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Throwback Sundays: Six Recommendations for a Classic Tourbillon Watch from Our Archives

by Robin Lim on July 19, 2015

A couple of weeks back, our Throwback Sunday article was on watches made by independent watchmakers that features the tourbillon. We knew it would be a hit, but were pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming reception, so we thought that we should do another article. This time on Classic Tourbillon watches. 

Ever since Man had created devices to tell time, they have relentlessly pursuit the art of making timepieces as accurate as possible. Many complications and technologies have been introduced over time, with varying results. Some had fared well, while others were merely ineffective. In the midst of these pursuits, two noteworthy creations were born: the tourbillon, and its less-illustrious cousin, the carrousel.

 

The Tourbillon

The tourbillon. Vacheron Constantin tourbillons are designed with a cage in the shape of their iconic logo.

The tourbillon. Vacheron Constantin tourbillons are designed with a cage in the shape of their iconic logo.

It is widely agreed upon that the inventor of the tourbillon is none other than Abraham-Louis Breguet, the master watchmaker from Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

Back in those days, in the 18th Century, Pocket Watches are rather prevalent in the society. People utilized these devices to tell time, but it was thwarted with some inaccuracies. It was because of the way the escapement and the balance wheel are positioned. The pocket watches are usually kept in the pocket, typically a waistcoat’s pocket, and it is usually stored in a vertical position. The vertical placement, unfortunately, is not ideal due to the effects of gravity. The balance spring has weight, and because it is hanging vertically, the spiral is spaced closer at the bottom than at the tip. This causes positioning inaccuracies.

Breguet recognized this issue, and came up with the idea of the tourbillon. The tourbillon  counteracts the effect of gravity on the balance wheel. This can be achieved because in this mechanism, the escapement and balance wheel are rotated in the tourbillon cage. This allows the balance to go through all possible vertical positions during its rotation, and hence it reduces the effects of gravity on the escapement, resulting in better accuracy.

The tourbillon’s design was intended for pocket watches, and not wristwatches. On a wrist, the watch goes through multiple positions as the owner moves his arms. Also, a wristwatch needs to compensate for effects of gravity when the watch is in a horizontal position. Thus, we see inventions such as the double-axis tourbillon, the triple-axis tourbillon, and the inclined tourbillon. Intended to make the tourbillon to be more effective, regardless of whether the watch is placed horizontally, or vertically. And also increasing the degree of difficulty to execute exponentially.

 

The Carrousel

The carrousel, as featured on Blancpain's Villeret Carrousel Moonphase.

The carrousel, as featured on Blancpain’s Villeret Carrousel Moonphase.

The Carrousel, similarly, is another complication that counteracts the effect of gravity. It is the brainchild of Bahne Bonniksen, a Dane who is an admirer of Abraham Louis-Breguet. Patented in 1892, the Carrousel is basically a modification of the tourbillon in which aims is to reduce the cost of production and offers a much more robust alternative for others.

According to George Daniels (in his classic textbook – Watchmaking), the Carrousel utilizes the conventional fourth wheel to carry the seconds hand, while the escapement revolves around the fourth wheel via a carriage that is rotated via the third pinion. The tourbillon, on the other hand, is driven by the third wheel on the gear train. The escapement, together with the pinion of the fifth wheel of the tourbillon and fixed fourth wheel, sits on the carriage that is connected to the third wheel in the latter complication. The main differentiation is that if one stops the carriage of the tourbillon, the watch stops. If one stops the carrousel, the watch continues to run, but will be at a rate which is not keeping good time.

However, in recent times, Blancpain reinterprets the carrousel. In Blancpain’s version, the carrousel requires a second gear train to turn the carriage. According to Blancpain, the Carrousel, surprisingly, is better than Tourbillon in terms of accuracy. This could be attributed to the fact that the cage turns at a slower rate (e.g. one complete revolution in an hour, as compared to the tourbillon which completes it in usually a minute). Also, another advantage is that this carrousel’s operation is independent from the gear train that powers the escapement. This ensures that the power still flows to the escapement, even if the carriage is stopped. As noted, the watch will run with a degraded timekeeping capability.

 

So… Tourbillon, or Carrousel?

In our opinion, there are no right or wrong answers. Both of them are wonderful mechanisms that counteract the effects of gravity, although they may be different in the way they are being constructed. The tourbillon is more classical, and these days a show of the watchmaker’s virtuosity. And the carrousel is a bit more less common.

So what are our picks? Here we go!

