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Watch 101: What are Tourbillon Watches, Types, and Functions?

Tourbillon watches, the greatest achievement in the horology world.
Jan 05, 2022

A majestic yet enigmatic mechanism, that's tourbillon in a nutshell. Well, it might not be so hard to understand the complexity of tourbillon watches. That is, for us to dive a little deeper into the world of horology. You may or may not have considered spending quite a fortune to enjoy the beauty of such mechanical watch mechanisms. For the most impressive breakthrough, as the others say, what precisely is a tourbillon watch?

What is a tourbillon watch?

Tourbillon is a French word meaning whirlwind. The term came to life in horology when Abraham-Louis Breguet developed a system in mechanical pocket chronometers to combat Earth's gravity in 1795. The work was patented on June 26th, 1801. It's regarded as the highest innovation at that time (and today). Due to the static position of a balance wheel and the constant vertical position of a pocket watch, watches from long ago couldn't stand strong against outside disturbances. The gravity hindrance caused the watch to gradually lose accuracy.

The problem led Breguet to think of putting the whole escapement (the balance wheel, hairspring, escape wheel, and pallet fork) into a rotating tourbillon cage. Breguet believed that this idea could compensate for the effect of gravity as the inner workings of a watch were always in harmonious motion. That groundbreaking yet complicated idea, indeed, has been true. The tourbillon cage, which has its solitary axis once in a minute, steadily rotates at 360 degrees in accord with the running inner elements.

We can infer that tourbillon watches are those that have an additional grand mechanism to increase a watch's accuracy. In the current days, however, some devotees in the world of horology state whether this mechanism held significant functions. There's less need to put a tourbillon mechanism because mechanical or quartz wristwatches are already accurate. Yet, again, the intricacy of the tourbillon has caught the eyes of quite a number of watch collectors albeit its significance. The effort put to build the delicate mechanism is art on its own. 

What's the basis of obsession with tourbillon watches?

Tourbillon watches are so popular despite the controversy. Plus, they are astronomical in price. The cheapest one starts at 5 digits into millions for the best tourbillon watches conditional to the watch brand, design, model, and value. It's no wonder because only the biggest players in the watchmaking industry can produce high-quality said watches.

Although some consider it is quite inessential to use a tourbillon to increase a watch accuracy, it's still a beauteous observatory to appreciate the masterpiece legacy. Another reason is that a tourbillon watch requires years to make and special tools to use. Master watchmakers can flaunt their expertise into tourbillon watches. So, does the wearer. A watch that is limited in number and symbolizes such rich heritage, there's no way it won't be famous among the uppermost echelon of watch enthusiasts.

The best tourbillon watches pursuant to the types

The First, Breguet Classique Tourbillon

The foremost watch brand with a monumental connection to tourbillon watches is, no objection, Breguet. It's a watch company with the traces of Abraham-Louis Breguet as the very first inventor of the tourbillon mechanism and the founder of the Breguet Watch. To continue and give birth to the finest tourbillon timepieces, Breguet spares no hesitation to make a comeback with its Classique tourbillon series.

The simplest yet prettiest Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5367 was introduced in 2018. The grand feu enamel dial is kept at a minimal design to give the limelight to the single-axis tourbillon at the 5 o'clock position. It isn't wrong to say that this piece is one of the thinnest tourbillons in existence. A refined dress watch for those who love to reminisce on the original and classic theme of Breguet's Tourbillon.

Price $147,500 (18K rose gold) and $161,800 (platinum)

Rebellion Timepieces, Weap-One Asymmetrical Tourbillon

The world's first, this timepiece uses an asymmetrical, flying double-axis tourbillon. The double-axis tourbillon was invented by Anthony Randall in 1977 and made into work by Richard Good in 1978. Then, Thomas Prescher in 2004 developed the first flying double-axis tourbillon wristwatch. The double-axis tourbillon is a mechanism in which the tourbillon rotates on two, horizontal and vertical axes.

Inspired by a race car suspension, this amazing Weap-One Asymmetrical Tourbillon was designed by Fabrice Gonet. This atypical piece was a collaborative work with Concepto, released in 2017. It attaches the mechanism on two plates, the hour and minute rollers which result in two rotations of different speeds, with a non-stationary horizontal axis.

Price roughly $488,000

Jacob & Co Astronomia, Triple Axis Tourbillon

A combination of astronomy and tourbillon horology, Jacob & Co Astronomia, Triple Axis Tourbillon exhibits a spectacular visual delight to the eyes. The triple-axis, or tri-axial tourbillon moves in 60 seconds, 2.5 minutes, and 10 minutes for the whole rotation in succession. The mechanism was first invented by Aaron Becsei in 2007. And, Jacob & Co triumphs in the creativity department for the watch has a four-arm which gives distinctive complications.

Price $548,000

Glashütte Original Senator Tourbillon Alfred Helwig Edition, Flying Tourbillon

The first flying tourbillon was first invented by Alfred Helwig in 1920. The mechanism doesn't have an upper bridge, unlike the classic Breguet Tourbillon, which makes it seem to be flying. Glashütte Original Senator Tourbillon is a tribute to commemorate the achievement of Alfred Helwig. Limited to only 25 tourbillon watches, they come in a minimalistic and classic look with Roman numerals.

Price $118,600

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 Meteorite

The latest Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 Meteorite settles the rotating gyrotourbillon in two different axes with different speeds. It rotates in the opposite direction of each other while the balance spring is located at the center of the intricate movement. The magnificent mechanism isn't the only charm of the watch. Along with the multi-axis tourbillon, the watch includes a chronograph function, hours/minutes, and day/night indicator.

Price $900,000

Tourbillon watches are, without a doubt, the symbol of appreciation of great beauty from enigmatic mechanisms. With a wide array of innovations, the timepiece won't bore anyone who wants to enjoy such grand works.

See also: Sailing Time: Top Yachting Watches for Your Next Regatta

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