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.
In-Depth Does The Tourbillon Have Any Real Benefits In A Wristwatch.
For a clear-cut answer, we went to Roger Smith.
It s indisputably true that Breguet invented the tourbillon with the intention of creating something that would improve the performance of a watch.
At the same time that Breguet created the tourbillon his patent is from 1801 he also created a controversy.
The tourbillon is supposed to do something very specific reduce the rate variation between the flat positions of a watch, and the vertical positions, to an absolute minimum.
Enthusiasts who are interested in precision know that a watch runs at slightly different rates in each of the classic positions in which a watch is timed.
These are the vertical positions or hanging positions which are crown up, down, left, and right, and the flat, or horizontal positions dial up and dial down.
George Daniels succinctly states the purpose of the tourbillon in his book Watchmaking , The purpose of the invention was to eliminate errors of poise in the balance by revolving the escapement continuously to produce a uniform average rate.
Breguet four minute tourbillon, 1806, made for Count Stanislaw Potoki, no.
1176, with Breguet natural escapement and 21,600 vph frequency.
Auctioned at Christie s in 2014 for 935,442.
The biggest discrepancies are between the vertical and flat positions, thanks to the effects of gravity on the balance and balance spring Breguet s thought was well, if I put the balance and its spring as well as the escapement, including the escape wheel inside a rotating cage that turns in the same plane as the dial, I ll get a single, average rate for all the vertical positions.
Daniels remarks, The close vertical rates obtainable with a tourbillon will last longer than similar rates from a conventional watch.
He also points out, The tourbillon watch is expected to keep better time than a conventional watch.
If its potential to maintain a closer rate for a longer period of time is to be fully exploited, it should be fitted with an escapement that does not need oil at the impulse surfaces.
The reason for this is obvious as lubricant deteriorates, the rate of the watch will vary.
Now, all this seems relatively straightforward.
The notion that a tourbillon should be an aid to rate stability seems intuitive enough and yet it has become more or less a matter of conventional wisdom nowadays that the tourbillon is not a help in fact, it s often expressed that it s more of a hindrance than anything else.
Against the theoretical potential of the tourbillon, there are a number of practical arguments, which can be divided into arguments against the tourbillon in a wristwatch, and arguments against the tourbillon, period.
Patek Philippe observatory tourbillon movement, with 50 second tourbillon; mid-20th century; obtained a first-class bulletin.
To take the second set of objections first, the tourbillon creates some issues while attempting to address another.
You do get a single average rate for all the hanging positions, for sure, but you also need a more powerful mainspring because instead of the movement just moving the balance when the escapement unlocks, you have to move the mass of everything in the cage as well balance, spring, lever, and escape wheel.
On top of that you have to move the mass of the cage.
Every single time the balance unlocks and the escape wheel advances a tooth, the whole kit and kaboodle has to move which is a major additional inertial load, as well as a lot of additional load on the pallets and escape wheel teeth.
If you want to get around this nowadays, and you re making a tourbillon on the cheap, you can overcome lower manufacturing precision by throwing in a stronger mainspring; traditionally, however, making a tourbillon involved manufacturing to very high precision so as to avoid excess wear.
Audemars Piguet ultra thin cal.
In a wristwatch the objections become even more pronounced.
The space issue is perhaps less urgent in a pocket watch, but in a wristwatch, the tourbillon really starts to hog available space; building a tourbillon into a 50mm or larger pocket watch is one thing, but fitting one into, say, a 30mm diameter watch movement is another.
There were certainly tourbillon wristwatches built in the days before the post-quartz luxury watch boom, but they were very few in number Patek Philippe made several wristwatch tourbillons for the observatory trials, as did Omega, but these are rarities, and the search for winning timekeeping solutions in the observatory trials was largely taken up with refining the lever escapement watch, and improving fine adjustment techniques.
