Five Tourbillions

Dec 02, 2021

Abraham-Louis Breguet created the first tourbillion at the dawn of the 19th century after recognizing that the accuracy of pocket watches was adversely affected by the forces of gravity. Breguet designed a system that isolated the balance wheel and escapement in a freely rotating cage. Now, more than 120 years after Breguet’s invention, the tourbillion is still evolving. While the goal is less about accuracy, watchmakers still seem quite interested in defeating gravity as they develop dual-, triple- and multi-axial tourbillions that are fascinating to watch as they spin and rotate. Here are five exceptional examples from Hublot, H. Moser & Cie., Jaeger-LeCoultre, Jacquet Droz and Girard-Perregaux.

H. Moser & Cie.

H. Moser & Cie. first introduced the Endeavor Tourbillion in 2017 as a 20-piece limited edition concept model. In Moser’s lexicon, “concept” refers specifically to the pristine dial, which on the Endeavor is completely devoid of markings, indices, logos or even the “Swiss Made” statement of origin. Instead, the colorful fume dial radiates color from edge to edge as light plays across the sunburst gradation. There are eight variants on of the Endeavor Tourbillion including the blue Falcon’s Eye dial, which is manufactured from a variety of quartz that Moser describes as taking its color from the veins of fibrous crocidolite and silica. The skeletonized one-minute tourbillion is hard to miss at 6 o’clock but some of the details of this mechanical marvel might go unnoticed – a clear view of the flying tourbillion since there is no upper bridge, dual flat hairsprings offset at 180 degrees to cancel out the effects of gravity and meticulous hand finishing.

The white gold case measures 40mm. Moser machines its cases then hand finishes each one so there are equal parts precision and artistry. Its polished bezel flares out at 12 and 6 o’clock and suggests the inverse of the mirror-polished deep engravings on the lug profile. It is a thoughtful design that feels balanced and intentional. The watch comes on an alligator strap with a deployment clasp. Production is limited to no more than 20 watches per year and a maximum run of 50 total pieces.

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While Moser shines in minimalism, the dial on Jaeger-LeCoultre’s elegant pink gold Master Ultra Thin Tourbillion Moon is loaded with surprises. The moonphase indicator is a good place to start. The main window displays the moon’s phase in the Northern Hemisphere. There is always an artistic flair to JLC’s moonphase scenes and the pink gold moon set against a starry deep blue sky on this watch is no exception. This is no ordinary moonphase complication, though, as the two-sided pink gold hand shows the moon’s phase and age in the Southern Hemisphere. The full-rotor skeletonized tourbillion fills the bottom half of the dial with a colorful assembly that’s visually intriguing even at rest. The tourbillion window is draped by date markings that encircle the dial except for a gap between 4:30 and 7:30. At midnight on the 15th day of the month, the center-mounted date indicator hand jumps completely over the tourbillion aperture to the 16th marker, so the view of the mechanism is left unobstructed.

This 41.5mm JLC is cased in pink gold, which is also used for the dauphine hands, hour markers and tourbillion bridge. There is an exhibition caseback revealing the beautifully decorated caliber 983AA movement that’s assembled from 322 individual components. The tourbillion is visible behind the signature JL cutout on the pink gold rotor, too. The Master Ultra Thin Tourbillion Moon is fitted with an alligator strap and priced at $94,500.

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By the time Breguet created his first tourbillion, Jaquet-Droz already had nearly 150 years of experience in clock manufacturing. The modern versions of its legendary automata are unique and mesmerizing, as are its skeletonized tourbillions that seem to defy the laws of physics. The automatic tourbillion movement and dials on the Grande Seconde Skelet-One are suspended on a titanium architectural frame inside a 41mm red gold case. The translucent sapphire dials are backed by a subtle smoky quartz layer that combine to form Jacquet-Droz’s signature figure eight dial pattern. Hours and minutes are displayed above 6:00 and small seconds below 12 o’clock. The hands, markers, logo and some of the screws visible on the dial are crafted from red gold. So too is the rotor, the back of which is also visible through the front sapphire glass. The black titanium frame adds an interesting industrial contrast to the red gold that is reminiscent of the view through the clock at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris.

