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The King of Complications The fascination just won’t let go: tourbillons remain the enthusiast’s favorite style of highly complicated wristwatch. REVHLUTION takes a look at the origins of the tourbillon and introduces some of the best of recent years. by Elizabeth LILLY Doerr

ourbillons are an inescapable reality of modern haute horlogerie. Incredibly, in the last 10 years, they have transitioned from a rarity that demonstrates the watchmaker’s prowess, to a battle flag for a brand looking to conquer the upper end of the luxury watchmaking markets. This development is an interesting turn of events and does make one wonder whether the established European scene is not a little fearful that the client looking to fascinate the eye for a more affordable price might turn to tourbillons originating in the Far East. While the quality of these does not yet match up to that of the established European industry, for the price (around 3,000 Swiss francs at the high end), the average consumer might be willing to forgo fine hand-finishing, accuracy, innovation and a grand brand name to become the lucky owner of a fascinating piece of horological ingenuity.

Turbocharged Tourbillon Most big brands agree that the tourbillon is now a permanent fixture in the fine watchmaking landscape. “Fortunately, there are also brands that offer tourbillons with the chronometric excellence that we can expect from this complication,” says Carole Forestier-Kasapi of Cartier. “And this is why I think that the tourbillon will remain an essential complication in fine watchmaking.” To prove her point, Cartier released a spectacularly innovative whirlwind at the 2010 SIHH: the Rotonde de Cartier Astrotourbillon. Five years of development have led to a movement design like no other: the carriage, positioned at the center of the movement, has a special rotational axis, which naturally requires a different gear-train design. However, the feature that is responsible for the striking visual effect is that the balance staff and escape-wheel staff are not on the same rotational axis as the carriage; they are located to one side of the

carriage, in alignment with its rotational axis. Lastly, the tourbillon carriage hovers above the movement, rather than being directly integrated as a classic tourbillon would be. This tourbillon, like a few others, seems to have less and less to do with the original concept patented by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1801. Denis Flageollet, technical director of De Bethune, explains why some of today’s most innovative tourbillon designers feel compelled to look beyond Breguet’s original conception. “Most wristwatch tourbillons are reductions of the pocket watch tourbillon,” he says. “Their inertia is too great for them to be [as] accurate when worn [as they could be]. Initial work was carried out to adapt this mechanism to the wristwatch with a mechanism turning on several axes. But their inertia is also too great and there are too many magnetic parts. With our tourbillon, we have begun to explore new avenues, and in my opinion, this is only

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A closer look at the Rotonde de Cartier Astrotourbillon (left) and Ms Carole ForestierKasapi, head of Cartier's high watchmaking movements (above) OPPOSITE Cartier has served up a one-minute carousel tourbillon, a rare specimen of its genre, on the Rotonde de Cartier Astrotourbillon this year


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Breguet’s revival by the late Nicolas G. Hayek also led to the revival of the tourbillon in mechanical watchmaking LEFT Abraham-Louis Breguet, inventor of the tourbillon

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the beginning of the adaptation of the tourbillon to the wrist.” In keeping with this view, the tourbillon that Flageollet has created for De Bethune is unlike any other — inside and out. The lightest tourbillon in the world, it beats at a high frequency of 36,000vph. While the design of De Bethune’s tourbillon looks anything but traditional, Flageollet and company head David Zanetta assure us that it was created in the true spirit of Breguet and with the wearer’s pleasure in mind. The titanium and silicon cage does not include the usual pillars, but instead a frame that looks almost like the letters “U” and “S”, and also serves as the seconds hand. The escape wheel, the balance and pallet cock are also made of silicon for extreme lightness: the total weight of this architectural tourbillon is an amazing 0.18

grams — making it about four times lighter than a conventional tourbillon. The lightest part of the tourbillon assembly weighs less than 0.0001 grams, and the heaviest a miniscule 0.0276 grams. Breguet’s Heritage Abraham-Louis Breguet was a true oncein-a-lifetime genius of his craft, a talent against which watchmakers even today are measured. Breguet’s inventions and innovations include such important developments as improvements to constantforce mechanisms, the pare-chute shock protection system, the upward-pointing

terminal curve of the balance spring which still bears his name, jumping seconds and hours, the perpetual calendar, the idea of twin spring barrels, a lubrication-free escapement, and of course, the tourbillon. Though he was a technical wizard, his talents did not stop there. The appearance and feel of his watches established a style that has reached into the present day: finely guillochéd dials, smooth Roman numerals, and of course, the Breguet losange hands still preferred by many companies wishing to create a visual connection to an illustrious past. Another of his talents was that of self-marketing. Personal appearances put in