Audemars Piguet s ultra-thin tourbillon watch, caliber 2780, from 1986, was intended as a demonstration of tour de force watchmaking prowess, not a serious contribution to precision timekeeping.
Finally, it s doubtful whether, as the saying goes, the game is even worth the candle.
We asked watchmaker Roger Smith, who s known in the watch community for his advocacy of simplicity and robustness as traits of paramount desirability in a watch movement, for his views on the tourbillon in a wristwatch.
I think George Daniels would have happily admitted that a tourbillon has no practical purpose within modern horology, and I would agree.
The tourbillon was invented to cope with the vagaries of a split bimetallic balance, which due to its nature two flexible arms is impossible to poise, due to the varying temperatures, centrifugal forces and repeated shocks that a watch will receive.
The tourbillon moderated these issues.
Today, the industry all use mono metallic balances which do not move once poised in the factory or workshop, and so for practical purposes relegates the tourbillon to the history books.
Where a tourbillon does have a role today, is when a watchmaker is wanting to show off their skill, artistry and flare for miniaturized mechanics and to stand out from the crowd.
I would still put one in a watch.
The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic is a slim, modern take on the tourbillon.
It s conventional wisdom that the natural home of a tourbillon is in a pocket watch but Smith makes an interesting and often forgotten point the split balances used in pre-Glucydur balance watches, which were paired with steel balance springs, were extremely difficult to poise both statically and dynamically, and moreover would have any poise errors amplified by the expansion and contraction of the balance.
In this context, a tourbillon could be effective, or at least it would seem so from observatory time trial records a Girard-Perregaux observatory tourbillon from the 1890s, was recorded at the observatory at Neûchatel as having a difference in rate between the flat and hanging positions of just 0.
19 seconds day.
But in a modern watch with a monometallic balance, the device seems superfluous at best and parasitic at worst, purely from a chronometry standpoint.
Modern Rolex watches, to take just one obvious example, leave the factory adjusted to 2 seconds per day, which a tourbillon wristwatch certainly one of the same proportions as, say, a 39mm Oyster Perpetual would be hard pressed to match.
Dial and movement, Girard-Perregaux observatory tourbillon, 1889.
Still, there are interesting outliers in the data on tourbillon wristwatches.
The Concours International de Chronométrie was one of the few modern examples of a real accuracy competition, and in 2011, a Greubel Forsey Double Tourbillon Technique was the overall champion, with 915 points out of 1000 overall awarded a Tissot, the winner in the Classique category, scored 764 points.
The 2009 edition of the Concours also featured winning performances from tourbillons, with the JLC Master Tourbillon and Gyrotourbillon obtaining the highest overall scores.
Such a small sample size, of course, provides little in terms of solid information on the benefits of the tourbillon and as with all time trials, may say as much about the adjusters as it does about the watch, but at least it shows that the device is not necessarily inimical to accuracy which is not strong marquee, as they say, but it s something.
The Greubel-Forsey Double Tourbillon Technique Sapphire.
A final point which is sometimes forgotten in the discussion of tourbillons in watches, is that the single average rate for the vertical positions is itself subject to instability.
Having a single average rate is certainly a theoretical advantage, but that single rate is an average and itself subject to variation depending on the amount of power in the mainspring, the state of lubrication of the watch, and the amount of time it spends in varying positions where poise errors may be more or less exaggerated.
The latter issue is the one that multi-axis wristwatch tourbillons are meant to address, and certainly, such tourbillons those from Greubel-Forsey, for instance remain fascinating as intellectual exercises.
That may sound like damning with faint praise, but it isn t the intellectual interest of such watches isn t for everyone and certainly the price is not for every wallet but they remain intriguing examples of the exploration of bleeding edge mechanical solutions to long term rate stability; experimental constant force escapements like Girard-Perregaux s are another example of such experimentation, and I think the watch world is definitely richer for such things.
Lange Söhne 1815 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst.
