What is/ has been the significance of the tourbillon complication in mechanical timepiece movements?
First of all, what is a horological complication?
Any display beyond the simple display of hours and minutes is a complication.
Date display, alarms, chronographs and automatic winding mechanisms are common complications. High complication movements such as the Tourbillon or the moon phases are often produced in limited edition by the haute-horlogerie (fine watchmaking) due to the complexity of designing, creating, integrating and assembling it.
Where does the name “Tourbillon” come from?
The name comes from French word which means “whirling around”.
What is a tourbillon?
This is a complex, sophisticated micro-engineered feature in a mechanical timepiece. The regulating system is mounted in a cage revolving regularly around its axis to counteract in average the negative effects of gravity on time precision on the oscillating balance springs.
Is the tourbillon still relevant for time precision today?
When the first tourbillon was invented in 1805, it was a major breakthrough for time precision. Especially the pocket watches worn in a vertical position were quite badly affected by gravity. Now a day, because of the latest fine watchmaking developments tourbillon’s value as accuracy enhancers has decreased substantially and is even questionable.
However it is fair to also emphasize that innovation in fine watchmaking has recently created flying, extra flat or more shock resistant tourbillons.
Whatever the critics may say, tourbillons remain an essential part of the world most expensive high luxury timepieces.
Why are tourbillon timepieces more/so expensive?
Most of expensive Swiss watches are equipped with a movement enhanced by a tourbillon, because it is definitely one of the most difficult system-regulator to design, assemble and finish by hand. The micro mechanism is tiny, made out of 40 elements, integrating light weight metals like titanium or outstanding precious materials, such as jewels or gold.
Tourbillon chronograph movement may take 4 to 6 months to be completed, requiring special tools and very high knowhow and skills by the maître horloger.
It is possible to find some cheaper tourbillons of lesser quality on the market. But well-finished and exceptional tourbillon watches from specialised manufacturers should remain at a high premium due to rarity (limited edition), technical complexity, high quality finishing, miniaturisation, innovation and expensive basic materials; as well the market is willing to pay a premium for a watch with a tourbillon.
Why? It has an intrinsic magic beauty and fascinating history. Tourbillons remain marvels of micro-engineering enhancing exceptional movement and increasing greatly the beauty of watch features. That gives the tourbillon a long lasting appeal. If you have never been mesmerised by its “tour de magie”, give a try sometimes. Be prepared to become enchanted by its intriguing whirling and its regular mechanical sound….