THE TOURBILLON THAT DENIS FLAGEOLLET HAS CREATED FOR DE BETHUNE IS THE LIGHTEST IN THE WORLD at an amazing 0.18 grams

to Europe’s royal and wealthy not only helped to increase orders for individually commissioned timepieces, but also the subscription watches he devised. Marketing plays an extremely important part in Breguet’s past and present. In 1999, the brand was taken over by the Swatch Group. The late Nicolas G. Hayek, cofounder of the group, chairman of the board and Breguet’s CEO, was certainly the consummate marketer in the modern watch industry, and it’s easy to imagine the hand of destiny in his acquisition of the brand. “In 1987, Breguet was sold to a private group of investors, who then sold the company to the Swatch Group in 1999. Breguet at that time was practically almost totally forgotten,” Hayek revealed. After Breguet’s death in 1823, his son and then his grandson ran the company. As it so often happens in such families, however, there came the time when no other family member was interested in continuing the family business, and in 1870, the rights to Breguet’s business and name passed to the descendants of a certain Mr Brown, who

was one of Breguet’s watchmakers. For a century, the name lay dormant until French jeweler Chaumet had the extreme foresight to acquire it in 1970, well before the mechanical renaissance, and just as quartz watches were beginning their ascendancy. Hayek did more than just revive the name of watchmaking’s most famous and important son when he bought Breguet; he also revived the concept of the tourbillon, which, hard to believe as it may be in the modern mechanical era, also lay dormant until then. Breguet patented the tourbillon in 1801 as a way to improve the rate stability and accuracy of pocket watches negatively affected by gravity. Contrary to wristwatches, pocket watches stand straight up and mostly remain stationary in a pocket. As pocket watches are usually in the vertical positions when carried, the tourbillon was designed to average out the variations in rate in the various vertical positions, allowing the resulting single average rate in the vertical positions to be easily matched to the rate in the flat positions. It stands to reason, then, that tourbillons are actually moot in a

wristwatch, which is seldom in any single position for long when being worn. This fact, however, does not diminish the genius that went into conceiving tourbillons, nor reduce the skill needed to construct them. Today’s astute watchmakers follow in the footsteps of Glashütte’s Alfred Helwig, reconstructing and improving upon what is generally understood to be one of the most demanding complications in haute horlogerie. The watchmakers and clever marketers running the Swiss and German brands they work for have now recognized something that Hayek was already able to see in 1999: the tourbillon could be used as the ultimate luxury marketing tool. Although the debate over its actual utility in a wristwatch is ongoing, it’s undeniably true that making a high-grade tourbillon is as demanding as ever. “Breguet was the inventor of the tourbillon in 1801 and I wanted to make a very strong statement about that 200 years later,” Hayek said as Breguet celebrated this important anniversary in 2001 with — what else? — a tourbillon. “I am very pleased that

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Breguet patented the tourbillon in 1801 as a way to improve the rate stability and accuracy of pocket watches negatively affected by gravity

FROM LEFT The Dream Watch Three is said to have the world’s lightest tourbillon at 0.18 grams; Denis Flageollet, technical director for De Bethune


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“Breguet, as a company, was probably the most prolific creator, inventor, researcher and marketing operator in watchmaking, but also in the pure art of design and aesthetics” — nicolas g. hayek

