Not just any ordinary tourbillon equipped wristwatch, God forbid that a tourbillon can be allowed to be called ordinary, but one which feature the tourbillon and another complication. Double Whammy so to speak. Here is a list of six of the best when it comes to piling another complication over the grand tourbillon. From the houses of A. Lange & Söhne, F.P. Journe, Ferdinand Berthoud, Greubel Forsey, Andreas Strehler and Jaeger-LeCoultre.
The allure of the tourbillon
We will be the first to admit that we are totally fascinated by the tourbillon. The mesmerising display of virtuosity in the little platform which carries the entire escapement making its own revolution is stupendous. Though many have argued, and we agree that the tourbillon is not an essential mechanism to improve chronometry in a wrist watch, it still fascinates many of us, and compels us to be willing to shell out the premiums demanded by watchmakers.
Truth be told, the level of complexity and degree of difficulty to execute a tourbillon is less than that needed to do a proper chronograph. But watches sporting a tourbillon allow manufacturers to place a huge premium, almost always more than that that they can pull off for a chronograph. And reap in additional profits. Attempts to do less expensive tourbillons have not really been as successful to buck the trend of those costing upwards of S$100,000. We do love them, and have our favourite less expensive tourbillons – amongst those being the Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon Grand Feu, the TAG Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph , and the possibly the first to buck the trend by reducing the entry price: the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Tourbillon, first released in 2006 in stainless steel at a retail price of S$50,000.
Ignoring the practicalities, we are still fascinated. And here, we recommend six of what we think are the best representatives of the genre – the tourbillon with an additional complication. Certainly not for the faint hearted, or those without a requisite large wallet. But read our picks here:
Recommended reading (German only): Das Tourbillon by Reinhard Meis. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, and rather difficult to find in the used market.
Though this list is not in any order of merit, the first on it is the A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour le Mérite Ref. 701. Long sold out, and with the secondary market prices steadily holding high figures, this is the world’s first wristwatch to incorporate a fusée and chain constant force system. The Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite was one of the four watches launched with the rebirth of the brand on October 24, 1994.
The fusée and chain system was a complicated answer to the problem of being able to supply a constant torque to the balance, in this case the tourbillon carriage. And prior to the Lange, the system have been pressed into use in pocket watches, with their much larger movements. The mission to miniaturize this system was given to the then relatively young Dominique Renaud and Guilo Papi, of Renaud et Papi. They made the new calculations, made the models to prove the operational principles, and finally were given the task to make the movements – the project was known as TI1 in Le Locle. These ebauches were then delivered to Glashütte, and the Lange team disassembled, put in the signature finishing, and reassembled, and cased into the Tourbillon Pour le Mérite Ref. 701.
I devoted two years to write a book which was initially inspired by this magnificent timeipiece – A. Lange & Söhne: the Pour le Mérite Collection.
From the first to incorporate a fusée and chain to the first to incorporate a remontoir in a wristwatch. A feat accomplished by the then fledging François-Paul Journe in 1991. Journe made the Souverain Tourbillon Remontoir d’Égalité into a series production in 1999 with a brass movement, and in a rose gold movement in 2003. This series is now discontinued.
And our pick is from the current Journe catalog – the Vertical Tourbillon.
The Vertical Tourbillon is perhaps unique in the placement of the tourbillon cage. The Panerai LoScienziato Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Titanio, in a sintered titanium case is perhaps similar in the thought process of using a vertical tourbillon setting, but they are not alike. The Panerai solution is far more complex, as the cage is flipped on its axis with each rotation. However the Panerai does not feature a constant force mechanism, and as a result, no jumping seconds.
The vertical tourbillon, which as the name indicates, is placed vertically. It solves a problem which is perhaps not the most pressing, but at the same time, we it is an interesting twist that François-Paul has provided by thinking totally out of the box and able to surprised the jaded high horology world with an interesting and perhaps even exciting watch. The retail price is S$359,600 for this version in platinum.
Ferdinand Berthoud ups the ante by not only with the use of the fusée and chain to supply a constant force to the tourbillon, but also incorporates a digital hour display, a regulator style dial and a dial side, exposed power reserve mechanism.
