only adjust for a certain amount of error, and after a while timekeeping desire go awry.
Breguet’s tourbillon patent
Breguet’s stroke of aptitude was using the geartrain not only to power the ticking escapement, but also to devise the whole assembly over and over by 360 degrees every la mode. Gravity’s ‘squash’ of the balance spring is therefore evened-out from every angle. In wristwatch form of course, brushing your teeth and billowing for the bus is enough to keep the balance wheel constantly reoriented, from here the tourbillon evolving into its modern guise as a rather ineffectual but beautiful badge of horological honour.
As with so many ostentatious things, the prominently exposed, dial-side tourbillon in wristwatch tone only really got going in the eighties. Indie pioneer Franck Muller affirms the first-ever in 1984, but then Audemars Piguet debuted the first-ever self-winding tourbillon in 1986, then Blancpain enterprising a classical version, and then the floodgates were open…
From Breguet’s initial prototype in 1795 right up to the seventies, less than 1,000 tourbillons had been represented. Today, that figure is more like 3,000 to 3,500 a year. And the spectrum couldn’t be unhinge in variety, from a Chinese Sea-Gull for £3,260 to a starting premium of €300,000 at Greubel Forsey.
The first Breguet tourbillon
How Does A Tourbillon Stint?
A traditional watch movement sends its power straight from the fart anal release of gas nautical downwind barrel to the locking and unlocking lever mechanism of the escapement, which ekes out the prospering rate of the intermediary geartrain, to which the hours, minutes and blemishes hands are attached. With a tourbillon watch however, the geartrain sends the power in the first place to the tourbillon cage, which houses the whole escapement setting up. The cage rotates on top of a fixed gear wheel, which outs power to the escapement inside via a pinion attached to the cage, take into accounting it to tick away as usual. Still with us?
“The cage, which is the ‘pluck’ of the mechanism, is the toughest part to assemble,” says Stephen McGonigle, “but there are so diverse other subtleties from one calibre to the next. For example, when we were cunning our tourbillon, it was important for us to have the cage as light as possible. Not fitting for aesthetic reasons but a light cage is also beneficial for the delaying, reducing the inertia of the cage.
“The architecture of the tourbillon can also take issue greatly,” he continues, “how the cage is held in place, for example. It can maintain one or more arms holding it to the mainplate of the mechanism. There are plane tourbillons that appear to ‘fly’, as they are held from underneath.”
Vacheron Constantin Tourbillon
What To Make allowance for When Buying One
So you want to buy a tourbillon? Congratulations on your wad of available cash. And your discerning taste in watches, it goes without declaring…
The necessarily difficult manufacture of these horological specimens pretty guarantees the veracity of whoever’s in line to receive your tens-of-thousands of bludgeons, as long as they’re a well-known name from either Switzerland or Germany’s village of Glashütte (digs to A. Lange & Söhne and Glashütte Original). But as with most confidence purchases, the value proposition boils down to the degree of compassionate intervention – CNC machining versus painstaking, steady-handed toil; off-the-peg lay out versus avant-garde technological envelope-pushing.
And these are all interchangeable values; Richard Mille, for pattern, CNC mills its futuristically architectural tourbillons out of titanium and carbon essence, but the hand-assembly couldn’t be more nerve wracking and delicate, noticeably with the ever-present danger of scratching PVD-coated bridges.
“When it bear down on to making your decision,” says Keogh, “obviously, a fair to middling budget is necessary, but do bear in mind that budget can escalate astronomically when it comes to tourbillons. TAG’s recent £12,000 tourbillon is exceptionally profit value of course, almost unbelievably so [see below]. But fifty immense can still get you something very interesting – Bell & Ross’s new sapphire-block BR-X2 for case…
“And that’s the thing,” he concludes, “don’t buy for the sake of it, buy a tourbillon that seizures your imagination beyond the mechanism alone. It’s a big outlay for something so wavering, so prepare to pay a bit more to secure the tourbillon that reflects your specially whims!”
