A marvel of mechanics.
The word to describe what is inarguably the most revered complication in the world of watches is borrowed from the French language Tourbillon meaning whirlwind , as the name describes, is a component that turns 360 degrees within a watch.
To be precise, the escapement, which is found in all mechanical watches, is modified to make a full rotation every minute in order to counter the gravitational force that is exerted on it.
This is to improve the overall accuracy of the watch and because of their mesmerising mechanics and the sheer skill that goes into creating this masterpiece, tourbillons are held in very high regard amongst watch enthusiasts.
A whirlwind on the wrist a closer look at the tourbillon and its functions.
The tourbillon was invented in 1795 by Abraham-Louis Breguet, the legendary watchmaking visionary.
The patent was granted to Breguet in 1801 in Paris.
The complications prime function was to compensate for inaccuracies caused by changes in a pocket watch s position relative to the gravitational force that was exerted on the watch.
The Breguet Tourbillon s escapement is placed within a carriage that makes a full revolution in regular intervals around the centre seconds pinion.
Due to that rotation, the gravitational force is exerted in equal parts at each point of the escapement, in essence negating the effect of gravity on the critical points of the movement by taking it out of the equation, thus correcting for gravitational error.
Unlike a pocket watch, wristwatches are usually in frequent motion throughout the day, thus achieving the same effect a tourbillon would on a static timepiece.
Nonetheless, the ability to create tourbillon is equatable to a badge of honour in horology, as it is at the pinnacle of fine watchmaking.
Its purpose may be primarily aesthetical, but it is a spectacular addition to a watch that is held in high regard for good reason.
Variants and innovations.
Throughout history, several different variants of the tourbillon have been created.
From the Tourbillon to the Gyrotourbillon, let us have a look at the different creations the great masters of horology have invented.
If you were about to pay an exorbitant amount of money on a watch say something in the six figures ballpark you d almost certainly be looking at a tourbillon watch.
Tourbillon watches are considered some of the most mechanically beautiful timepieces available and have become sought-after items for watch aficionados.
So, what exactly is the big deal.
Why would anyone pay so much for any watch that wasn t made of diamond-infused pure gold.
To understand what a tourbillon watch is, and why one can carry such a high price tag, we need to first unpack a mechanical watch to understand what makes it, well, tick.
Table of Contents.
Looking inside a watch.
There are many different kinds of timepieces, but for our purposes, all we re interested in are mechanical watches.
The main parts that you will find inside a mechanical watch are a spring known as the mainspring , the gear train three separate gears , the weighted wheel, and the escapement.
Mechanical watches can be assembled in various configurations and styles, but they will have some variation on these four parts.
The spring, which is either manually or automatically wound, provides the energy.
That energy travels through the gears, through the escapement, and into the weighted wheel.
The weighted wheel, also known as the balance wheel or just balance is the equivalent of the pendulum in older clocks its oscillating motion is the timekeeper.
Watch this informative video for a visual representation of the process.
The mechanical watch is a remarkable invention, but it s by no means perfect.
For one thing, considerable amounts of energy are lost in this process, which is inevitable when that much energy transfer is occurring between gears.
In addition to the loss of energy, mechanical parts, no matter how securely designed, are affected by gravity, magnets, temperature, and other outside forces.
All of these factors result in timepieces that grow less precise with time.
With different materials and designs, some of those issues had been mitigated, but gravity remained a persistent issue that all horologists faced.
Enter the tourbillon.
A brief history of the tourbillon watch.
Invented at the turn of the 18th century, the tourbillon watch was the creation of French watchmaker, Abraham-Louis Breguet.
Due to gravitational forces, the escapement acts slightly different depending on its positioning.
If a watch is stuck in the same position for an extended period of time say, held vertically in a pocket the cumulative effect of gravity will alter its motion.
For this reason, watches needed to be regulated regularly.
Frustrated by this effect that gravity had on his watches, Breguet conjured a clever solution place the escapement and balance wheel in a constantly rotating enclosure so that the natural wear of gravitational pull would be spread evenly.
