Written By: Vahid Moradi
When it comes to luxury watches, nothing can compare to the delicate intricacies of a tourbillon. The magnificent mechanics are in a constant movement, adding unparalleled interest to the watch’s appearance. Spinning and whirring, the gravity-defying functions and innovative design of tourbillon watches make them an in-demand wrist watch style.
Despite its stunning rotating visuals, you won’t find a tourbillon in most watches on the market, and with good reason—the tourbillon’s painstakingly crafted mechanism commands a hefty price tag.
What makes the marvel and magic of a tourbillon watch so special? We’re deep diving into the inner workings of all things tourbillon.
What Is A Tourbillon?
The tourbillon movement complication was invented at the end of the 18th century by Abraham-Louis Breguet to offset gravity and increase accuracy in time telling for clocks and pocket watches alike.
French for “whirlwind,” the name tourbillon brings to mind the device’s rapid multi-circular mechanical movements.
The watchmaking mechanics are as intricately beautiful as they are complicated. In terms of function, a tourbillon places the moving watch components into a rotating cage that moves continuously on its own axis, taking the strain off the ticking pieces that would normally be in a vertical position.1 This created a more regular and reliable tick.
Nowadays, the tourbillon complication is included in luxury watches for its interest and appearance rather than out of necessity. Unlike a pocket watch, a wristwatch is always on the move when you are, meaning gravity interfering with the watch’s function is no longer a major concern.
Most watch connoisseurs today wear tourbillon watches as a status symbol or collectible, thanks to the watch’s sky-high price point.
Who Was Abraham-Louis Breguet?
A revolutionary French horologist during the time of Marie Antoinette and Napoleon, Abraham-Louis Breguet created the tourbillon in 1795 as an ingenious solution to the gravitational effects on precision and accuracy.
At the time, timepieces like clocks and pocket watches sat still on a table or stayed in a pocket facing a single direction. Breguet crafted the first tourbillon to defy gravity and improve timekeeping regulations.
Since then, the design has been continuously improved.
While the tourbillon is an important part of horological history, Breguet is revered for more than this single invention—he’s considered one of the most important watchmakers of all time. Other inventions and innovations by Breguet include:
- Improving the automatic winding mechanism of watches
- Creating a retrograde display mechanism that moves a watch’s hand in an arc rather than a full rotation
- Designing the Breguet spiral, which improves a clock’s precision
Breguet was the horological celebrity of his time, crafting exquisite pocket watches and clocks for international royalty while continually pursuing timekeeping innovations. His wealthy clients challenged him to continually evolve his designs. He is even credited for creating the first wristwatch for the Queen of Naples in 1812.2
He made significant strides in the advancement of timekeeping during his long and illustrious career. Breguet’s legendary watchmaker status lives on in the company he started in 1775, Breguet, which is still in operation today, manufacturing luxury watches and jewelry.
Types of Tourbillon Watches
The many mesmerizing intricacies of the tourbillon complication have inspired other watchmakers to build upon the technology over the years, either for function or flash. Some of the tourbillon types available on the market today include:
- Single axis tourbillon
- Multi axis tourbillon
- Double tourbillon
- Triple tourbillon
- Triple-axis tourbillon
- Flying tourbillon
- Gyro tourbillon
Each new innovation in tourbillon is an opportunity for the watchmaker to showcase their incredible artistry and unmatched craftsmanship. Modern watches showcase the tourbillon timepiece in a myriad of ways, from a simple single opening to a skeleton face to multiple tourbillons adding extra intricacies to a piece. They are truly exquisite works of fine artistry and craftsmanship.
When Did Tourbillon Watches Become Popular?
Although the mechanism was invented in the 18th century, the cost and skill required to manufacture tourbillons meant that they weren't frequently made. It wasn’t until the 1980s that tourbillon watches started gaining popularity due to a revolutionary decision to put the unmatched intricacies of the tourbillon mechanics on display in the watch’s face.
Why Do Tourbillon Watches Cost So Much?
Take a close look at the intricate details of a tourbillon watch, and you’ll begin to understand why the inclusion of this type of complication bumps a watch into a higher price bracket. The creation of a tourbillon requires precise attention to detail by a trained and knowledgeable horologist.
How Are Tourbillon Watches Made?
The process of making a tourbillon is part of what makes these luxury watches so expensive.