La Tradition “Breguet, as a company, was probably the most prolific creator, inventor, researcher and marketing operator in watchmaking, but also in the pure art of design and aesthetics. La Tradition is the modern expression of Breguet’s tradition,” Hayek said in 2005 upon launching the unusual model family that has become one of the pillars of the brand. La Tradition was inspired by one of A. L. Breguet’s subscription watches. The famous watchmaker was a very shrewd businessman, and in order to take orders from his wealthy clientele without going broke paying for precious materials and labor in advance, he employed the idea of the subscription, which today might be considered something like a deposit. The client paid a part of total price agreed upon for the finished watch, and Breguet in turn

bought the materials and began to work without having to pre-finance the piece. The customer often had to wait several years before he or she ever saw the desired timepiece, but it was always worth the wait. La Tradition contains one of Breguet’s ingenious inventions from 1790, the forerunner of Kif and Incabloc, the parechute. It protects the balance staff against knocks, like any good shock protection. At BaselWorld 2010, Breguet introduced the latest version of La Tradition, which bears the reference number 7047. It contains a tourbillon, a chain and fusée for constant force, and a silicon balance spring with a Breguet overcoil terminal curve.

ABOVE Abraham-Louis Breguet, inventor of the tourbillon RIGHT Tourbillons have become an essential high-end complication for every watch brand. In SIHH this year, Roger Dubuis presented the Exalibur Pierced Tourbillon, equipped with the self-winding caliber RD 520. It reveals its micro-rotor and tourbillon from the front

Continuing the Tradition In the modern era of watchmaking, which could be termed the post-mechanical renaissance, the tourbillon is found in almost every top-of-the-line wristwatch — and indeed in every luxury company’s collection. Martin Braun explains that one of the last pieces added to his eponymous brand before his departure from the Franck Muller group came about because group CEO Vartan Sirmakes considered it necessary to have one in the line to be competitive: the Hyperion continues to be the top end of the Franck Muller-owned and -operated line. The 2010 watch fairs saw other fine examples of tourbillon work as well. Jean

Zenith El Primero Tourbillon Chronograph, equipped with cal. 4035D

Dunand’s Palace wowed visitors to BaselWorld 2010, though the tourbillon in this case had to compete with the Palace’s spectacular architecture, which was so captivating that the casual observer might even overlook the tourbillon beating away at the six o’clock position. Likewise, Zenith’s 2010 “relaunch”, with a new collection reflecting its history and tradition, also contains a tourbillon model. Though this particular specimen based upon the El Primero movement was created in the Nataf era, it speaks to its importance that new CEO Jean-Frédéric Dufour has reclothed it to match the rest of the classically oriented collection and retained it as the crowning glory of the collection. Though IWC’s focus is generally robust pilot’s watches, the Schaffhausen company also introduced a new version of the Portuguese Tourbillon Mystère with retrograde seconds for double-the-pleasure fascination for the eye. Born in the USA The United States can now also boast its first series-produced tourbillon. “I am a crazy watchmaker,” says Roland Murphy of RGM.

IWC Portuguese Tourbillon Mystère Retrograde, equipped with cal. 51900

“I have always known I wanted to make a tourbillon. It has taken a long time, but we got to a position where it was possible, so we did it. No budget, no customer, no idea what it would cost — just wanted to make it happen. The completed watch has exceeded my expectations.” Murphy’s brand new caliber MM2 is a 16.5-line manually wound movement with bridges and baseplate crafted in German silver. Murphy says that his one-minute tourbillon “has a cage that is one of the largest in a wristwatch of this size, coming in at 15.2 mm in diameter”. Boasting a unique seven-tooth click, its winding wheels are of wolf’s-tooth design, while the jewel settings in the cage are made of solid gold. Along with most elements of the movement, the case is made in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Complicated Beauties A. Lange & Söhne utilized the incredible “hacking seconds” invented for use in the Cabaret Tourbillon (the first stop-seconds mechanism ever to be fitted to a tourbillon) in the Lange 1 Tourbillon, part of the Homage to F. A. Lange anniversary edition. A Tourbograph “Pour le Mérite” modified with