 

Breguet Tradition Répétition Minutes Tourbillon 7087

The Breguet Tradition Répétition Minutes Tourbillon 7087, cased in rose gold.

The Breguet Tradition Répétition Minutes Tourbillon 7087, cased in rose gold.

The first tourbillon watch that we are highlight would be none other than Breguet, the watchmaker that was founded by Abraham-Louis Breguet back in 1755.

The Tradition Répétition Minutes Tourbillon 7087 is one of Breguet’s latest novelty from BaselWorld 2015, and it is definitely one of the more interesting pieces from their repertoire. Besides the tourbillon, this watch also features another interesting and highly-complication: the Minute Repeater. While we have featured many minute repeaters in Deployant, this one is a little special. Click on our full review to find out what makes this minute repeater stand out from the others!

Aside from the technical bits, the design and its finishing is also a wonderful sight to behold. It is done as per the usual Breguet standards, with a great attention to detail. One of our favorites would be the guilloché dial, in which it adds texture and style to the watch as it is made in the traditional Breguet style. The movement, which features many different forms of finishing, is also done beautifully.

We feel that this is a very interesting timepiece. While it features complications that are not exactly new, Breguet had reinvented them by modifying and improving the construction and the execution. This timepiece is definitely worth a serious look, if one is looking for a tourbillon timepiece with a modern twist.

 

Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso Platinum 2

The Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso Platinum 2.

The Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso Platinum 2.

Next, we have the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso Platinum 2. To the untrained eye, this particular watch may look like any other Reverso watches, simply because it is designed to be as discreet as possible. However, this timepiece is literally a wolf in a sheep’s skin.

The Platinum 2 is a limited edition timepiece with 500 pieces available. This watch is powered by Jaeger LeCoultre’s Calibre 848, a staggering 18ct solid white gold movement (with the exception of some components that are either using rhodium or gold-plated) that contains a tourbillon and a power reserve indicator. The watch also features a stunning Grand Tallie case in platinum, in which it is paired with a gorgeous slate grey dial. We have done a watchscape some time back, and we highly recommend it to those who wish to admire this amazing timepiece.

We have a thing for tourbillon watches, and more so if the tourbillon was hidden from view. The Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso Platinum 2 does not only fulfill that requirement; it also features the iconic reversible case and a simple yet elegant design. On top of that, the movement is finished exceptionally well. Honestly, what more can we ask for?

 

Patek Philippe 5016 Grand Complication

Patek Philippe 5016 in yellow gold,, a grande complication done right. Tourbillon, Retrograde Perpetual Calendar, Minute Repeater

Patek Philippe 5016 in yellow gold,, a grande complication done right. Tourbillon, Retrograde Perpetual Calendar, Minute Repeater.

Following the Jaeger LeCoultre Platinum 2, we have another watch which has got a tourbillon that is hidden from sight: the Patek Philippe 5016 Grand Complication. However, unlike the Platinum 2, this is slightly less discreet, thanks to the plethora of complications that can be seen from the watch dial. However, it still remains subtle and classy, thanks to the small size and its traditional case design.

In the early days of its production, it was considered as one of the most complicated wristwatches that were produced by Patek Philippe. This 36.8mm timepiece features many complicated functions, such as the Tourbillon, the Minute Repeater, as well as a retrograde Perpetual Calendar. It is amazing how Patek Philippe have managed to fit so many complications into this timepiece, considering the small case diameter and the relative thinness of this timepiece.

Although the 5016 Grand Complication has been superseded by other Grand Complications in the Patek Philippe family (like the Sky-Moon Tourbillon, the 5074, etc…), it remains as a favorite for many fans. Collectors appreciate the 5016 for its graceful good looks, and its ideal case dimensions. The finishing, which can be viewed on our photo essay here, is considered to be one of the finest among its counterparts in the industry.

The chances of encountering a Patek Philippe 5016 Grand Complication is rather slim, considering the small production volume for this highly exclusive timepiece. However, if one manages to chance upon it someday, you will understand why watches like this command such a high premium. Although this is not the most expensive or exclusive watch in the industry, this is probably what many collectors will consider as a “holy grail” timepiece. The reason? Well, it is because this is as close to what collectors will term as a “perfect timepiece”.

 

A. Lange & Söhne TOURBILLON Pour le Mérite

The A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour le Mérite.

The A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour le Mérite.

The next watch that we are featuring is a bit special, as it is a piece that came from A. Lange & Söhne’s Pour le Mérite collection. This is not just any other timepieces from the revered collection; it is a piece unique that features a white gold case, and a specially customized black solid silver dial with rhodium-plated applique markers.