It wasn t a perfect solution some now argue it wasn t a solution at all but at the time, it was a unique, and lucrative, fix.
For a visual of how a tourbillon works see this short video .
Since Breguet s time, other horologists have augmented his original design.
There are double – and triple-axis tourbillons, double and quadruple tourbillons, flying tourbillons, and more.
These variations on the basic tourbillon are intended to better counteract gravity and, supposedly, make watches more accurate.
For modern watches, tourbillons are mostly superfluous.
Breguet didn t have the benefit of the technology, science, and materials that modern horologists have access to today.
Plenty of watchmakers still use tourbillon, especially in the Swiss industry.
These modern watches often have a window in the face to show off the tourbillon.
But that is all tourbillons are useful for now showing off.
Why do tourbillons cost so much.
If tourbillons don t serve any actual function in modern watches, why do companies charge so much for them.
Short answer because they can.
Like much in the luxury goods industry, the value of a modern tourbillon watch isn t in its functionality, but in its style and complexity.
A tourbillon is an incredibly intricate contraption, often made up of 40 separate pieces, and requires an impressive amount of craftsmanship and skill.
There is a reason most tourbillon watches are Swiss Made.
For many years, the cheapest tourbillon watches on the market were in the range of 40-50K, an example would be the Extreme Tourbillon Regulator by Alpina retails for 52,500 while many tourbillons still cost north of 100,000.
That s a lot of money for what is essentially the most complex thingamabob you will ever wear.
In the past decade, though, changes have been coming to the industry, and as has so often been the case in the watch industry, the revolution is occurring in Asia.
Finding affordable tourbillon watches.
Before diving in too deep, it needs to be stressed that affordable is a relative term.
Now then, well-known Swiss watchmakers, TAG Heuer, produced their first affordable tourbillon watch in 2016, releasing the 15,000 Heuer-02T like we said, relative .
For a watchmaker of TAG Heuer s stature to produce the Heuer-02T was a definitive signal of an industry shift.
To be clear, though, TAG Heuer was not the first company to release an affordable tourbillon watch.
The first Chinese tourbillon watches were mostly knockoffs of Swiss design and still came with a four-digit price tag, not exactly the ideal choice for your average watch shopper.
In the more than ten years since those first cheaper tourbillon watches started entering the market, the technology has gotten more refined and more affordable.
Nowadays, it is possible to find a tourbillon watch starting in the 500 to 700 range without skimping too much on quality or style if you re seeing a 50 tourbillon watch online, buyer beware .
Something like this Akribos XXIV Tourbillon Moonphase Watch see on Amazon would be a good starting point if you are shopping for your first one.
Are cheap tourbillons any good.
Whether or not you re going to like your cheaper tourbillon watch is essentially dependent on why you re buying one.
If you are under the misconception that tourbillon watches are the most accurate on the market, you are buying a tourbillon for all the wrong reasons.
Most non-mechanical watches will be more accurate.
Go with an atomic watch if you re wanting accuracy.
If your main interest in a tourbillon watch is because they re cool which they are then there s no reason a Chinese watch won t satisfy you just as much as its Swiss counterpart.
The only reason you would be better off getting a Swiss Made tourbillon watch is the same reason you would buy any Swiss watch the Swiss make the most precisely crafted and impeccably stylish watches on the market.
If the price is no concern for you and you have your eyes set on a tourbillon, go with the Swiss.
For everyone else, rest assured, a tourbillon watch doesn t have to cost more than your apartment.
Speaking of astronomical prices, check out these watches that have been worn in space.
Buying Guide 10 Of The Best Tourbillon Watches From Baselworld 2018.
The tourbillon is often presented as the king of complications.
Originally invented to combat the negative effects of Earth s gravitational pull, it remains today a ubiquitous feature for all high-end brands as a demonstration of watchmakers capabilities to manufacture such small mechanisms.
As for each edition of Baselworld, 2018 has brought its share of new tourbillon watches.
We have put together 10 highlights, all endowed with this graceful regulating organ.
Andreas Strehler Transaxle Tourbillon.