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Tourbillon ‘Homage to F. A. Lange’, equipped with cal. L961.2

honey-colored gold was also reissued as part of the anniversary collection. Produced in an edition of only 30 pieces, the 50mm Luminor 1950 Equation of Time Tourbillon Titanio is the most technically sophisticated wristwatch ever produced by Officine Panerai. It contains a tourbillon, a display of the equation of time, sunrise/ sunset times in the geographical location chosen by the owner, and a depiction of the night sky of the same city on the back. Panerai’s cal. P.2005 tourbillon movement is also unusual in that the plane of rotation is perpendicular, rather than parallel to, the mainplate, as well as set at an angle that ensures the tourbillon carriage is in a purely vertical or horizontal position as infrequently as possible — a genuine adaptation of the tourbillon to the wristwatch. Really heading into the complicated arena, Montblanc introduced the ExoTourbillon Chronographe. This manually wound timepiece not only boasts a monopusher chronograph and the display of a second time zone, it is outfitted with a four-minute tourbillon escapement that appears to be placed outside the rest of the movement.

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this has created a worldwide demand for tourbillons. We are by far the biggest producer and seller of tourbillons in the world… I have been copied all my life with every creation I have ever made, so I am not astonished that this tourbillon craze has happened. Breguet today remains the most important tourbillon manufacturer of all brands worldwide and we manufacture more tourbillons in one year than all other brands combined, excluding the Swatch Group.” Although the Swatch Group does not release official production numbers, industry insiders put Breguet’s annual tourbillon production at 1,000 pieces or more.


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Montblanc’s ExoTourbillon Chronographe has a tourbillon escapement that is seemingly disconnected from the rest of the movement

“Breguet today remains the most important tourbillon manufacturer of all brands worldwide and we manufacture more tourbillons in one year than all other brands combined” — nicolas g. hayek Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication boasts a mysterious tourbillon — as does Thomas Prescher’s Mysterious Tourbillon, where only the time, the tourbillon, the calendar and the oscillating weight are visible. The movement is completely hidden to the left and right of the large sapphire-crystal display in the case sides under the bezel. Chopard introduced two new tourbillon models in honor of the brand’s 150th anniversary: the grande complication L.U.C 150 “All-in-One” — also outfitted with a perpetual calendar and an equation of time — and the L.U.C Engine One Tourbillon, which boasts an aluminum tourbillon carriage. At the SIHH, both Roger Dubuis and Greubel Forsey reissued versions of their double tourbillons. The Excalibur Double Tourbillon is a re-engineered standard from the Geneva-based brand’s

complicated collection. Greubel Forsey’s Double Tourbillon Technique is an evolution of the brand’s first fundamental invention: the Double Tourbillon 30°. Up, Up and Away Blancpain’s evergreen flying tourbillon was introduced at BaselWorld in its most visually stunning evolution yet: the L-Evolution Carrousel Volant, which literally seems to float on air, captured as it is between plates of sapphire crystal. (Horological purists will recall, though, that the Blancpain Carrousel is not a tourbillon, but a variation on the Bonniksen karrusel — another and much rarer type of rotating escapement than even the tourbillon.) In honor of the Golden Bridge’s 30th anniversary, Corum introduced two tourbillon models at BaselWorld that are equally stunning and transparent: the

Golden Bridge Tourbillon and the Ti-Bridge Tourbillon. While the former contains escapement parts crafted in silicon, the latter is housed in the striking Ti-Bridge titanium case. Ulysse Nardin also introduced an innovative evolution of the Freak called the Diavolo. Named for its devilish appearance originating in the red “horns” of the power reserve display, the Freak Diavolo boasts the use of silicon in its hairspring and the majority of its other escapement parts. In addition to the karussel-style tourbillon that passes for the minute hand, it also contains a flying tourbillon that not only indicates the seconds, but also makes an entire revolution around the dial in one hour. Habring explains the fascination: “People like to see it moving, glittering, blinking. In our opinion, that’s what continues to be its attraction. That’s it.” H

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CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT Spectacular tourbillon timepieces from this year include the Chopard L.U.C 150 ‘Allin-One’ which offers a perpetual calendar and equation of time; the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication has a mysterious tourbillon floating above a star chart; Roger Dubuis’ Excalibur Double Tourbillon has two tourbillons rotating in opposite directions; the Panerai L’Astronomo Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Equation of Time (PAM 365) is the most sophisticated and complicated Panerai timepiece ever

Corum’s Ti-Bridge Tourbillon

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