Complications - The Tourbillon

Mechanical watches, wound by hand or automatic, pass mechanical tension delivered from a coiled spring through the components of the watch prior to the energy being released via a so called escapement at the end. Due to variations in gravity, and position of the watch throughout the day, amongst other factors, the forces on the escapement and a watch’s balance wheel can vary somewhat, and therefore effect the smooth measurement of time across the mechanism. This can account for accuracy errors with seconds lost or gained throughout the day.

To mitigate the effects of inconsistent gravity on the escapement, and thus improve accuracy of the watch over time, the tourbillon, french for ‘whirlwind’, was developed around 1795 by French-Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet. The tourbillon – a rotating mount housing the escapement, is designed to move as and reposition itself according to the gravitational forces placed on it and thus reduce the error incurred throughout the day. The tourbillon happens to be my favourite complication (word for a technical feature that does something other than tell time) and in this article I will be presenting and reviewing the various types of tourbillon that add so much beauty to the watchmaking craft.

1. Double & Triple Axis Tourbillons

As the name suggests tourbillons may come with a number of axis upon which they rotate. First designed in 1977 the double axis turbillon preceded the triple axis version by approximately 30 years. Watches sporting a triple axis, or tri-axial tourbillon, tend to be rarer and more expensive, an example is the Vianney Halter Deep Space triple axis tourbillon pictured below.





2. Double & Quadruple Tourbillons

In the same year the triple tourbillon was created, 2004, the double tourbillon was also produced for a watch known as the Double Tourbillon 30°. Designed as a tourbillon within a tourbillon by Greubel & Forsey, the following year they also presented a watch with a quadruple tourbillon, the Quadruple Tourbillon à Différentiel, with 2 double tourbillons working independently but with a differential between them.

3. Flying Tourbillon

Whereas most tourbillons operate on a bridge supported a both sides, a flying tourbillon is supported on one side only by a cantilever, giving it a unique and minimalistic look.

The tourbillon is just one of many types of complication that can added to a watch. We consider it one of the most beautiful, however, and tourbillons will only be found towards the upper end of wrist watches. Do you have a favourite complication? Let us know below in the comments!