Insider's Picks: Five Top Tourbillons of 2012

The dust of the watch fairs of 2012 have long since settled and now is the perfect time to take a closer look at new watches in different categories. This month, we feature five tourbillons that swept us away

From a mechanical timekeeping perspective, perhaps nothing expresses fine watchmaking visually as the tourbillon mechanism. Invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet circa 1795 to counter the effects of gravity on the escapement, it has the most welcome side effect today of being the most attractive showcase of technical skills in watchmaking.

From research and development into new materials for the various components of the tourbillon mechanism to the efforts of watchmakers to add fine finishing touches to a structure that may be a mere fraction of a cubic centimeter and weigh less than a gram, the tourbillon is a symbol of the values of haute horlogerie.

Indeed, we happily declare that the tourbillon is far more than a technical solution in timekeeping. While the tourbillon has existed since the time of Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) it has evolved to transcend its own roots. Briefly, in the typical tourbillon, the escapement and all its parts are housed within a cage that spins on its own axis, typically making a full circuit in 60 seconds.

As we have written before, gravity affects the balance assembly in one position so Breguet’s solution was to place the entire system – balance, pallets and escape wheel – in the above-mentioned cage. In this way, the errors of rate would be evened out across a single plane because the balance assembly is never in one position for long.

Clearly, this system works best in pocket watches because the escapement is largely in the vertical position. The wristwatch calls for something a little different. As you can easily see from our selection of tourbillon wristwatches below, the traditional description barely cuts it.

As an aside, we tried to select watches where the tourbillon is the most important element. We are saving the excellent multi-complications of 2012 for their own list. 

If there is one thing we can take away from these exceptional tourbillon watches it is that watchmakers are continuing to think outside the cage, as it were. From DeWitt to Vacheron Constantin, the idea is to emphasize the special properties of the tourbillons in question and how these properties add value to the watches on the whole. As the tide of tourbillon watches continues unabated, these watches make the case that each tourbillon is a unique proposition.

  • Insiders Picks Five Top Tourbillons Of 2012 8DeWitt Twenty 8 Eight Tourbillon Squelette - The one-minute tourbillon here is somewhat conventional when compared with others in this list but it hides some delightful touches that deeply impressed us. One of these is the execution of the balance, escape wheel and anchor in 18k gold, an old school touch juxtaposed against the highly contemporary nature of the watch as a whole. Similarly old school is the 18,000 vph rate of the Straumann balance spring, holding court in the center of the tourbillon mechanism, which is held in place by an Art Déco bridge. With the next watch, we leave these subtleties behind and charge into hard science…
  • Insiders Picks Five Top Tourbillons Of 2012 4Harry Winston Histoire de Tourbillon 3 - There are two escapements here in three tourbillons, set at different angles, and connected via a differential gear system. These occupy about a third of the watch, in a separate section with its own sapphire crystal and bezel. The tourbillon at 9 o’clock is a double axis number, with one cage rotating every 40 seconds while the second cage rotates every 120 seconds. The second tourbillon at 6 o’clock rotates once every 36 seconds on a single axis. Harry Winston has not announced any timekeeping gains for this new configuration but it is certainly a feat of micro-mechanical ingenuity. In any case, standard thinking about the multi-axis tourbillon applies here. See the next watch for details.
  • Insiders Picks Five Top Tourbillons Of 2012 3Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre à Sphérotourbillon - Unmatched in high watchmaking at the present time, the new Duomètre features a double axis tourbillon with cylindrical balance spring. To put it simply, the outer tourbillon completes one rotation every 30 seconds on the axis of its titanium cage. At the same time, a second inner tourbillon mechanism rotates twice as fast – once every 15 seconds – on a second axis, inclined at a 20° angle. In theory, the multi-axis concept allows the tourbillon to achieve three-dimensional movement. This in turn allows the entire mechanism to counter the negative effects of gravity in freely moving wristwatch.
  • Insiders Picks Five Top Tourbillons Of 2012 5Richard Mille RM053 - This close-up shows the display of time, set at an angle to the 50mmX42.7mm case, with small seconds on the tourbillon carriage on the left and hours and minutes on the right. To be more specific, the movement and its tourbillon are set at a 30 degree angle in a shock-absorbing bracket. According to Richard Mille the movement was designed this way to weather the shocks and blows of a polo match. Polo player Pablo Mac Donough will be wearing the watch and submitting it to the full force of professional lifestyle.
  • Insiders Picks Five Top Tourbillons Of 2012 2Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Traditionelle 14 Day Tourbillon - To date, this watch has the distinction of having the longest power reserve (14 days) of any tourbillon wristwatch. It is also worth noting that this tourbillon watch is the first Vacheron Constantin watch to receive the new-and-improved Poinçon de Genève or Hallmark of Geneva. The new standard for the Poinçon de Genève takes into account the accuracy of the movement and the overall excellence of the entire watch, which implies that this tourbillon is built both tough and elegant. 

For more information and pictures on each watch, please see the individual stories below:

DeWitt Twenty 8 Eight Tourbillon Squelette

Harry Winston Histoire de Tourbillon 3

Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre à Sphérotourbillon

Richard Mille RM053

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Traditionelle 14 Day Tourbillon

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