What is the tourbillon needed for?

It is a fascinating mechanism and very appreciated by watch lovers. Sometimes you can see it trough a clear opening on the dial, someother it is hidden below the dial that preserve it. Somebody does not consider it as a watch complication, even it is necessary a deep technical knowledge to build such a small and light component. You understood we are talking about the tourbillon.

At the beginning of XIX Century, watch precision was a challenge to gravity. Pocket watches were, for the most of the time, kept in the pockets, on its vertical axis. If the balance wheel weight was not perfectly distributed, its oscillations could be affected by gravity, and become irregular. This could cause a few minutes loss per day.

Abraham-Louis Breguet solved this relevant problem with probably his most famous invention: the tourbillon. Such technical solution is composed by a rotating cage which contains the whole regulatory mechanism: the escapement wheel, the pallet fork  and the balance wheel. The cage rotation ensures that  all errors are reproduced and naturally compensated after a rotation of 180°.

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Il 26 giugno del 1801 Breguet brevettò il regolatore a tourbillon. Questa celebre invenzione, ideata intorno al 1795, sarà commercializzata solo nel 1805.

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Orologio Breguet Grand Complication Tourbillon "Messidor" in oro rosa. Notabile la gabbia del tourbillon montata su due dischi di cristallo di zaffiro, dando l'impressione che la gabbia stessa sia sospesa ed indipendente rispetto al movimento. Notabile la gabbia del tourbillon montata su due dischi di cristallo di zaffiro, dando l'impressione che la gabbia stessa sia sospesa ed indipendente rispetto al movimento.

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Orologio Patek Philippe con tourbillon e riserva di carica di 10 giorni, ref. 5101. Caratteristica di Patek Philippe è quella di rendere visibili i propri tourbillon esclusivamente dal fondo dell'orologio, coerentemente con la scelta di rendere invisibili le complicazioni connesse al buon funzionamento del meccanismo, ed allo scopo di evitare il deterioramento degli olii lubrificanti con l'esposizione alla luce solare.

Many watchmakers still apply their research to the tourbillon, creating some new fascinating evolution of this mechanism because of its size, of the shape of its hairspring or of its ability to rotate on itself.

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Il Breguet Classique Grand Complication ref. 5377 in oro rosa, con il tourbillon più sottile in produzione, sorretto da un ponte essenziale con la tipica lucidatura nera.

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Il Master Grande Tradition di Jaeger-LeCoultre con tourbillon cilindrico

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Il Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 di Jaeger-LeCoultre, edizione Jubilee

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Il tourbillon dell'orologio da tasca supercomplicato di Vacheron Constantin ref. 57260, che ruota sui tre assi, con spirale sferica

The arm movement on modern wrist watches produces the effects of a natural tourbillon, since the balance wheel assumes many different positions during the day. Moreover, electronical devices today available allow to produce perfectly balanced balance wheels.

Is today the tourbillon … not needed any more? A true watchmaking passionate, able to appreciate the extra-fine craftsmanship on its miniaturized dimensions… will never say that. Otherwise, also quartz should have left place the obsolete technology of mechanical watches.

Tags: Blancpain Breguet How does it work? IWC Did you know Patek Philippe Vacheron Constantin