Andreas Strehler s latest opus houses a highly complex and superbly finished movement.
It features a tourbillon combined with a 1-second remontoir, interestingly constructed around the same axle.
The remontoir allows the delivery of constant force to the regulator and to drive a dead-beat seconds.
The impressive new movement also incorporates a power reserve indication and it is housed in Strehler s signature cushion-shaped case.
Quick facts 40.
5mm gold case water-resistant to 30m hand-wound movement with hours, minutes, dead-beat seconds, tourbillon with transaxle 1-second remontoir and power reserve indication alligator strap with pin buckle CHF 182,500 For more information, visit www.
Blancpain Villeret Flying Tourbillon Jumping Hours Retrograde Minutes.
Alongside the cool vintage-inspired Bathy, Blancpain introduced its first watch with jumping hours and retrograde minutes.
This 42mm flying tourbillon stands out with clear graphics and elegant minimalist aesthetics.
Its no-nonsense display incorporates technically challenging complications.
The lower bridge for the flying tourbillon is a transparent sapphire disc.
As a result, the regulator seems to be floating.
The hand-wound movement is decorated with a hand-guilloché pattern.
The same expert craftsmanship goes into the creation of the champs-levé grand feu enamel dial.
Quick facts 42mm pink gold case water-resistant to 30m hand-wound movement with jumping hours, retrograde minutes and flying tourbillon alligator strap and folding buckle CHF 139,000 For more information, visit www.
Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5367.
An evolution of the reference 5377, the Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatic 5367 is archetypally Breguet.
This elegant classic features a svelte 7mm case graced with an understated grand feu enamel dial.
The automatic calibre 581 boasts a healthy 80-hour power reserve.
It is fitted with a peripheral rotor crafted in platinum for higher inertia.
This solution allows for slenderness and efficient winding whilst simultaneously providing an unimpeded view of its refined mechanics.
The tourbillon runs at 4Hz, the carriage is in titanium, the hairspring and the horns of the escapement are in silicon bringing modern technology into this classic design.
Quick facts 42mm x 7mm pink gold or platinum case water-resistant to 30m automatic movement calibre 581 with hours, minutes, small seconds on the tourbillon alligator strap and folding buckle CHF 144,000 in pink gold, CHF 158,000 in platinum For more information, visit www.
Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic.
The Bvlgari Octo Finissimo line-up was very impressive again this year including the new Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon or the Octo Finissimo Automatic Sandblasted Trilogy .
With the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic, Bvlgari sets two new records for the thinnest automatic watch and the thinnest tourbillon watch.
Still, whether you care about records doesn t really matter, this paper-thin tourbillon is simply magnificent.
Housed in a 3.
95mm sandblasted titanium case, its movement is just 1.
Wound by an ingenious peripheral rotor, it is capable of a 52-hour power reserve.
And the powerful, bold, ultra-modern look is the final touch to this impressive watch.
Quick facts 42mm x 3.
95mm titanium case water-resistant to 30m automatic movement BVL 288 with hours, minutes, small seconds and flying tourbillon titanium bracelet CHF 120,000 or EUR 125,000 For more information, visit www.
Bucherer Manero Tourbillon Double Peripheral.
A new addition to the elegant Manero collection, this world first combines a peripheral winding system a Carl F.
Bucherer speciality with an innovative peripherally mounted tourbillon that appears to float with no bridges to hold the mechanism in place.
This novel architecture also incorporates an original stop-seconds function, stopping the cage instead of the balance wheel.
The calibre CFB T3000 is housed in a 43.
1 mm gold case.
Its precision is COSC-certified.
Quick facts 43.
57mm gold case water-resistant to 30m automatic movement calibre CFB T3000 with hours, minutes, small seconds and peripheral tourbillon alligator strap with folding buckle CHF 64,500 For more information, visit www.
Corum Bubble 47 Swoosh.
The Swoosh is not the first Corum Bubble tourbillon, yet, this central tourbillon takes the concept a step further, providing an unconventional and playful take on the complication that is perfectly coherent with the model s spirit.
