We took a close look at the Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon Co-Axial Chronometer. Not quite a new watch, as Omega was the first to offer a tourbillon wristwatch from way back in 1947. Omega later introduced the central tourbillon in the regular catalog in 1994. And this iteration was released in 2020. Here is our hands-on comprehensive review.
Review: Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon Co-Axial Chronometer
Retail price of the Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon Co-Axial Chronometer in red gold is SGD 191,600 inclusive of GST.
Historical context: the tourbillon and the central tourbillon
The tourbillon has been around since 1801 when Abraham-Louis Breguet patented the idea, but it was not until the 1860s when chronometry became increasingly more important that the concept of the tourbillon became popular. However, early tourbillons were devices to improve chronometry and not always a showcase of finishing as it is likely to be these days. Pocket watches spend most of the time in one position in the owner’s pocket, and the tourbillon was useful to even out the effects of gravity’s downward pull on the escapement.
By the turn of the 20th century, wristwatches began to gain popularity over pocket watches and the first age of the tourbillon faded. This is because the wristwatch is worn on the wrist, which in the course of a day’s wear goes through a large though indefinite number of possible positions. This provides an equalization of the gravity on the escapement, and the tourbillon’s main benefit of being able to normalize the effects of gravity is thus not needed. It was not until the 1984, when the second age of the tourbillon started when Franck Muller put a tourbillon into a wristwatch, and showed it through an aperture on the dial. He called it an exercise in virtuosity. A showcase of craft. And it grabbed the attention of the collectors. Though even then, master watchmakers like the then young, but talented Vianney Halter argued that the tourbillon wristwatch on its own does not improve on chronometry. He went on to show that in fact, tourbillon wristwatches often have poorer performances than regular ones which are well made and well adjusted. But the image of the tourbillon is carried by this second wave, and with it, the association of prestige, and master craftsmanship.
Enter the Omega Central Tourbillon. Patented 1995.
As mentioned, Omega produced the first Swiss made tourbillon in a wrist watch in 1947, though it did not have the fanfare that is reserved these days for tourbillons. Omega had created the twelve Calibre 30 I tourbillon movements of only 30mm in diameter to run in the Geneva, Neuchatel and Kew-Teddington Observatory trials. In these movements, the tourbillons had a rotation rate of 7.5 minutes as opposed to the more standard 60 seconds. The watches were submitted to several trials between 1947 and 1952 with excellent results. In 1950, it achieved the highest result that had been obtained up until then within the wristwatch category in the Geneva trials. Thsee watches were not sold to the public, but were used as demonstrations and prove of capability and for the expressed purpose of participating in the Observatory trials. In 1987, seven of these movements were discovered by Omega, and rebuilt and cased in gold and silver livery to be offered to a select group of collectors. It had closed dials and closed case back. One of these twelve watches surfaced in a 2017 Phillips Auction in Geneva, and was sold at CHF 1,428,500.
Fast forward to 1994, and Omega introduced the world premiere of a first serially produced tourbillon wristwatch to celebrate the maison‘s 100th Anniversary. This new watch had to be special, and the innovation was to position a flying tourbillon with its cage right in the middle of the dial. This was the Omega caliber 1170, a truly remarkable watch. The project began in 1991 according to a 2007 in-depth article on PuristsPro.com. We highly recommend a reading of this article, though for some reason, the photographs do not load.
Back then, the caliber 1170 movement was hand-wound. In 1997, the brand improved its concept with automatic winding and in 2002, the movement obtained a chronometer certification. Finally, in 2007, the brand added its signature co-axial technology to the tourbillon. The review watch has a self winding movement and was introduced in 2009 and still retained in the current Omega catalog. A hand wound edition in Sedna Gold was also produced in 2020, with a remarkably beautiful Sedna gold movement.
The case, dial and hands
The review sample De Ville Central Tourbillon is in an 18k red gold case measuring 38.7 mm in diameter with matching red gold hands, screws and wheels. The case is the standard De Ville round case, with a sloped, polished bezel, stepped lugs and shoulders as crown guards. The crown itself is rather large, with ribbed edges, and is used to wind the movement. A separate secondary crown is located on the case back to set the hands. The case has a water resistance rating of 30m, and the watch is delivered in a box with a winding mechanism.
Gold Alpha-style hour and minute hands are etched on to two separate sapphire discs with an anti-reflective treatment on both sides. The two discs rotate around the central axis to display the time. Facetted and diamond polished solid gold indexes are applied at 12, 3 and 6 o’clock.
Interestingly four layers of sapphire glass are in between the viewer and the movement as one observes from the dial side – the regular sapphire glass over the watch face, the two discs bearing the hour and minute hands, and the sapphire dial carrying the Omega logo and “Co-axial Chronometer” text. However, the clarity of the glass and the application of anti-reflective coatings is such that it looks totally transparent. Also, with the absence of the dial proper, the tourbillon looks like it rises out from the movement. Quite magnificent.