Asked if it s true that a tourbillon could at least proved a theoretical benefit in a wristwatch given its ability to produce a single average rate in the vertical positions Smith replied, A simple and well set up balance and spring will hold as good a rate in the verticals as any tourbillon.
In the long term, a simple watch will far out perform a more complicated tourbillon, particularly as the lubricants begin to age.
Patek observatory tourbillon no.
86115, cased for Philippe Stern in 1987.
Why a 15,950 Tourbillon Watch Is Considered a Steal.
By Alex Williams.
March 2, 2016.
With a price tag of 15,950, the new Carrera Heuer-02T wristwatch from TAG Heuer a brand often associated with starter Swiss luxury watches under 3,000 may strike budget-minded consumers as mind boggling, as one watch site, Monochrome, put it; perhaps even incredible, in the words of another, Hodinkee.
An entry-level timepiece for the price of a factory-fresh Japanese subcompact.
I ll take the Honda.
To the watch cultists who inhabit sites like these, however, the new TAG is not an egregious example of price gouging but rather a steal, a timepiece so jaw-droppingly underpriced that there must be, according to the site aBlogtoWatch, some sort of sorcery involved.
What the wizards at TAG have done is conjure a tourbillon an intricate, gyroscope-like mechanism long considered a holy grail for watch enthusiasts at the luxury-watch equivalent of a Kmart bluelight price.
Up to now, a ahem cheap tourbillon timepiece was the Montblanc 4810 ExoTourbillon Slim, for 34,500.
-of-a-small-country end of the spectrum, the Greubel-Forsey Quadruple Tourbillon which, yes, contains four of them retails for 815,000.
TAG, in other words, has seemingly enabled buyers to take that Honda budget and snag a Bentley.
But is it worth it.
You don t have to explain to anyone why a Bentley costs so much.
But a tourbillon.
How could a feather s weight of metal increase the value of an already expensive watch by a factor of 10.
For starters, a tourbillon promises at least a theoretical improvement in performance.
To put things in watch-geek-ese, the tourbillon, which was pioneered by Abraham-Louis Breguet at the end of the 18th century, mounts the watch s escapement, balance spring and balance wheel inside a tiny rotating cage, to fight the effects of gravity, and in theory even out minor deviations in timekeeping phew .
It is widely debated whether tourbillons actually deliver better time; generally, they are considered a symbol of watchmaking virtuosity.
But at least a tourbillon bestows undeniable marketing value, according to Hyla Bauer, the editor of Watch Journal.
It is the ultimate complication for achieving accuracy in mechanical timekeeping, Ms.
Bauer said, and many collectors who are obsessed with accuracy are willing, and indeed expect, to pay a handsome premium for this slight improvement in accuracy.
In this case, seconds do count.
Even marginal gains would hardly seem to represent bang for the buck in an era when you can summon atomic-clock accuracy with an iPhone app.
But as with any precious commodity, scarcity adds to the allure.
Tourbillons are extremely difficult to engineer and manufacture, said Jack Forster, the managing editor of Hodinkee, meaning they have always been rare.
Before the late 1990s, he said, there were probably only a few hundred made since their inventor patented the idea in 1801.
The talismanic appeal of the tourbillon is evident at the NoLIta offices of Hodinkee, where 3D-printed models of tourbillons are displayed with reverence, as if they are original Giacomettis.
To the horologically minded, who fetishize engineering for engineering s sake, the tourbillon is a form of kinetic art.
Bauer said They are constantly in motion and are an endless source of visual stimulation.
They are mesmerizing to watch, bordering on hypnotizing.
Even so, the idea of spending a year s apartment rent for a mechanism of negligible practical value and almost zero cachet to the general public unlike, say, a Bentley, or even a Giacometti would seem to defy logic.
And it does, said Adam Craniotes, the founder of RedBar Group, an international network of watch lovers.
That is the point.
If we accept that a mechanical watch is obsolete technology, which it is, Mr.