The regulating organ takes centre stage in the 47mm titanium case under the signature, massive, highly-domed sapphire crystal.
The hours and minutes are displayed on the periphery by triangular markers.
Quick facts 47mm x 19.
60mm titanium case water-resistant to 100m automatic movement calibre CO 406 with hours, minutes and central tourbillon fabric strap and pin buckle CHF 76,500 For more information, visit www.
Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1R5 Edition 1785.
If bronze is mostly used to craft tool watches, Ferdinand Berthoud thought this material could be used to house one of its highly technical chronometer movements.
This limited edition is a series of five unique pieces based on its FB 1R watch with a regulator-type display.
Each of the cases features a different state of oxidation producing a different colour and creating a striking contrast with the immaculately finished movement.
The hand-wound calibre FB-T FC R-2 features a fusée-and-chain mechanism providing constant torque to the tourbillon.
Quick facts 44 mm x 13.
95 mm bronze case water-resistant to 30m manual movement calibre FB-T FC R-2 with hours, minutes, seconds, power reserve indication, tourbillon alligator strap with pin buckle CHF 241,500 For more information, visit www.
Swiss Alp Watch Minute Repeater Tourbillon.
The latest complication watch from Moser Cie.
combines a minute repeater and a flying tourbillon unusually housed in a rectangular case which looks like an Apple watch .
The dial is laser-machined to obtain an original blue-coloured mosaic effect.
The superb shaped calibre C 901 is visible via the exhibition case back.
The model will be produced in several versions, all of which will be unique pieces.
Quick facts 45.
00mm white gold case hand-wound movement C 901 with hours, minutes, flying tourbillon and minute repeater alligator strap and pin buckle CHF 292,000 For more information, visit www.
Jacob Twin Turbo Furious.
This beast of a watch does not have anything in common with the ultra-thin Breguet or Bvlgari watches featured in this article but what a spectacular development.
The latest model in the Twin Turbo collection features an insane combination of complications a double triple axis tourbillon, a decimal minute repeater, a chronograph and more The triple axis tourbillon regulators rotate in 24, 8 and 30 seconds on their axis, these are ultra-fast and truly spectacular.
Jacob and Co.
uses the word sequential with reference to their high-speed, jerky, 3D rotation.
Quick facts 57mm x 52mm x17mm black DLC titanium and carbon fiber case water-resistant to 30m hand-wound movement JCFM05 with hours, minutes, small seconds, mono-pusher chronograph with reference time indication , decimal minute repeater, double triple axis tourbillon rotation in 24, 8 and 30 seconds and power reserve indicator black leather strap with folding buckle CHF 525,000 For more information, visit www.
TAG Heuer Carrera Tourbillon Chronograph Viper Head.
Released in context of the 55th-anniversary celebrations of the Carrera, this evolution of the Heuer-02 Tourbillon is housed in a dark blue ceramic case.
It also comes with a Viper Head certification, the Besançon observatory hallmark attesting chronometer precision.
And, at under CHF 20,000, this limited edition of 150 watches is a rather hard-to-beat value proposition for a chronograph tourbillon.
10 Notable Tourbillon Watches from Baselworld 2016.
Every Baselworld watch fair brings its share of new and often innovative variations on the still-popular tourbillon watch.
Here s a look back at 10 tourbillons , from 10 very diverse brands, that commanded our attention at last year s Baselworld, all of which should be available at retailers now.
Angelus U30 Tourbillon Rattrapante.
From the recently revived Angelus brand comes the Angelus U30 Tourbillon Rattrapante, a watch that contains not only a large, one-minute tourbillon but also a double-column-wheel-controlled flyback chronograph with rattrapante split-seconds and a cleverly designed power reserve display.
The self-winding movement that integrates all these functions has also been highly skeletonized to reveal as much of its workings as possible, including no less than 15 wheels that are visible from the dial side.
The tourbillon cage at 10 o clock is made entirely from non-magnetic materials and occupies a full quarter of the dial space; the column wheel that activates the split seconds function is on display at 4 o clock, right below the 30-minute counter, while a second, separate column wheel drives the chronograph from the back side.
