Everything You Need to Know About Tourbillon

The mechanical description of a tourbillon might not be the best way to convey just how intricate the inner workings of this “whirlwind” really is, so picture it this way: In the movement of any mechanical watch, power from the mainspring is transmitted through the balance wheel to the gears of the movement. The balance wheel essentially regulates the flow of power supplied by the mainspring for the rest of the movement—this is why it’s often referred to as the “heartbeat of a watch.” When the balance wheel (the entire escapement assembly, actually) is mounted in the “cage” of a tourbillon, it means that the mechanism must perform its already complex job while rotating steadily as a tiny, suspended construct. In essence, the heart of the timepiece keeps ticking while spinning inside a whirlwind.

So, as luxury watch makers began to call attention to the incredible craftsmanship that goes into their timepieces, the tourbillon moved from the deep within the case toward the front of the dial. It became a mark of quality and exclusivity for timepieces made only by the best watch houses. And it certainly worked: The tourbillon is complicated enough to ensure its relative exclusivity, steeped in rich history and visual splendor.

 

“There is still some debate as to whether tourbillons were ever necessary in the first place, yet in the latter part of the 20th century, it made a grand comeback”

 

Naturally, horologists from all corners of the industry started trying to outdo each other. In 1977, Anthony Randall invented the first double axis tourbillon and a working model of the design was created the next year by Richard Good. A quarter of a century later, in 2004, the triple axis tourbillon was born in the workshops of Thomas Prescher Haute Horlogerie. That year also saw the emergence of the double tourbillon from Greubel Forsey. This mechanism had one tourbillon cage whirling inside another cage. The inner tourbillon rotated at an inclination of 30 degrees and a rate of one rotation per minute, while the outer tourbillon rotated once every four minutes. The next year, the brand formed by Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey presented their quadruple tourbillon, which had two double tourbillons working constantly and independently.

 

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Girard-Perregaux‘s Vintage 1945 Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges “70th Anniversary Edition”

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