Everything You Need to Know About Tourbillon



“Tourbillon” is the French word for “whirlwind,” but in the world of horology it refers to a certain complex mechanical feature present in many high-end watches. There is some debate about whether tourbillons are technically complications at all, since it doesn’t actually add any new functionality to a watch. Instead, this 18th century invention was meant to make pocket watches of the day more accurate.

See, pocket watches spent most of the time sitting upright in a gentleman’s pocket. In this position, gravity can either accelerate or slow down the balance and escapement mechanisms of a watch, thus degrading the watch’s accuracy. In 1795, Abraham-Louis Bréguet, a master horologist born in Neuchâtel, came up with a solution: the form of the tourbillon-styled escapement assembly. In this configuration, the escapement and balance wheel of a watch are placed in a “cage,” which spins around on its own axis, usually once every 60 seconds, thus negating the effect of gravity.

If we want to get a bit more technical about it, gravity has a significant effect on a watch’s timekeeping rate whenever its position changes—especially vertically. By making the escapement turn on its own axis, a tourbillon causes the balance wheel to turn through all possible vertical positions, thus eliminating any timekeeping errors caused by gravity and changing watch positions.



Beveling the Piaget 1270s movement

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