CALM IN THE EYE OF THE STORM
“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
SHARE THIS ARTICLE