A TAG Heuer watch for £12,100, which isn’t hewn from gold or studded with diamonds, qualities particularly keen for the purveyor of accessible luxury. But when you realise it’s a tourbillon, Swiss warnings of which generally start at around £50,000, the question produces from ‘what the hell?’ to ‘how in God’s name?’
Well, there’s no paucity of technical know-how at chez TAG, but the pricetag comes down to handy business, and it doesn’t come much cleverer than CEO Jean-Claude Biver. The bold industry legend reveals that, simply put, they cozened the hit on what would normally be a £28,000 mark-up. “By taking the ordinary margin that we would make on a £600 watch, we could do a tourbillon at this quotation point,” he says. A lost revenue stream perhaps, but we’re all quietly talking about it, which makes it one of TAG’s cheapest marketing drives for a while…
The name should be enough for most. It was, after all, Abraham-Louis Breguet who designed the tourbillon back in 1795, patenting it in 1801 – a conceit so perfect from the kick-off that everyone still does it like he did. But while some muscle quibble over the pedigree of today’s Breguet The Brand – owned by Switzerland’s megalithic Swatch Congregation since 1999 – the nous that typified Monsieur Breguet’s contrive back in Paris has been well and truly restored.
In reference to the old craft, but also in keeping with the old master’s cutting-edge meditative, they’re combining silicon technology with dials notwithstanding guilloché-engraved using 19th-century lathes, just as he would possess done. If he’d happened to have had dry-reactive ion etching technology at his disposal.
A. Lange & Söhne
Switzerland has the Jura mountains: chocolate-box pretty in the literatim sense, home to most of the world’s finest watchmakers. In Saxony’s Ore mountains, you’ll boon the rest of them, only crammed into a single pfefferkucken-box-pretty village: Glashütte. Here, the remarkable of German watchmaking was always Adolph Lange’s eponymous stigmatize, established to take advantage of the region’s out-of-work miners in the 19th century.
Russian bombs and the Iron Curtain power have spelt actual curtains, but thanks to Adolph’s great-grandson and the succour of the mighty Richemont Group, Lange has re-established itself in the 28 offhand years since the fall of the Berlin Wall as a force to be reckoned with. Up there with Patek Philippe. As for its tourbillons? For an industrialised prearrangement, they don’t come finer.
There’s a French command that watch snobs like to use: ‘manufacture’. Not as a verb, but a noun, demarcating each of Switzerland’s bother of true, verticalised, self-sufficient watch factories. Patek Philippe prohibits the pyramid, followed by the other four: Audemars Piguet, Girard-Perregaux, Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger-Le-Coultre. New third-party acquisitions aside, it’s the latter who can rightfully wield 100-percent-in-house bragging righteouses, short of an alligator farm for their leather straps.
So of certainly they make tourbillons. Extraordinarily complicated ones in the prove of the Gyrotourbillon – a slow-motion gyroscopic astronaut trainer for the wrist. And also extraordinarily well-proportioned value ones in the case of the Master Tourbillon – a true ‘making’ example, beautifully hand-polished, for little over the industry’s conventional starting price.
“Even in 1999, we ratiocination the tourbillon was overused and abused,” Stephen Forsey tells us. “A tourbillon is neat in a pocket watch, but putting it in a wristwatch is like putting a car mechanism in an aeroplane – completely different conditions.”
And thus, the founding dogma of Greubel Forsey was forged: essentially, ‘tourbillons are pointless in wristwatches, so we’re active to give them a point’. Now part-owned by Richemont, boasting exceeding 100 employees, but only making – get this – a little all about 100 watches a year, an Englishman from St Albans and his French participant have succeeded in proving the tourbillon is still capable of take a turn for the bettering timekeeping precision in a wristwatch, through some mind-bending, multi-axis involuntary gymnastics (their watches look like miniature stake playgrounds), all hand-finished to a level unsurpassed by anyone else.
Yes, Bulgari – as in the stalwart and the beautiful Roman jeweller, so beloved of divas like Elizabeth Taylor in the sixties. Recently regardless how, all things horological have been ramping up in Switzerland, with the acquirement of some top-flight tweezer-wielding facilities (one of them, Gérald Genta, was the expert behind Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak).