Craniotes said, then an intricate escapement designed to address a problem that existed on an even more obsolete example of the genre, the pocket watch, is quite possibly the best way that we, as collectors, can telegraph to ourselves and others the permanence of watchmaking as a craft, particularly in the face of cheap, mass-produced and ultimately disposable tech.
The tourbillon, he said, is a testament to our ability to celebrate, and indeed cherish, obsolescence as art.
ERA Tourbillon It s Affordable.
Let s posit a fact unless you have some really deep pockets, or plan to mortgage your home, it is just about impossible to get a Swiss-made tourbillion.
Now, if you are a collector on a budget like me, there is another option.
This option is the ERA Tourbillon.
The movement may not be Swiss, but for us this is a good thing, because it makes the watch affordable.
If you are in the market for a flashy, attention getting watch, then this one is for you.
The entire dial is skeletonized and polished to really make this thing stand out in the crowd.
Aside from looking like jewelry on the wrist, the ERA Tourbillon is also funtional, courtesy of two subdials.
The one at the three o-clock position is the sun moon dial for indicating day and night.
The other is at the 9 o clock position and that s for tracking GMT.
After those two, the coolest part of this watch is that tourbillion movement taking up the lower half of the watch.
If you like watching a watch do its magic, then you don t get much better then this.
There are only a couple Chinese-made tourbillon movements on the market.
The one used in this ERA Tourbillon is the Hangzhou HZ3360A.
Just because it s a Chinese-made movement does not mean it s not good quality.
The Hangzhou company has been making watch movements since 1972, so they should know what they are doing.
Looking closely I don t see any flaws.
Works great, and looks great, and it s less filling.
A nice case must pair well with a nice movement.
This 316L stainless steel case is polished with a mirror like finish and looks very nice.
There is a sapphire exhibition case back which shows off that well polished skeletonized movement.
The case is resistant to about 50 meters but there is no way I would get in the water wearing this watch if I could help it.
The strap on this ERA Tourbillon couldn t fit any better with this watch.
The blue stitching matches the blue accents on the watch dial, with a signed butterfly clasp.
It very comfortable to wear and really looks good.
Lume is pretty minimal but does the trick.
Glow is ok, but this is not what the watch is made for anyway.
Can t see that tourbillon in the dark.
If you have been wanting a tourbillon in your collection but thought you never could afford one, you should check out ERA.
This tourbillon is selling for only 1,499.
Thats still not chump change, but that gets you a tourbillon in your collection.
Go check them out at eratimepieces.
Brand Model ERA Prometheus Price 1,499 USD Who we think it might be for Watch collectors on a budget.
Would I buy one for myself based on what Iâ ve seen.
I am more of a tool watch guy.
It s cool though.
If I could make one design suggestion, it would be Would prefer a non skeltonized dial.
What spoke to me the most about this watch It s a tourbillon.
Tech Specs from ERA .
MODEL VERSIONS Prometheus Standard Edition Case Hand-Polished 316L Grade Stainless Steel Crystal Ultra Scratch-resistant Sapphire Glass With Anti-Reflective Coating WATER RESISTANCE 5 ATM 50 meters MOVEMENT Single-Axis Tourbillon Movement, Manual Self-Wind, GMT Hour Hand, Sun Moon Time of Day Indicator CALIBRE HZ3360A PRECISION Regulated To – 10 sec or better FUNCTIONS Centre hour andÂ minute hands, Â Second time zone with independent setting of the hour hand, Time of Day Indicator, Seconds hand functionality through revolution of Tourbillon complication.
FREQUENCY 28,800 vph JEWELS 20 POWER RESERVE.
32Â hours STRAP Hornback Style Leather Strap With Quick Release Bars STRAP DIMENSIONS 24mm STRAP MATERIAL 100 Genuine Leather TITCHING Premium Double-Stitched Threading CLASP Folding ERA Butterfly Clasp WATCH BOX Custom Crafted Wooden Box.