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One of the most notorious parts of a watch is the tourbillon, which is often considered a complication, although it is basically insignificant for a wristwatch and offers no real added value. So the tourbillon is not a real complication, but instead shines with its impeccable beauty and the high level of craftsmanship it embodies. For a long time, it has enjoyed a reputation of exclusivity and the highest level of engineering. We would like to tell a little about how this wonder originated.

  1. What is a tourbillon?
  2. A history of the development of the tourbillon
  3. Types of tourbillons
  4. How much does a watch with a tourbillon cost?
  5. Watch models with a tourbillon

What is a tourbillon and how does it work?

Where does the term tourbillon come from and what does it mean? The word tourbillon is French for "whirlwind" and describes the visual effect because of its constant movement. The idea behind the tourbillon is to compensate for the inaccuracies of a watch caused by gravity, thus increasing its accuracy. This is achieved by setting the balance, the drive of the watch, in rotation itself.

Ever since Breguet invented the tourbillon, it has undergone numerous technical and aesthetic changes, and today it is possible to choose from a wide range of tourbillon types.

Breguet and the tourbillon’s invention

When Abraham Louis Breguet registered the patent for the tourbillon in 1801, he had already invented the first automatic watch, the first tone spring, the first shock protection, the perpetual calendar and the Breguet spiral bearing his own name. Breguet had already established himself as a master and began to concentrate on a physical problem. He noticed that the accuracy of a clock is influenced by gravity according to its position. The cause was quickly found: You need a constant pulse from the balance wheel to guarantee precision. Each change of position, however, affects the balance. Breguet's solution was to set the escapement, the escapement wheel and the balance wheel, i.e. the entire "drive" of the watch, into rotation.

Breguet was able to accommodate a timepiece for eight positions: dial facing up or down, crown facing up or down, crown left or right and halfway with crown facing up or down. Nevertheless, when worn in their pockets, they often shifted by up to 45 degrees. The tourbillon reduced this to the vertical and horizontal positions as well as the dial up or down positions. Fewer positions automatically resulted in fewer possible deviations and therefore higher accuracy of the watches.

Harry Winston Ocean Tourbillon BidDate watch with black backgroundHARRY WINSTON OCEAN TOURBILLON BIGDATE 400/MMTBD45R 

The tourbillon: Still fabulously beautiful today

Today, the practical influence of the tourbillon is more theoretical. Breguet designed the tourbillon especially for pocket watches, which usually stayed quite rigidly in one position throughout the day. Wristwatches, on the other hand, are not bound to this rigidity by the movement of the wrist, which basically makes the tourbillon’s function unnecessary. When wristwatches remain in one position, they usually face up with the dial where they are least affected by gravity. In order to allow the tourbillon to rotate, a stronger mainspring is also required, as this must now drive not only the balance and escapement, but also the tourbillon itself. This can lead to increased wear and higher maintenance costs over several years.

Nowadays, people rarely buy a watch with a tourbillon because of its technical advantage. Tourbillons are usually bought for the aesthetic and technical qualities. Watch lovers appreciate the complexity of the mechanics as well as the high level of craftsmanship and expertise required to produce a tourbillon.

Types of tourbillons

When you opt for a watch with a tourbillon, you are faced with a wide range of options. Some tried to improve on the accuracy and construction of the Breguet Tourbillon, others just looked for a technical challenge and advanced the tourbillon in more complex design variations. The following are the most well-known tourbillon types.

The "Flying" Tourbillon

While the tourbillon has long since become technically obsolete, only 700 tourbillons were built in the first 200 years after Breguet applied for a patent. This surprisingly low number is mainly due to the fact that it takes a certain technical proficiency to make a tourbillon. One of these masters was precision watchmaker and instructor Alfred Helwig from Glashütte, who developed the "Flying Tourbillon" in 1920.

Helwig noticed that Breguet mounted his tourbillon on both sides and decided to mount bearing jewels only on one side. This eliminated the bearing bridge. The tourbillon is open from above and looks as if it was flying. It was also significantly lighter than Breguet's design by about half a gram and yielded better results for wristwatches. To this day, this type of tourbillon is closely associated with Glashütte. In honor of Alfred Helwig, Glashütte Original has launched several limited series with flying tourbillons.

