The History of the Tourbillon

Messidor Tourbillon

Tourbillon, meaning “whirlwind” in French is a thought provoking invention stemmed from the seed of ingenuity. The fascinating complications make this intricate masterpiece an affordable luxury for a very lucky few. Most of us will only see it in pictures, and when we do see it, we can’t help but to be seduced by the complexity and beauty of what is Tourbillon.

During the 18th century, there was great demand for watches that would hold their accuracy over a long period of time. Deriving from the pocket watches and the marine chronometers that sailors used, an accurate time was often a matter of life and death on the high seas because it would steer them on the right course and navigate them out of harm’s way.

The problem lied in the gravitational pull of our great Earth. With most mechanical watches being inside the pocket, they were vertical almost all the time. Gravity would skew the time over extended periods of time by slowing or speeding the balance of the escapement. Even the newest watch that has been properly serviced and lubricated cannot escape the force of gravity.

To nullify these effects, the ingenius watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet designed a way to defy gravity in 1975, starting the history of our beloved Tourbillon. Knowing that all watches lose their accuracy because of gravity, Breguet created the balance wheel, escape lever, and escape wheel inside a rotating cage. The 360 degree turn in intervals of usually a minute, would keep the force of gravity balanced out among the mechanism, keeping time accurately. It was not until 1801 that the first Tourbillon was patented, then Breguet sold them in 1805, then publicized them in 1806.

To much of our delight, we now have extremely accurate and consistent time, as well as a line of excellent Breguet Tourbillons and other brands that incorporate the “whirlwind” into their timepieces with elegance and grace.


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