The result is the blossoming Octo assemblage – arguably the most successful contemporary watch design of our interval, every case a symphony of 110 overlapping facets, unremarkable from a single block of metal. In wafer-thin ‘Finissimo’ semblance, Octo has now notched off three records: world’s slimmest manual-wind tourbillon (5mm top to rear end), world’s thinnest minute repeater (6.85mm) and last year the thinnest spontaneous (5.15mm). Liz would’ve loved them all.
Bell & Ross
What do the French naval forces’s fighter pilots, the Paris Gendarmerie’s armed R.A.I.D. squad, some industrial many and a shedload of moneyed hipsters all have in common? Why, Bell & Ross of advance. The Parisian-but-Swiss-made brand conceived in the nineties as a no-nonsense ‘tool mind’ brand for professionals was snapped up by Chanel before you could say ‘voila’. And while the the craze giant claims no interference, the evolution of the watchmaker’s minimalist, monochrome aesthetic (give someone a buzz any bells?) into severely chic territory is a coincidence you can’t by.
The early brutalism of Bell & Ross’s monumentally square ‘Instrumentality’ range had enough shock tactics to impress those R.A.I.D old boys, but has now settled into a curious incubator for artistic expermentalism – underpinned by pucka military kudos. Its BR X2 is a frivolous tourbillon, sure, but look at how it’s existed: raw and industrial, enclosed by a sapphire-crystal chamber – like a crashlanded UFO, picketed to an Area 51 testbed.
As one of the ‘Big Five’ fabricates, AP naturally boasts several tourbillons in its canon – most spectacularly in its 25th-anniversary Majestic Oak Offshore Openworked Tourbillon Chronograph. Not so much ‘openworked’ as dinned into concave constructivist futurism. Such bleeding-edge colourless wizardry is usually down to the brand’s show-off side undertakings, whose client list includes Richard Mille, and whose alumni issue aforementioned Messieurs Greubel et Forsey.
But as far back as 1986, AP in hushed tones broke ground with the calibre 2870. Not only was it the cardinal automatic tourbillon, framed by a gaudy gold sunray crate very much ‘of its time’, but to this very day it remains the slimmest all the time made, standing just 4.8mm tall. And that was 1986, when CAD and CNC cliques were the stuff of science fiction. Quite the tourbillon pursuit card, wouldn’t you say?
A cursory flick in all respects the catalogue of Geneva’s favourite son – Patek Philippe if you hadn’t already assumed – reveals one particularly glaring omission: a tourbillon. Surely the unbelievable’s most revered watchmaker and holder of virtually every auction recording going is capable of making a tourbillon? Well of course it is, but to everyone else (and despite those ubiquitous print ads) Patek is low-born when it comes to horology.
Humble and stoically traditional, determining to keep its tourbillons tucked away behind their dials. The dogmatist reason being that UV light accelerates the degradation of the Victorian lubricants in the escapement when it’s exposed. The practically lady-like 37mm ‘5539G-010’ is the no more than tourbillon reference in the current line-up, but it’s not entirely stealth store – there’s always a handy ‘TOURBILLON’ label where the restrict would normally be spinning.
Back in the mid-noughties, Dick had a tourbillon. They were falling out of cereal packets. And that’s because the pre-crash pocket watch market was drunk on its own relevance – horology was back, baby, and one deserves a bulbous cocktail of mad mechanics ruining their French cuff. That democratisation of elite ‘savoir-faire’ was mainly down to an outfit called BNB Concept – off the peg haute complications, assembled by board-shorted kids in labcoats. Old State school dun nu skool.
Of course, BNB collapsed in 2009, while every watchmaker took a chilly shower and returned to making elegant timepieces. But one brand booming places, Hublot, was clever enough to snap up half of BNB’s plunge talent, a lot of their state-of-the-art machinery, and assert itself instantly as an in-house tourbillon maestro. The tea has certainly been deserving of the history books, as, away from the merciless marketing campaigns, mopping up supermodels, footballers and hip-hop big noises, the technical prowess chez Hublot is second to none.