Admittedly the lack of a contrasting dial will also mean that legibility in low light or at certain lighting angles may be somewhat compromised. The hands are flat as they are gold print over sapphire glass discs, as well as the low contrast between the gold hands and the brown PVD coated movement plate is also a contributor. However, in good lighting and at most angles of incident light like in the photographs immediately above and below this paragraph, legibility is fine. And the watch looks rather stunning.
The tourbillon itself is a magnificent creation. As it is flying tourbillon by design, the lack of a bridge allows full access to its charms. The cage is in titanium with hand-polished bevels. The finishing is top drawer, appropriate to haute horlogerie levels. No longer is the tourbillon only a device just to improve chronometry, but is also a piece of virtuoso performance by the master watchmaker to showcase his skills at fine craftsmanship. As an example, anglage is applied to the cage’s arms and to the pointer used as a seconds hand. The hairspring sports a visible overcoil on the rather large balance wheel and visible below the wheel is the co-axial escapement.
The movement: caliber 2635
The new De Ville Tourbillon Numbered Edition uses a new central tourbillon movement known as the caliber 2635. Other than the addition of a self winding system, and the use of a co-axial escapement, the base architecture remains similar to the caliber 1170. Omega does not specify the material used, but we understand the movement is in standard brass and PVD coated in a brown spiral pattern. The case back is closed so the movement cannot be examined by the casual observer. On the back is a medallion occupying the center stage with the word “TOURBILLON” engraved, encircling the Omega globe logo. This is the original Omega logo with the Greek god Chronos carrying an Omega watch and pointing to it while sat on a globe. On the back, we also find the secondary crown, which is used for time setting.
The movement itself is of some interest. The self winding rotor is made of platinum, and has a power reserve of 45 hours. It carries a COSC certification. And it is only used in the self winding Central Tourbillon model, of which there are two variants – one of which is the subject of this review, and the other is the same, but with baguette diamonds encrusting the bezel. The caliber 2635 has been in service for a while, and has a proven track record for robustness and reliability in addition to excellent chronometric performance. As with other Omega products, the maison provides a 5 year warranty for the watch.
Tourbillons in wristwatches are aplenty. But centrally mounted tourbillon cages are a rarity. Omega registered and was awarded the U.S. patent no. 5,608,694 for the central tourbillon in 1995. This patent expired in 2015 and central tourbillons became public domain. However, they remain extremely rare. As far as we know, only four wristwatches with central tourbillons exist today. The Haldimann’s H1 Flying Central Tourbillon was introduced in 2002. Beat Haldimann claimed his was the first flying central tourbillon which hovered over the dial. And recently, Franck Muller returned to the tourbillon with the new Grand Central Tourbillon. If we stretch the definition a bit more, perhaps the MB&F LM-T may be perceived as occupying the same landscape, though the MB&F is a totally different creature, with its angled dial, but the intersection with this space is in its hovering tourbillon mounted centrally.
The watch is certainly one which has strong eye drawing power. The immediate visual impact is powerful, despite the rather petite 38mm case diameter. The tourbillon, positioned dead center, rising out of the movement is a sight to behold. And from the watch face, the co-axial escapement is fully visible giving the dial side even more character. A feel which is a juxtaposition of grace and power all rolled into one. It is neither classical, though it does feature classical design elements, nor is it avant garde, though it too demonstrates some of that character. Overall, we like the looks very much.
The asking price of almost SGD 200k is not pittance by any measure. But compared to other central tourbillons which we listed in the Competitive Landscape, it may seem to be a rather reasonable ransom to pay for such a captivating and rare watch. Certainly not one for everyone, but can be a compelling proposition for those who seek interesting and rare complications.
The Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon was photographed in our studio. Fujifilm GFX 50S II with Hasselblad HC 4/120 Macro and HC 2.8/80 + H28 Extension tube attached via the H Adapter. Profoto strobes.
Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon Co-Axial Chronometer / Numbered Edition specifications
Movement Exclusive OMEGA calibre 2635
Tourbillon cage made of titanium – one revolution per minute
Breguet balance spring
Brown PVD coated movement (Physical Vapour Deposition) with spiral pattern
Hand-polished bridges and mechanism
950 Platinum oscillating weight
Power reserve: 45 hours
Number of jewels: 52
Frequency: 21’600 A/h = 3Hz
Official certified chronometer
Case Polished 18 Ct red gold case
Water-resistance: 30m / 100ft
Domed scratch-resistant sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment on both sides
Individual number engraved on the case back
Bezel Polished 18 Ct red gold
Dial Sapphire dial with 18 Ct red gold facetted indexes at 12, 3, 6 o’clock
Co-Axial Chronometer, OMEGA logo and name etched in red gold
Hands Alpha-shaped hands etched in red gold on sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment on both sides
18 Ct red gold alpha-shaped seconds hand is set directly on the Tourbillon cage which makes exactly one revolution every 60 seconds
Bracelet Matching brown alligator leather strap with polished 18 Ct red gold foldover clasp
Presentation Box Leather watch-winder box