The Gyro Tourbillon

Jaeger-LeCoultre also identified a shortcoming in common tourbillons and tried to correct it. It was recognized that a tourbillon could compensate for static bearing changes, but not for dynamic disturbances such as those caused by running. Jaeger-LeCoultre was looking for a solution in the dimensionality. "Gyro" stands for the gyroscope-like shape of the tourbillon, which no longer rotates flat, but now operates in three dimensions. The design was so complex that Jaeger-LeCoultre started working with CAD (computer-aided design) for the first time. The designs were constructed on the computer and tested for functionality. In practice, however, the differences in accuracy are so small that the Gyro Tourbillon remains a technical achievement.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon watch with black backgroundJAEGER-LECOULTRE MASTER ULTRA THIN TOURBILLON 1322410 

The Double and Triple-Axis Tourbillon

One of the current masters of the tourbillon is the German watchmaker Thomas Prescher. After working for Audemars Piguet and Blancpain, Prescher founded his own company in 2003, which launched the "Double-Axis Tourbillon" in the same year. In this tourbillon, the second axis rotates parallel to the dial, thus improving the position of the dial at the top or bottom. First installed in a pocket watch, Prescher succeeded in incorporating the Double-Axle Tourbillon into a wristwatch in 2004.

Spurred on by his success, Prescher began developing the "Triple-Axis Tourbillon". It is above all an achievement of the art of engineering – the practical benefit is not measurable. From a technical point of view, it was doubted for a long time whether this construction was possible at all, as it was too heavy and required too much space. But Prescher finally showed what is possible with a strong drive for innovation. In a triple-axis tourbillon, the first and second axes each rotate at one revolution per minute, while the third axis rotates around its own axis every hour.

How much should one invest in a tourbillon?

Wanting to have a tourbillon and being able to afford one used to be two very different things. Today, if you make certain compromises, you can find tourbillons for less than € 2,000. Both Chinese companies like Seagull and well-known Swiss brands like TAG Heuer have already introduced affordable tourbillons to the market.

Watches with a tourbillon at Watchmaster

  • The Tourbillon by Mauboussin (Ref. 9332800-556) is available for only € 1,730. These tourbillons have little to no decoration and are mounted in larger cases, which makes the production of the tourbillon much easier – but also contradicts the spirit of engineering and the technical challenge of developing tourbillons.

  • More technically demanding models can instead be found in the price segment that includes the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon (Ref. 1322410). For € 40,000 you not only get a handcrafted tourbillon, but you can also admire how it was housed in a 6.5 mm pink gold case.

  • At € 31,500, the Ateliers Demonaco Tourbillon Oculus 1297 Titane (Ref. DMC-TB-OCG-RLR-TIB) is also positioned in the mid-range of luxury watches with tourbillon. The model was limited to 88 units and has a handmade 44 mm wide case made of black DLC titanium. Inside, the automatic and hand-decorated dMc-980 caliber runs with a 22-carat gold rotor. You can view the tourbillon on the decentralized dial in an opening at the 6 o'clock position.

  • The Harry Winston Ocean Tourbillon BigDate (Ref. 400/MMTBD45R) will take you into the luxury segment for € 79,440. The construction of the engine turned dial with its decentralized date and time is similar to the model of Ateliers Demonaco. The transparent, floating tourbillon was developed by Harry Winston himself. The rose gold case appears warm and elegant.

  • The Grande Ellipse Chrono Monopoussoir Tourbillon (Ref. 22211523) by Mouawad, one of the most expensive and exclusive watches with tourbillon in the Watchmaster online shop, proves that there are no limits to the desire for a tourbillon. In the end, you alone decide how much you are willing to invest in a tourbillon.

Mouawad Grande Ellipse Chrono Monopoussoir Tourbillon 22211523 watch with grey backgroundMOUAWAD GRANDE ELLIPSE CHRONO MONOPOUSSOIR TOURBILLON 22211523