The Tourbillon, master complication in watch-making since 1801.

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Watchmaking is an Art old of several centuries. everyIn the heart of the art of watchmaking, the Tourbillon is not only a beautiful piece of human engineering but also a very useful one in the exactitude control.

The principle of a Tourbillon

tourbillon-parts

 

As you can see here above, the tourbillon is a concentrate of ingenuity. It eliminate most of the errors of rate, especially in the vertical position, for a wrist or pocket watch. The principle, despite the fact that each watchmaker has been adding their own touch, is about a mobile-cage in which all components are inside. The balance spring and the escapement are usually in the center.

Tourbillon-close-up

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Some history

The invention of the Tourbillon, and its first patent was accomplished by Abraham-Louis Breguet.

Abraham-Louis-Breguet

The famous Swiss brand archives tells us that Breguet invented the Tourbillon idea in 1785 and only in 1801, after some improvements, that the first patent was registered.  And the first Breguet watch equipped with the mechanism was finally sold in 1805. With this we can easily say that Mr Breguet is one of the fathers of modern watchmaking.

Breguet-Tourbillon-Brevet-1801

 

The invention of the Tourbillon came from the need to gain precision and exactitude in what we call mobile timepieces. This means the pocket watches for gentlemen and also, more specifically, the vertical position in airplanes and the oscillations in marine boats.

Because of these specific backgrounds, we need to talk about another important watchmaker and inventor: John Arnold. He was a English inventor who died in 1799. He is considered up to today as the most important british watchmakers in history. We can say that he was the first one to design a practical and accurate watch. This is probably what would be the first closest watch to the definition of modern chronometer.

John-Arnold-Watchmaker

 

John Arnold interested himself for marine timepieces and accurate chronographs. His late work brought him to imagine a mechanism that would provide a better accuracy to chronographs, especially in specific positions or situations.

Barometer-and-Timepiece-John-Arnold john-arnold-Marine-Chronometer

 

John Arnold’s legacy provided the necessary inspiration to Abraham-Louis Breguet to finalize the idea of the Tourbillon. The pocket watch was the biggest challenge at that time for watchmakers. The watch would remain most of its time in the vertical position and moving all the time. So there was a big enemy called GRAVITY. In deed, gravity would then bring your watch to lose accuracy by the force it would produce on the watch mechanism.

So if we wanted to gain accuracy, we needed to find a way to counter-balance the effects of gravity in the mechanism. So his idea was to place the escapement and the balance-spring in a sort of circled-cage. the entire piece would rotate a full 360 degrees and its complete revolution would take generally a minute. This would then fight back the gravity influence and modern tourbillon was set up!

breguet-tourbillon

Today, several brands proposes amazing tourbillons, all made possible thanks to the legacy of  the above story. Accuracy in Swiss watchmaking is by definition one of the foundations of everything. Isn’t it why do we need a time keeper?

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Flying Tourbillon by Roger Dubuis

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Harry Winston Tourbillon limited edition

So now we know what a Tourbillon is…

LA

 

Info sourced in wikipedia, Illustrated Professional Dictionary of Horology, tourbillonwatches.com and the above brands website. All content is copyrighted with no reproduction rights available. 

Sebastien Eich

Sebastien Eich is passionate about Swiss watch-making and throughout the years he gathered a tremendous amount of knowledge about the beautiful art of creating a watch. Based in Switzerland, the mother land of watch-making, he has exclusive access to Brands and events. He shares all of it here for the great pleasure of sharing.