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Reference Library

Tourbillon Watchmaking

Tourbillon is a French word meaning “whirlwind”, which describes the uniqueness of these watches perfectly, because after they were created their popularity grew like a whirlwind among high-end watches.

Tourbillon watches were developed in 1795 by Abraham-Lewis Breguet. His watches had a revolutionary design that focused largely on gravity’s effects on the escapement, which is the most delicate part of a watch and determines the exactness of each piece’s timekeeping ability. A watchmaker’s greatest challenge is gaining the same effect from the escapement no matter what position the watch is in at any given moment.

The Tourbillion watch is still considered to be one of the most challenging mechanisms for watchmakers to make. The engineering of these watches consist of the escapement mounted in the rotating cage, the fourth wheel, which is fixed and concentric with the cage, the escape wheel pinion, the fourth wheel, which meshes with the escape pinion causing it to rotate, and the third wheel that drives the cage, rotating it once every minute. These mechanisms are typically exposed on the front of the watch in order to show the graceful movement of the Tourbillon watch.

Examples of the Movement

  • The Tourbillon mechanics aim to counter the effects of gravity.
  • The engineering of these timepieces allows it to make one complete 360 degree revolution per minute
  • Escapement (escape wheel, lever, and balance wheel) all mounted in a rotating cage.
  • A Tourbillon spins around its own axis.
  • Unique mechanics give a better possibility of accuracy of time.

The escapement transfers energy allowing its oscillations to be counted by replacing the energy lost to friction during each cycle. Within the escapement, the hairspring is perhaps the most delicate of all—it functions as the timing regulator for the escapement. This makes it vulnerable to exterior and interior conditions such as temperature, magnetism, pinning positions, terminal curve, and gravity. This makes all the difference in the Tourbillon, because its escapement spins around on its own axis in four vertical positions, so it doesn’t matter if the watch is kept still and in a vertical position.

Even today, Tourbillon watches are still included in many modern day watches, because of the fine and efficient workmanship in this design. Also, it proves that watch making, as a profession, continues to be a prestigious and time honored trade.  Watchmaking is the precision art involving dedication and devotion engineering at a microscopic level. The Institute of Swiss Watchmaking runs two of the world’s leading watchmaking schools for students and professionals that are interested in pursuing a career in the watchmaking industry.