Tourbillons. Are they worth it? Or just hype? We think they are worthy of your hard earned money, and recommend six of the best to consider.
Top six recommendations for a tourbillon released in recent years
The fascination of the mechanism of a tourbillon is one of the big ones in horology. A mechanism, first invented to cheat gravity, by mounting the entire beating escapement on a carriage which is driven by the power train. First developed around 1795 and patented by the Swiss-French watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet on June 26, 1801.
Breguet had fitted the first tourbillon escapement on a pocket watch made by John Arnold to demonstrate the working principle, and also as a means of paying his respects the the passing of Arnold. This experimental watch, N°169, was given to Arnold’s son in 1808. Now on display at the British Museum in London, it is a magnificent symbol of friendship, innovation and the pursuit of excellence.
The working principle of the tourbillon proved itself over and over again in pocket watches. The tourbillon pocket watch was a mainstay in the chronometer competitions of the day. The position where a pocket watch was placed in most of the working day – in the pocket of the gentleman owner, lend itself to the invention.
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 1947 when Omega produced the first Swiss made tourbillon in a wrist watch. 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 1984, 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. Thus we have this legacy. And it is precisely for these reasons that we think the tourbillon still commands a place in the hearts and minds of watch collectors everywhere. Here are six watches released recently which have tourbillon escapements which stole our hearts. And minds.
We begin at the begining. But this is not a standard run of the mill Breguet tourbillon, but a double tourbillon for double the fun. Of course, we doubt there ever was a run of the mill Breguet of any kind but we digress. Announced in September 2020 in time to celebrate 2021 as the “Year of the Tourbillon” marking the 220th anniversary of the patent.
This is an amazing watch no matter which way one looks at it. The Ref. 5345 has considerable wrist presence at 46mm in its platinum case. The finishing is top level immaculate to the n-th, with the magnificent open work that the dial side. The absolutely stunning engraving on the case back. And the aura of the namesake of the inventor of the tourbillon, with the heritage that comes along with it. Tourbillons are Breguet, to paraphrase of the late toys American toy store. Very spectacular. But is it twice as spectacular as a regular tourbillon? We would argue it is more than double the spectacle of a single tourbillon! Give this a serious think if you have CHF 628k burning a hole in your pocket.
Next up, another megabuck entry. This one is the latest from Greubel Forsey, released just a few weeks ago in Singapore, and bearing a SGD 700k price tag. Sticker shock? Well, not for Greubel Forsey fans. The piece which we managed to photograph, was snapped up on the evening of the launch event.
Everything about this watch is over the top exceptional. From the very special case shape and design to the excellent finishing to the unique movement interpretation of Greubel Forsey’s Invention no 3 – the inclined tourbillon running at 24 seconds a revolution. In our conclusion of our detailed review, we asked if this was a Deployant recommendation. Our respond was a qualified yes. Yes, if the asking price is within your budget (and yes, we are envious of your deep pockets). Yes if you are a fan of superlative finishing. This watch is representative of some of the best you can find. Yes, if you are able to carry off wearing a large watch, though as noted it does wear smaller than the dimensions suggest – perhaps closer to 43mm than 47mm as measured. But even then, 43mm is a large watch to many. And certain a big yes, if you are fascinated by the complex movements of mechanical watches, with tourbillons and having a veritable city on your wrist.
Somewhat more down to earth in terms of budget, but not at all in terms of the lofty haute horlogerie the Chopard Alpine Eagle Flying Tourbillon commands. Clocking in at “only” USD 112k, we think the it is an excellent amalgam of the top high demand features in a wrist watch. A luxury steel sporty watch. A tourbillon escapement. Top of the line levels of finishing. Strong roots in fair trade principles and ethical metallurgy with their Lucent Steel A223. Ticks all the right boxes.
But all will still be in vain if the watch looks like a dog. And of course, Chopard rose to the challenge. This is a very beautiful watch. Between the brilliantly finished case and bracelet, and the Poinçon de Genève-certified chronometre movement, there is plenty to love about the Alpine Eagle Flying Tourbillon. Chopard shows yet again that it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the biggest players in the game.
At USD 185k, the Laurent Ferrier Tourbillon Grand Sport offers yet another in the genre of the luxury steel sporty watch. The Grand Sport is housed in a case mildly reminiscent of the Patek Philippe Nautilus. This is no accident, of course, as Laurent himself worked on the prototypes of the early Nautilus models when he was employed by Patek. The Tourbillon Sport’s lines are mildly reminiscent of the Genta masterpiece, albeit more rounded, and with a rounded square bezel, but perhaps it is more alike to its own siblings in the Laurent Ferrier Galet Square and the Galet Square Tourbillon.
The design communicates a palpable sense of sportiness. Racy, and raring to go, but yet exudes the confidence and elegence of a thoroughbred race horse. The execution is faultless. The movement finishing is particularly superb. The overall feel of the watch, especially on the wrist is one which is organic and smooth.
The review sample was a limited edition of 12 in the fumé taupe coloured dial. All 12 are now sold out. A later series in a perhaps even more beautiful blue dial was offered by Laurent Ferrier. We understand that too is currently sold out.
The flying tourbillon was first invented by Alfred Helwig in Glashütte in 1920. The difference between this tourbillon system and the classical tourbillon, normally attributed to A.L. Breguet, is that the flying tourbillon does not have a support bridge on the upper side. The technical term “flying” is used to describe devices which feature only one attachment point. Thus the flying tourbillon and flying barrels do not feature a bridge over the upper part of the mechanism, being only attached at the pivot point below. And it is thus appropriate that the the legacy is continued by Glashütte Original in their Senator Chronometer Tourbillon, which showcases the flying tourbillon prominently at 6 o’clock, framed by the elaborately hand engraved setting. It sits below the plate holding the dial proper.
Not only is this an elaborately constructed flying tourbillon, but the Senator Chronometer Tourbillon packs some interesting innovation under its sleeves (so to speak). It features a stop tourbillon mechanism, with a zero reset system. The watch is currently priced at SGD 237k, which though is not a small amount of money, but is one which we think befits the watch. The well thought out tourbillon system and the stop seconds with zero reset, and the lavish finishing makes up for the price tag.
Enter the new Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton – perhaps somewhat overshadowed this year by the hype of the Historiques 222 but in truth, we think this is is the best kept secret and our pick for the belle of Watches & Wonders 2022. It is makes its debut in full pink gold and, importantly, titanium, something that’s rarely seen from an ultra-luxury watch brand (at least, until this year). And actually a titanium case is a really big deal, because this is the first time in Vacheron Constantin’s long history that a full-titanium watch (from case to bracelet) has been introduced. And it does not disappoint.
The Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton delivers in many levels. The finesse and elegance of the casework is superb. The movement is excellent, as is expected. And the skeletonising work is exceptional. This is the crème de la crème. One is hard-pressed to find a more sublime sports watch. And at SGD 226k it is right in the money when compared to the competition.
So here are our picks. Yes, today we blow the budget. Well most mortal collectors’ budgets anyway. But yet, not everyone’s. Though these watches carry a rather high price tag, the asking ransoms are par for the course. Tourbillons carry the image of high craftsmanship and virtuosity demands. If you are fatally attracted to the mechanism, your wallet may be doomed, or you may have to spend the rest of your life dreaming. Or, better yet, wait for next week, when we explore six more modestly priced tourbillons.
But high prices notwithstanding, today’s listed watches are not without admirers who have commensurately deep pockets. And indeed these watches are as hard to purchase as with many of the other ultra hyped watches we have seen recently. Putting the prices aside, what would you have picked as the tourbillons which have piqued your interest from the recent crop?