At 8 o clock, a power-reserve indicator with visible gears and wheels offers an eye-catching view of the watch s 45-hour running time the green sector indicates ideal torque for the mainspring while the red sector cautions the wearer that it s time to wind the watch.
Armin Strom Tourbillon Skeleton Earth.
Skeleton watch specialist Armin Strom launched the first model in its new Tourbillon Skeleton collection, the Armin Strom Tourbillon Skeleton Earth.
The watch s skeletonized, manual-wind movement, Caliber ATC11-S, is on full display beneath the sapphire dial ring with founded appliques for hours and minutes.
Its fully openworked mainplate features a black PVD coating that echoes the case material.
The movement is equipped with a double going barrel that stores an astounding 10-day power reserve; in addition to witnessing the rotation of the tourbillon, the wearer can see the winding mechanism in motion on the dial side.
Click here to read our pre-Baselworld report on the watch.
Breguet Tradition Repeater Tourbillon.
The Breguet Tradition Minute Repeater Tourbillon has a passel of features that make it different and, Breguet says, better, than other minute repeaters.
Among these are the shape and placement of the gongs, which, instead of wrapping around the movement, are placed above it.
The longer, hour gong is shaped like a semicircle; the minutes gong is a kind of round-cornered triangle.
Both have rectangular, rather than round, profiles, and the hammers hit them vertically, not horizontally, as in other minute repeaters.
These unorthodox elements, Breguet says, contribute to better sound quality for the chimes.
The tourbillon is an extra-flat one similar to the one the brand introduced in 2014.
For more details on the watch s multiple features, click here.
Girard-Perregaux La Esmeralda Tourbillon.
Girard-Perregaux celebrates its 225 th anniversary this year with several new watches, the star of which is the Girard-Perregaux La Esmeralda Tourbillon.
The company based the watch on an archival piece, a pocketwatch with a chronometer-rated tourbillon movement with pivoted detent, tourbillon escapement and G-P s iconic three gold bridges, which won a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889.
The rose-gold case was constructed to imitate the multi-layered one of the original pocketwatch, which was hinged with front and back case covers, plus a second, hunter-style cover protecting the bridges.
The Tourbillon with Three Bridges caliber, on display in this timepiece, is the oldest watch movement still in production, with an overall layout that has remained unchanged since its introduction in 1860.
The three bridges include a barrel bridge, gear-train bridge and tourbillon bridge, all made from solid gold.
Click here for more info.
Harry Winston Histoire de Tourbillon 7.
Harry Winston unveiled the seventh watch in its Histoire de Tourbillon series, in which the brand explores interesting variations of the tourbillon.
The Harry Winston Histoire de Tourbillon 7 actually features two of them in one watch.
The right side of the dial is dominated by an unconventional, pyramid-cut off-center time display, beneath which is a power reserve display on a roller.
On the left are the two bi-axial tourbillons that move in harmony, with the first tourbillon cage completing its rotation in 45 seconds and housing a 30-degree-tilted balance wheel, and the second cage making a complete rotation every 75 seconds.
The two tourbillons are regulated for optimal accuracy by a spherical differential device, which connects them and averages out their rotational speed.
The watch has a 50-mm white gold case and, like other Histoire de Tourbillon watches, is a limited edition only 20 pieces will be made.
Rebellion Sapphire 540 Magnum Tourbillon Sapphire.
Independent Swiss watch brand Rebellion says it spent nearly 100 days to create the eight-part, transparent, sapphire case of the Rebellion Sapphire 540 Magnum Tourbillon Sapphire, which offers a full-on view of its proprietary movement, tourbillon Caliber REB T-14.
The movement features a double spring barrel storing a power reserve of 14 days and an extra-large tourbillon cage.
Measuring 540 tenths of a millimeter in circumference and 17.
2 mm in diameter hence the watch s name the tourbillon cage is made of a special aluminum alloy and dominates a large portion of the openworked dial.