The A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour le Mérite, reference 701, is one of the most important pieces in the history of the Glashütte-based watchmaker. The Tourbillon Pour le Mérite, together with three other models (the Lange 1, the Saxonia, and the Arkade) was the first watches that were unveiled to the press and retailers when the company officially announced their entrance into the world of horology in October 24, 1994. The rest, as they said, was history.

The Pour le Mérite Tourbillon is recognized not only for its provenance and looks, but also in terms of its technical prowess as well. One example would be its drive train, in which it features the legendary fusée and chain system. This is the first wrist watch to feature the fusée and chain, a miniaturized version of what is commonly found in marine chronometers and chronometer pocket watches.

We have featured the A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour le Mérite on several occasions, and they were all well-received by our readers. It is not surprising, as the Tourbillon Pour le Mérite is an excellent timepiece. The combination of its suave looks, the impressive technical aspects, and its history reiterates the fact that the Tourbillon Pour le Mérite will remain as a classic and an icon in many years to come.

 

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-Day Tourbillon

The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-Day Tourbillon, cased in platinum and featuring baguette-cut diamonds on its bezel.

The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-Day Tourbillon, cased in platinum and featuring baguette-cut diamonds on its bezel.

Next up, we have the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-Day Tourbillon.

When we first set our sights on this timepiece, we were pleasantly surprised. The watch looks rather simple and restrained, with the exception of the diamond bezel and the magnificently decorated tourbillon. But beneath the unassuming slate grey opaline dial, we were staggered by the wonderful decorations and its astounding power reserve of approximately 14 days.

As with many Vacheron Constantin pieces, the Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-Day Tourbillon features the Geneva Hallmark. We remark that the attention to detail on this watch is amazing. One great example would be its tourbillon cage, in which the Maltese cross is anglaged by hand, and tastefully executed. The movement, which was also highlighted in our article, also features multiple levels of finishing and is visually stunning.

While the example that we have featured comes with a platinum case and a baguette-cut diamond bezel, the Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-Day Tourbillon is also available in variants that are much more restraint and clean. We particularly like the plain rose gold version, as it brings out the classiness of this timepiece. This is certainly a watch to look out for, if one wishes to own a refined and dressy tourbillon timepiece.

 

Blancpain Villeret Carrousel Moonphase

The Blancpain Villeret Carrousel Moonphase, with grand feu enamel dial.

The Blancpain Villeret Carrousel Moonphase, with a grand feu enamel dial.

Finally, we have the Blancpain Villeret Carrousel Moonphase. As the name suggests, this watch features the lesser-known cousin of the tourbillon: the Carrousel. Although it is less illustrious, the Carrousel is actually much more simplified and robust than the tourbillon.

The Blancpain Villeret Carrousel Moonphase is a pretty darn amazing timepiece, even without the Carrousel mechanism. We love the watch very much, simply because it is very clean and soothing to look at. The grand feu enamel dial, for instance, is done exquisitely. The other functions, such as the date display and the moonphase, is positioned tastefully without disrupting the balance and aesthetics of the dial.  Strangely, glancing at the watch gives one a calming and comforting effect. We are quite sure it is not only us who had such sentiments.

Overall, the Blancpain Villeret Carrousel Moonphase is a timepiece to go for, if one wishes to own something that is much more unorthodox and exclusive. As we have mentioned in our article, this is a watch that is very well-made. This is definitely worth a second perusal, for something a bit more unusual.

 

Afterthoughts

After finishing this week’s Throwback Sunday article, we are still a bit undecided between the Carrousel or the Tourbillon. Both are works of geniuses, with significant horological and historical importance. The ideas were revolutionary when they were invented in the 18th and 19th century respectively.

Looking through the selection after writing the article, we feel perhaps we should also have included the Girard Perregaux Tourbillon with Three Golden Bridges. Another iconic piece, with its characteristic and beautiful three bridges. We have covered these watches in quite detail. Please look here for the GP Esmeralda which stated it all, and here for the latest GP Tourbillon with Minute Repeater. But we wanted to keep this list short, and decided to include the unusual Blancpain Carrousel instead. C’est la vie!

Please share your thoughts with us, and do have a great week ahead!

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  • July 26, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Nice round up Robin and as usual, I would like to add on my two cents worth 🙂

    The list should include the Girard Perregaux Three Bridges Tourbillon which IMHO is as traditional as it gets but also a “to-die-for” piece. Cheers!

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