a tale of two tourbillons

The Duality of Time: A Tale of Two Tourbillons

Born more than 200 years ago, the tourbillon has long been considered a complication suited to classic timepieces. However, most watch brands have eschewed that concept, instead giving collectors a diverse playground of tourbillon-equipped watches that are as different in looks as day and night. Here, we take a look at two.

By Roberta Naas
Special Correspondent

Invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1795 and patented in 1801, the tourbillon was a groundbreaking development aimed at improving the accuracy of timekeeping in pocket watches. But why was it needed?

During the late 18th century, pocket watches faced challenges in maintaining precision due to the effects of gravity on their escapements. Breguet, one of the most renowned watchmakers of his time, sought to address this issue by creating a rotating cage that housed the escapement and balance wheel. This rotating cage, known as the tourbillon – French for “whirlwind” – aimed to counteract the errors caused by gravity when a watch was in different positions so it would be more accurate.

Breguet’s tourbillon (not his first revolutionary invention) set new standards in advancing watchmaking technology and showcased his innovative spirit and dedication to perfecting timekeeping. The tourbillon became a symbol of craftsmanship and complexity, showcasing the skill and precision required in crafting high-end timepieces.

From the Pocket to the Wrist

While initially designed for pocket watches, the tourbillon’s popularity endured as wristwatches gained prominence. Its intricate and mesmerizing motion captured the imagination of watch enthusiasts and collectors alike.

Manufacturers, in their pursuit of excellence, incorporated the tourbillon into luxury wristwatches, elevating them to the status of horological masterpieces. And despite debates on the practical necessity of the tourbillon in modern watches, its allure remains undiminished.

Over the years, watchmakers have continued to refine and innovate the tourbillon, experimenting with materials and design elements. Contemporary watchmaking has witnessed the integration of multiple tourbillons in a single timepiece, pushing the boundaries of complexity and technical achievement.

Today, the tourbillon stands as both a functional marvel and a symbol of the timeless artistry inherent in mechanical watches – and depending on the brand, the tourbillon watch varies greatly today. Rest assured, though, it is not your grandfather’s tourbillon.

Breguet Tradition 7047 Tourbillon Waltz

Naturally, we couldn’t cover the subject of tourbillons without showcasing Breguet. And while it should be acknowledged that Breguet is carrying on the tradition of its founding father, the brand has also brought the tourbillon escapement to new heights while continuing to demonstrate its commitment to classic elegance. A prime example of this is the brand’s 7047 Tourbillon Waltz from the Tradition collection.

A masterful timepiece that seamlessly combines historical significance with cutting-edge technology, the 41mm platinum 7047 Tourbillon Waltz exemplifies Breguet’s unwavering commitment to classic elegance and technological excellence by utilizing a fusée-chain tourbillon transmission system – both fascinating and historically important systems – to bring the past clearly into the future.

Technologically speaking, this dual system delivers double doses of accuracy thanks to the constant force of the fusée-chain and the gravitational corrections of the tourbillon. Meanwhile, aesthetically, the open-worked dial, a hallmark of Breguet’s Tradition collection, provides a mesmerizing view of the intricate mechanics.

To further enhance the elegant look, Breguet’s master artisans have thermally blued the chain and coated elements of the tourbillon escapement, as well as the guilloche off-center gold dial, in blue. The end result is a purposely contemporary appeal.

Finally, the hand-wound movement that powers this watch, the calibre 569, has a massive 542 components – each of which is hand-finished then meticulously hand-assembled. It boasts an inverted in-line lever escapement with horns made of high-tech silicon as well as a silicon balance spring, ensuring corrosion resistance, protecting it from wear and tear, and rendering it insensitive to magnetic fields.

Purnell Escape Primo 18-Karat Rose Gold Rainbow Black

The full name of this Escape Primo Rainbow watch by Purnell Watches is predominantly descriptive. The 48mm rose gold watch, created in a limited edition of eight pieces, has all the essential functions, including hour, minute, and a 50-hour power reserve indication via an innovative suspended mobile cone mainspring sensor, but focuses on bold color and exceptional three-dimensional, almost space-age looks. In contrast to classic looks, the signature of the Purnell brand is the execution of invention and revolution.

Founded just seven years ago in 2017 in Geneva by Maurizio Mazzocchi, CEO, Purnell produces manually wound tourbillon watches with movements designed by watchmaker extraordinaire Eric Coudray, who is also the inventor of a key element in Purnell timepieces: the Spherion.

The brand’s extraordinary movement, the mechanical hand-wound Calibre P11, houses the brand’s triple-axis tourbillon known as the Single Spherion. Considered the world’s fastest triple-axis tourbillon, the Single Spherion features cages rotating at unprecedented speeds of 8, 16, and 30 seconds for the inner cage, the secondary cage, and the outer cage, respectively.

The Single Spherion occupies the entire lower half of the timepiece’s dial – showcased between two sapphire crystals (front and back) and even via sapphire insets on the case sides. Its constantly rotating cages are in full view.

On the Escape Primo Rainbow, the Single Spherion is made of bright blue anodized titanium – giving it spectacular color. Moreover, the ultra-lightweight (0.831 grams) tourbillon is made even more dazzling by the fact that its cages are set with 152 brilliant-cut rainbow sapphires.

“The invention of the Single Spherion, the culmination of Eric Coudray’s lifetime of work, is a testament to his dedication and innovation in watchmaking. The journey began with the gyro tourbillon, reaching its pinnacle in 2019 with the creation of the Spherion, which stands as the world’s lightest, fastest, and most powerful triple-axis movement,” says Mazzocchi. “The entire brand revolves around its distinctive movement and aesthetic. This bold move signifies a substantial risk, but Purnell is confident in the product’s uniqueness and has focused the brand around it.”

Finally, as if the Single Spherion and the mainspring sensor in the Escape Primo Rainbow aren’t enough to boggle the onlooker, the watch features an off-set dial made of smoked sapphire and set with 12 baguette-cut rainbow natural sapphires (1.04 carats) as markers.

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