EP 3: Why are Tourbillon Watches Special?

And Different Types of Tourbillion Complications

There are always different roads to reach the same destination, some might choose the path most efficient, and some might walk a long road appreciating the beauty of the journey. Some might not walk at all. There’s beauty in every decision and pain in every path you choose.

As Robert Frost once said, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both." However, this was not the case for the father of watchmaking, Abraham-Louis Breguet, in 1795. This was the year when two ideas merged, giving birth to something visually beautiful and efficient, known as the tourbillon. The term "tourbillon" is derived from a French word meaning whirlwind.

Triple axis tourbillon

Before we talk about tourbillons, we must first understand an Escapement in Horology.


The escapement is a crucial invention and is the foundation for nearly all mechanical watch movements, enabling them to function. It brings order to chaos.

Escapement, in simple words, harnesses the power of gravitational pull to help keep time. It uses gravitational potential energy as its only source of power. We all know, that “what goes up, comes down”. When you raise an object high above, you increase the object’s gravitational potential energy, which is used to wind up a clock.

Without escapement

In the above image if set off, the heavier block would continue to fall faster and the rotor would too, without having any control over the speed. So to regulate the speed created by gravitational potential energy we install an escapement mechanism and a pendulum

With escapement

Now that an escapement mechanism is installed, we can see that the gear speed is regulated with the help of an anchor and pendulum. By adding more gears to the invention, one could move the hands of the clock at a steady rate and keep the time as accurate as possible.

There are different ways of executing escapement but one of the common ways is lever escapement, Invented by Thomas Mudge in 1754, this mechanism is used in almost all mechanical watches.

Inline lever escapement

In a mechanical watch, the torque from the mainspring rotates the escape wheel (yellow). The escape wheel locks in with the pallets (red) of the lever (blue), causing it to move back and forth., at the end of the lever, the fork design takes the impulse pin fixed to the balance wheel shaft. This escapement is what makes the infamous “ticking” sound you hear.

What is a tourbillon?


Now as we’ve seen, escapement causes the hands of the watch to move at a steady rate in a mechanical timepiece. That gravitational force is the key factor that affects the mechanics of the watch, especially the balance wheel, which is analogous to the pendulum in a clock, and the entrance and exit pallets of the lever.

A tourbillon is an addition to the escapement mechanics, that ignores gravity altogether—invented by legendary watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet. In a tourbillon, the escapement and balance wheel are mounted in a rotating wheel and it continuously rotates the balance wheel and escapement at a slow defined rate to minimize positional errors and increase the accuracy of watches.

In the modern world, the use of a tourbillon is of almost no use, as the advancement in mechanical movements is so perfect horologists still argue whether a tourbillon even increased the accuracy of a timepiece. But in the days when pocket watches were commonly used, they did not have much movement as they were worn vertically.

Times have changed. Now, people wear watches on their wrists, and our wrists move a lot. Therefore, a wristwatch with a tourbillon these days is practically useless.

But, as mentioned in the beginning, in the world of rapid information, where everything and everyone is rushing with no time in their hands, a world where everyone wants to chase the light and travel faster than time, a tourbillon reminds you of the time that’s passed, the time that’s now, and the time that’s left, it is a statement of fine craftsmanship and beauty, they make us appreciate every tick of our life. 

Throughout the years many different types of tourbillon were invented

Single axis tourbillon

In a single-axis tourbillon, the carriage is moved by the fourth pinion within a stationary wheel, so when the tourbillon moves, the escape wheel will also rotate. is one of the most famous complications developed by watch manufacturers, and is very expensive.

Double axis tourbillon

Just like the name suggests, the double-axis tourbillon turns around two, both of which rotate once per minute, Invented back in 1977 by Anthony Randal, the entire tourbillon is powered by its constant force mechanism, called remontoir.

Triple axis Toubillon

As mediocre as it sounds, it’s true. Thomas Prescher developed this eye candy in 2004! Rotating in three different axes, each at a different rate, this tourbillon makes you appreciate the intricate art of watchmaking, it might even make you think, “How on earth was it made?”

Flying Tourbillon

Till now all we’ve read is how an escapement and balance wheel is fitted inside a case that rotates, but, what if there wasn’t any and still the entire mechanism rotated, that’s exactly what flying tourbillon accomplished, rather than giving it support at the top or the bottom, the tourbillon "seems levitating” with been supported by only one side.

Astonishing tourbillon watches

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