The movement on the Grande Seconde Skelet-One carries a similar figure eight design as the dial and the tourbillion cage matches the watch’s internal framework. At one-minute intervals, the six-sided cage disappears into the movement when its extensions align seamlessly with the exposed bridges. It only appears that way for one second but since it happens every minute, there’s a lot less pressure than catching the once-a-month jump date on the JLC Tourbillion Moon. This is just one of many elements that make the Jaquet-Droz a study in thoughtful design. Countless layers and dimensions catch the eye and beautiful materials radiate on the open-work construction. When talking about what makes great music, Miles Davis once said “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.” I feel the same way about this watch. It captures the essence of horological beauty without a single unnecessary note.

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At the other end of the beauty spectrum is Hublot’s Orange Sapphire Big Bang Tourbillion. It’s a big (45mm), bright (orange), thick (15.3mm), limited edition (50 pieces), expensive ($169k) statement watch that, well, makes a huge statement. You’ve probably never seen a case like this. Transparent sapphire infused with a color that only occasionally appears on a watch, and even then, it’s usually on the dial or bezel. Not here. The entire case is a transparent orange sandwich that contains and exposes every angle of what’s inside. Being able to see the movement in profile view is particularly interesting and unusual. The strap is orange, too, and so are the hour numbers & markers and the highlights on the sword-shaped hands. The satin-finished internals present the perfect contrast as the three transparent sapphire bridges keep the focus on the movement, not the structure.

Above 6 o’clock sits the Hublot’s tourbillion. It has a black cage that ties into the screws dotting the bezel and a jewel in the center matches four others that are visible on the front of the movement. There is a lot of action as the tourbillion spins but that’s not the only attention grabber on the dial. Instead of relegating the white gold micro-rotor to the usual position behind the caseback. Hublot put it front and center just below 12 o’clock. It’s functional, of course, but also cosmetic since the rotor contains the company’s logo. Between the motion of the rotor, the spectacle of the tourbillion and the unexpected beauty of the orange sapphire case, it’s tough not to stare at this watch.

Hublot Orange Tourbillon
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The final tourbillion for today is Girard-Perregaux’s Tourbillion with Three Flying Bridges Aston Martin Edition. There are three prominent elements on this 18-piece limited edition collaboration between G-P and the iconic British auto maker: the signature three bridges, the absence of a dial or bezel, and the exceptional skeletonized tourbillion and movement that appear to float within the case. Along with the 42mm case, each of the three flying bridges is made from PVD-coated Grade 5 titanium. More than cosmetic, the bridges suspend the exposed tourbillion and movement in space, creating the illusion that the entire assembly is floating within the case. Two sapphire crystal “boxes” that stretch from edge to edge enclose the inner workings. Rather than relying on a traditional bezel, though, the hour markers seemingly grip the crystal and seal the watch sufficiently to sustain being submerged to a depth of 30 meters. With no dial, the hands appear as an integrated extension of the movement instead of the way we typically perceive them on a dial.

The one-minute tourbillion is positioned at 6 o’clock in a lyre-shaped cage that is dotted with blued screws. There tourbillion does double duty as the watch’s small seconds indicator thanks to its small blued second hand. Above the tourbillion is the exposed barrel at 12 o’clock. Here, you’ll find a Super LumiNova-infused “Aston Martin” engraved on the vertical flank of the white gold micro-rotor. It’s the only obvious indication of the partnership with G-P. The movement is assembled from 260 parts, each of which is exquisitely finished. With only 18 pieces produced, the Tourbillion with Three Flying Bridges Aston Martin Edition is a true rarity. The watch is priced at $146,000.

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Tourbillions are amazing and impressive works of mechanical art. Beyond the five discussed here, you’ll also find beautiful examples from IWC, Carl F. Bucherer and, of course, Breguet at King Jewelers.

About the Author

Bobby Frank is a freelance writer and musician based in Nashville. He’s been an avid watch collector since discovering a sample case full of early digital watches at his father’s office in the late 1970s. Current favorites include the Rolex Batman, Zenith Chronomatster and Girard-Perregaux 1966 Full Calendar. A timekeeper to his core, Bobby plays the drums in several bands that perform across the Southeast including Tennessee Dead, a Grateful Dead tribute band.

Five Tourbillions


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