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Tourbillons Are The Holy Grail Of Watch Movements

The undisputed champion of watch movements has a storied history all its own. Learn more about why the best tourbillon movements earn the name "complication."

Most every product category or passion pursuit has its "holy grail"... that legendary piece that can’t be executed (or in some cases even understood) by mere mortals as it demands a level of skill, drive and natural talent that’s usually well north of impossible. For classical pianists its Schumann’s Toccata in C Major Op. 7, an 1836 composition that’s still giving world-class performers nightmares. For Japan’s top sushi chefs, it’s working with the highly toxic Fugu blowfish—a skill that can only be practiced with a license that takes a mandatory 2-3 year apprenticeship to acquire. And for real watchmakers, the holiest of holy grails is the tourbillon.


The Grand Imperium 537 A "tourbillon" is the mechanism that counters gravity’s effects on the delicate balance wheel by causing it to rotate a full 360 degrees every 60 seconds. Because the balance wheel is going through its “appointed rounds” instead just standing still and waiting for gravity to mess with it, it's less likely to get slowed down. And if it’s not slowing down, neither is your watch. Given that the average balance wheel is noticeably smaller than a dime, the level of skill needed to “tourbillonize” a movement would make a microsurgeon proud. In addition, as most tourbillon movements are added onto existing mechanical movements (much like a turbo-charged engine is usually a top-of-the-line standard engine with the turbo mechanism added on), the process is even more challenging in terms of the time and technique required. So while any movement that provides more than the hours and minutes can be classified as a “complication,” few complications are more deserving of that title than the tourbillon. Speaking of complications, most of the tourbillon manufacturing process used today remain essentially identical to the original processes created in 1801 by its inventor, Abraham Louis Breguet. In addition, the demanding degree of intricacy involved in producing and assembling a tourbillon means you quite literally have to be “hands-on” in every sense. Suddenly it’s easy to understand why they’re so scarce and coveted by serious collectors—despite price tags that routinely begin at the stratospheric level and only go up from there. The Meteorite 880


For A.L. Breguet—and the generations of serious watch lovers that followed him—the tourbillon represented a movement in both the literal and metaphoric sense. More than a statement of precision, it was also a statement of knowledge, technique, and deep pockets. While we don’t pretend to know what A.L. Breguet was thinking when he invented the tourbillon, we can’t believe it was to price it out of reach of the people who would appreciate it. After all, legend has it that he originally created the tourbillon to ensure that the pocket watches and shipboard clocks used by his seafaring friends kept their accuracy. We also can't believe that 200 years of advancements in manufacturing and technology didn't include the ability to produce “Breguet-level” tourbillons without the “Breguet-level” price tag. We live in a world where the cutting edge microcircuitry in any typical $99 smartwatch can outperform the room-sized, multi-million dollar computers that put a man on the moon. When you think about it, a tourbillion movement really is just a “circuit board” that’s remained essentially unchanged for over 200 years. Are we simplifying? Yes—to an extent. Producing a mechanical watch movement demands a more hands-on level of skill than is needed to produce a circuit board. But how much more? Let’s just say the answer is, “not as much as all those old-line Swiss companies would like you to think.” In short: if technology leaders like Canon, Apple, and Bose trusted the production of their flagship products to these sources, than why couldn't a certain maverick-minded watch brand do the same? As it turns out, we were right. We launched our first tourbillon in 2006, for about the same price as what our old-line counterparts were charging for their replacement watchbands. More than just the authenticity of the actual movement, we made sure that every part of our tourbillons “from case to face” presented with a level of fit and finish worthy of the tourbillon's storied past. We’re talking old school guilloché dials, hand-applied markers, signed crowns and buckles—everything but the price. And once real watch lovers—those enamored by the art and science of watchmaking as opposed to names and price tags—discovered it was possible to own a real tourbillon that was also an unreal value, our entire collection was gone in under an hour. Despite the fact we’ve expanded beyond groundbreaking tourbillons and into award winning skeleton and dive watches, cutting-edge chronographs, and flight-ready aviators, we still stay true to the same level of quality, craftsmanship, and dedication to detail as our tourbillons. So while we’re not the brand that brought the tourbillon to the world—watch fans the world over are just fine with us being the brand that brought the world to the tourbillon.


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