A perennial cornerstone in the world of Haute Horlogerie, the mighty tourbillon remains synonymous with the highest tier of quality and distinction. The mechanism’s undying legacy also serves as a testament to the father of modern horology, Abraham-Louis Breguet, who patented the tourbillon on 26 June in 1801. It’s then no surprise that Breguet’s namesake brand continues to celebrate this brilliant invention on 26 June of every year, also known as Tourbillon Day.
For a multitude of reasons, Abraham-Louis Breguet was the stuff of legend in his time and beyond. His “Marie Antoinette” pocket watch No. 160 retains a near-mythical status as one of the most opulent and masterful things ever created. The piece he crafted for Caroline Bonaparte anticipated the wristwatch by a century. He was also one of the most important clockmakers of his day. All the while, his dedication to the development of mechanical accuracy remained second to none.
The story of the tourbillon’s creation originates with a singular observation: that gravitational forces were the enemy of horological stability, causing unwanted variations every time the watch changed positions. To resolve this problem, Breguet mounted the watch’s entire escapement (balance and spring, lever and escape-wheel, other parts that were sensitive to gravity) inside a rotating cage.
By averaging out positional errors, the tourbillon mechanism was able to defy gravity in a manner of speaking and thereby deliver far more accuracy. It was a revolutionary moment in the history of watchmaking, to say the least. Throughout the course of his career, Abraham-Louis Breguet would create 35 tourbillon watches, fewer than ten of which are still known to exist.
In the time since its creation, the tourbillon mechanism has undergone a number of transformations, most of which were introduced within the last few decades. Examples include the double-axis tourbillon, the triple-axis tourbillon, the gyro tourbillon, the double and quadruple tourbillons, and the flying tourbillon. The flying tourbillon, in particular, has become a popular feature in a number of high-end mechanical watches.
While most experts would agree that a tourbillon is no longer required to produce an accurate mechanical watch, it still serves as a signifier of absolute quality. It also makes for a tremendous visual, which is arguably why so many of these premium modern watches display the tourbillon mechanism through a skeletonised dial or a window on the watch face.
To this day, meanwhile, Breguet (the brand) continues to release stunning tourbillon watches. The most recent example is the Classique Tourbillon “Grande Complication” Extra Plat. A true sight to behold, this ultra-thin wristwatch puts its self-winding movement and adjoining tourbillon mechanism on full display through the open-worked dial. Available in either 18-carat rose gold or in platinum, the stunning piece represents novelty watchmaking at its finest, and duly upholds the vision laid out by Abraham-Louis Breguet over two centuries ago.
Whether you’re a seasoned collector or casual enthusiast, you can appreciate the history and importance behind the tourbillon, which defied gravity to deliver a new tier of mechanical accuracy. Join us and Breguet by raising the nearest watch in the air and paying respects to this masterful mechanism in all its glory.
Happy Tourbillon Day!