While searching for solutions to improve the accuracy of escapements, 18th century Master Watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet laid down the concept of the “tourbillon” (spin rotation), an escapement housed in a cage that would spin to even out inaccuracies. Several decades later, a Danish watchmaker living in the UK would invent a simpler and cheaper solution called “karussel“.
For the next centuries, designing and building a tourbillon by hand remained a tour-de-force by which watchmaking apprentices and master-watchmakers could show their prowess… until marketing came in.
During the first decade of the 21th century, Marketing and Public Relations spin doctors jumped on the tourbillon bandwagon. To give street cred to their brand, many started releasing tourbillons in the hope that uses would follow the following fallacious reasoning: “Well if this brand is capable of releasing a tourbillon then it means they must be some serious watchmakers“.
The reality is that it takes more skills to design and build a good chronograph, an outstanding perpetual calendar or more simply: a reliable automatic calibre. When it comes to tourbillons, the only requirements is assembly precision.
Way back in Breguet’s era, only the most skilled and patient craftsmen could build all the microscopic components required to built a tourbillon cage. With the improvement in manufacturing methods, building all the small parts is relatively easy in our space-age, but manufacturing only represents 25% of the job.
The remaining 75% involves control, assembly, hand-finish and adjustment of the parts. If the tourbillon is better in design than normal anchor-lever escapements, this is where its full potential can be pulled out. Sadly, a lot of the brands featuring tourbillons never communicate on the performances of their timepieces. May we ask why?
The tourbillon fad took a surreal twist when European watchmakers started competing to see who could fit several tourbillons into the same calibre or spin it in the most directions… and suddenly it all fired back at them when Chinese movement makers finally managed to master the mass-manufacturing of tourbillons.