Titanium and carbon fiber are used for other parts of the 490-piece movement, including a carbon fiber three-quarters mainplate, in order to maximize both its rigidity and lightness.
The conical gears of the linear power-reserve indicator at 9 o clock are also on display.
Seiko Credor Fugaku Tourbillon Limited Edition.
Seiko s first-ever tourbillon, the Seiko Credor Fugaku Tourbillon Limited Edition, showcases not only horological craftsmanship but the traditional Japanese handicrafts of metal engraving and lacquer finishing.
Its elaborately engraved dial recreates a scene from one of Japan s most famous paintings, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, part of the Thirty Six Views of Mt.
Fuji series by the 19th-century artist Katsushika Hokusai.
The watch s name, Fugaku, is another name for Mt.
Fuji in the Japanese language.
Inside the watch is Caliber 6830, a manual-wound movement based on the ultra-thin Caliber 68 family.
Including the tourbillon carriage, the whole movement measures just 3.
98 mm in thickness, and the diameter is just 25.
The engraving on the dial depicts the Great Wave in 18k yellow and white gold.
The reverse side of the watch features the same wave, combining engraving and lacquer finishing.
For more info, and close-up photos, click here for our full report on the watch.
TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02 T.
TAG Heuer made news at Baselworld with the launch of the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02 T , a COSC-certified chronograph watch equipped with a flying tourbillon that retails for a surprisingly accessible price of 15,950 15,000 Swiss francs .
The watch contains an entirely new movement, based on the company s CH-80 integrated-chronograph caliber; the movement features automatic winding, a frequency of 4 hz 28,800 vph , an integrated, column-wheel-controlled chronograph function, and a power reserve of more than 65 hours stored in a single mainspring barrel.
The flying tourbillon is exceptionally lightweight, with central sections made of titanium and a top section made of carbon, like the tourbillon created for TAG Heuer s Monaco V4, The watch is also notable for its case, made of grade-5 titanium for maximum lightness and shock resistance and whose modular construction enables a wide range of combinations in the areas of materials, colors, treatments and finishes.
More detail can be found here.
The Ulysse Nardin Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon is conceived as a sailboat for the wrist.
The watch s dial miniaturizes elements of the deck of a classic racing yacht, including a wood deck, winches, lines and a mainsail boom.
It is made of inlaid wood in a color and curved design that resembles the deck of a classic yacht.
A blued aluminum minutes hand represents the boom, the horizontal spar used to angle the mainsail on a racing boat.
It swings down from the 12 o clock position, sweeping across a retrograde minutes scale from 3 to 6 o clock.
It is pulled across the scale by strong high-tech fibers that wrap around two rigging screws and two pinions designed to resemble and function as the winches on the deck of a racing yacht.
This mechanism is linked to the flying tourbillon in Caliber UN-630, which is made up of 469 components and has a frequency of 3 Hz and a 48-hour power reserve.
The movement is equipped with two barrels one driving the time and the other powering the complication and the display.
Click here for our Baselworld report on the Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon.
Zenith Academy Tourbillon Georges Favre-Jacot.
The Zenith Academy Tourbillon Georges Favre-Jacot, named for the Swiss brand s founder, is the first Zenith watch to unite both a tourbillon and a fusee-and-chain transmission system in a high-frequency movement based on the classic El Primero.
The hand-wound, dial-free El Primero Caliber 4805 is on full display under the sapphire crystal, with its deep anthracite-blackened mainplate and bridges imparting an intriguing dark look.
The tourbillon cage, which rotates once per minute, is at 6 o clock, is coupled with the fusee-and-chain mechanism between 10 o clock and 10 30, which is secured to the mainplate by polished screws and supported by three blackened bridges.
The system is linked to the mainspring barrel so as to ensure constant force.
The hour and minute hands, as well as the applied hour markers, are black-faceted.
The movement stores a 50-plus-hour power reserve, which is indicated between 4 and 5 o clock by a red-tipped hand moving between high and low sectors.
The watch, which has a 45-mm black ceramic case, is limited to 150 pieces.