The dial layout presents a lot of negative space which in our view, plays well to the huge central seconds hand, and the digital disc for hours, the sub-dial for the minutes, and the aperture to show the workings of the power reserve indicator. The watch from the back is equally compelling. The movement is gorgeous, and the huge tourbillon is mesmerising to behold. The fusée and chain and partially visible suspended cone of the power reserve system offers a treat to the eyes.
At CHF 230’000.00 or US$ 241,000.00, the watch is sold out, as it was released in only a 20 piece limited edition, but we think those who have bought it, have our kudos for the foresight, and the deep pockets, to have purchased a real gem in the watchmaking industry.
Greubel Forsey has been in the tourbillon game since their birth. But this year, they added some additional features to their already amazing incline 24 tourbillon – the GMT Earth with a world timer and spinning globe display (yes, its not new for Greubel Forsey – the original GMT Earth is already so equipped), but now in a rugged, sports style case.
As we wrote in our detailed review, this is a watch that is going to polarize. Some are going to love the unique shape from the get go. Some will grow to love it with familiarization (like us!), And yet others will hate it.
Aesthetics aside, for the record we loved it after some acclimatization, there is no denying that this is a Greubel Forsey true and true. The concept is interesting. The execution is absolutely top notch and flawless. This the level of finishing that set the high standards in hand workmanship.
Presented as a 11 piece limited edition in January 2020, we are not sure if the edition is sold out, though the asking price of CHF 480,000 is probably not going to deter Greubel Forsey fans. As incredible as those outside the high horology circles might think, the retail price is not terrifying expensive for the marque.
Andreas Stehler is not to be left out either. He introduced the Trans-axial Remontoir Tourbillon in 2018. This was certainly not the first to use a remontoir to supply a constant force to the tourbillon – that distinction goes to F. P. Journe in his original Souverain Tourbillon d’Egalite, and in most of his tourbillons. Link here in the recent Masterpiece Tourbillon d’Egalite. But Strehler’s interpretation is different and he mounts the remontoir co-axial to the tourbillon, and requires no additional pinions or wheels. This is a particularly elegant solution. And the construction layout, final finishing befits its position on top of the pile.
Surprisingly, the Strehler is not pitched at stratospheric levels, but a rather high, but at a very sane CHF 182,500 for the gold cased model.
Recently, Seiko announced that they too have achieved a hand built tourbillon – the T0 Constant Force Tourbillon with a coaxially mounted tourbillon. At this point, only the working movement is completed, and Seiko have currently no immediate plans to encase the movement into a watch. The Japanese interpretation is, of course, different. And we look forward to encountering the actual movement to examine and discuss the technical merits with the inventor soon.
And returning to the one of the many starting points in the history of the tourbillon – the multi-axis tourbillon. Here we pick the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gyrotourbillon 1. Originally designed and executed by Eric Coudray when he was under the employ of JLC, and is perhaps one of the first multi-axis tourbillons to have turned up in series production. The Gyrotourbillon 1 debuted in 2006. Our historical memory recalls that the first to create a multi axis beast of a tourbillon was Thomas Prescher in 2003. But the watch was awkwardly designed and had little aesthetic appeal.
The original movement was recently re-introduced, 16 years after its debut, in the Hybris Artistica collection. The Calibre 177 features a mechanism had two tourbillon carriages rotating at different speeds. But to qualify for this list, the Calibre 177 is more than just the tourbillon. It also features a perpetual calendar mechanism, an equation of time mechanism, and a retrograde power reserve indicator. The leap year indicator (also indicated by a retrograde hand) is placed behind the case since it is the least used of the calendar indications. For convenient leap year setting, JLC have thoughtfully included a bonus month indicator next to it.
The Hybris Artistica model is a piece unique, as shown, and has a gemset case and dial which, quite beautifully shows off its technical assets. This is the cult icon. At its introduction, it broke the upper limit of what JLC had been retailing at. And released the glass roof, enabling more and more ambitious projects. And as probably its final evolution, the Gyrotourbillon 1 Hybris Artistica bears a price tag of SGD 745,000.
And here we have it. More than a tourbillon. Like the Bee Gees song goes – “More than a woman”. This exploration has been an interesting one for us. And we hope you have enjoyed reading it too. What do you think we could have included in this list, as we know we have not covered it nearly as exhaustively as we wish we could.