5 Tourbillon Watches That Show the Mind-Bending Wizardry of Watchmaking
In French, the word tourbillon translates to “whirlwind” or “to whirl around”—but in watchmaking terms, tourbillon watches have a rotating cage that houses the escapement and the balance wheel and spins on its axis to protect the timekeeping mechanism from the forces of gravity.
What is a tourbillon watch?
The tourbillon was invented in 1795 by Abraham-Louis Breguet, who went on to have it patented in 1801. It was originally intended to improve the accuracy of the pocket watch, which would either sit upright in your waistcoat or lie flat on a table. This kind of positioning would eventually strain the hairspring and the balance wheel, like a pendulum losing momentum over time. The tourbillon, with its constant motion, was created to address this, counteracting the effects of gravitational pull as it rotated upon itself from every angle.
When you are wearing a wristwatch, however, you are constantly shifting and moving around, so the tourbillon-as-gravity-defiant is no longer a function of accuracy or necessity. This miniature carousel with all its tiny moving parts does, however, look really, really cool, and is simply hypnotic and mesmerizing when placed on a watch dial—a reminder of all the technical precision and microscopic engineering that goes into a well-made mechanical timepiece.
Another thing the addition of a tourbillon is guaranteed to do is push a piece’s price range up significantly, as the craftsmanship needed to create one shows you are sporting a timepiece made by the very best.
Are you in the market to up your watch cred? Here are a few suggestions.
Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5367
Of course, we must pay tribute to the man who started it all by including a watch from Breguet. Centuries later, the company is still pushing the envelope with this ultra-thin automatic tourbillon watch coming in at a width of just 7.45mm.
Though it may not be the thinnest automatic tourbillon currently on the market (that distinction goes to the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic, but more on that later), it certainly makes a case for being a classic and elegant example of a modern tourbillon dress watch.
The spare enamel dial and Arabic numerals are the perfect foil for the tourbillon on the bottom right, a slightly off-center layout that was supposedly originally conceived by A.L. Breguet himself. No doubt he would be proud.
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic
Now, on to the current record holder—this watch holds three titles, to be exact. With a case width that stands at just 3.95mm, it is the world’s thinnest automatic watch, thinnest automatic tourbillon, and thinnest tourbillon, breaking all of the records held previously when it was unveiled at Baselworld 2018.
And because Bulgari is Italian at its core, the design codes are rooted in Italian history, with a distinct octagonal case inspired by the Roman Maxentius Basilica. A lightweight carbon version was introduced at this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, but this one, in sandblasted titanium, manages to look both delicate and tough.
Tag Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T
While we are on a list of superlatives, let’s talk about the one that made tourbillon watches a more democratic option. Launched in 2016, this chronograph turned heads because of its price, a Swiss-made flying tourbillon that was available at a fraction of what people expected to pay. The chunky, sporty ceramic case and leather and rubber strap make it perfectly viable for everyday wear, so it’s definitely a value-for-money deal.
If you’re willing to shell out a bit more, you can look into its latest innovation launched this year, the Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanongraph. Featuring a carbon composite hairspring, it promises to make the device more shock-resistant and anti-magnetic than ever.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph
When it comes to tourbillon watches, Audemars Piguet has history. In 1986, it introduced the first self-winding tourbillon wristwatch, the reference 25643, with the tourbillon elegantly positioned on the upper left—the first watch to have it visible on the dial and also the thinnest tourbillon at the time.
Thirty years on and it is still releasing gorgeous watches that showcase this tiny mechanical marvel, now in its iconic Royal Oak range. This one, in celebration of the Royal Oak Offshore’s 25th anniversary, throws all subtlety out the window in favor of showing off the tourbillon in all its dizzying, mind-bending glory.
Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision
More than two centuries after the introduction of the very first tourbillon, this niche watch brand founded in 2004 by Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey aims to revolutionize its function entirely.
It has managed to do things with tourbillon watches that are honestly ridiculous, including double tourbillons and quadruple tourbillons, and it only produces a little over 100 pieces each year. One of its more understated editions allows you to appreciate the tourbillon in its purest form, with a simple dial displaying the work of a true virtuoso.