With minuscule parts numbering into the hundreds depending on the tourbillon type, making a tourbillon is a painstaking process for a watchmaker. The tiny pieces are filed and polished, and all the moving pieces are exactingly assembled with no room for error.
It takes an incredible amount of time and moving parts to make the complication functional.
Lower Cost Tourbillon Options
With rapid developments in technology and automation, some watchmakers have been able to offer lower-cost tourbillon watches. While lower-cost tourbillons open up the market to more horology enthusiasts, there is a noticeable difference in the quality compared to hand-made tourbillon watches.
The Value Of Quality Craftsmanship
When taking the amount of skill and time that goes into artfully crafting the complication by hand, the price is more than justified. The intricate details and unexpected design choices in luxury watches showcase the artistry, creativity, and craftsmanship of world-class watchmakers.
While the more accessible price point of machine-manufactured tourbillons is making them a more well-known and sought-after complication, there’s no comparison when it comes to the quality of handcrafted high-end timepieces.
When it comes to watches, luxury equals quality.
How To Choose A Tourbillon Watch
If the magical movements of the tourbillon mechanism have captured your fancy, you may be considering adding one to your collection of fine timepieces. Tourbillon watches are innovative, complex, and the perfect way to showcase your exquisite taste in expertly crafted wristwatches.
When searching for the perfect tourbillon watch, keep your style preferences at the forefront. Tourbillon watches are available in all manner of designs and cater to every taste, from modern minimalist to eccentric and gear-centric.
Try these different styles on for size and find the perfect timepiece to fit your look:
- Geometric & Balanced – A rectangular design with intricate details, the A. Lange & Söhne Cabaret Tourbillon Handwerkskunst 703.048 is a testament to balance and design. Crafted in Germany with platinum and white gold, the stunning watch features a hand-engraved dial and a muted, modern color palette.
- No Secrets – The bold design of the Panerai Luminor Tourbillon GMT PAM01060 leaves nothing to the imagination. All the gears and gadgets are on full display in bold blue, and the color saturation continues with a matching alligator strap. You’ll be sure to stand out in the crowd wearing this modern piece.
- Classy & Classic – With a timeless appearance, the A. Lange & Söhne1815 Tourbillon Platinum 730.079 has a clean design that showcases the intricacies of the exposed tourbillon beautifully. Its understated elegance makes it the ideal watch for everyday wear.
- Detailed Design – Combining the best of a chronograph and perpetual calendar, the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon 740.036 features a solid silver dial, gold details, and luminous hands and numbers. Boasting an incredible amount of unexpected design attributes, this watch has all the makings of a cherished heirloom.
- Modern & Masculine – The exquisite craftsmanship and quality of the IWC Schaffhausen Portugieser Tourbillon Mystère Rétrograde IW504602 make it effortlessly attractive, and the exposed mechanism that features 44 exquisite jewels makes the back of the watch just as beautiful as the front.
Consider Pre-Owned Tourbillon Watch Options
With many of the most desirable tourbillon watch designs having very limited runs, consider browsing certified pre-owned watches for the hard-to-find style you have your heart set on.
Pre-owned watches come with many benefits, such as:
- The Potentially lower price point
- Access to exclusive styles
- Expert eyes to ensure the high quality that lasts
If you’re more interested in rotating your collection with frequent changes than stockpiling styles, the pre-owned market can help you reach interested buyers and find the rare gems of the watch world you’re hoping to acquire.
Find The Finest Tourbillon Watches With CJ Charles
Now that you know everything about the most exquisite of watch complications consider adding a tourbillon watch to your luxury wristwatch collection. With so many variants among their design and components, choosing the right watch can be a very personal experience.
A family-owned-and operated business since 1986, we have almost 40 years of experience exceeding the extraordinary as purveyors of fine luxury watches and jewelry. Let us guide you on your journey to find a luxury tourbillon timepiece.
At CJ Charles, we’re here to help you select the perfect watch for your style and your needs, and help answer any questions like what is an automatic watch or what’s the best quartz watch. Explore our tourbillon offerings and holiday gift guide for masterfully crafted timepieces to inspire and excite—contact us today and let our team of experts assist you in finding the watch of your dreams.
Written By: Vahid Moradi
Vahid Moradi’s lifelong passion, dedication, and commitment for the jewelry industry led him to become the respected owner of CJ Charles Jewelers in 1988. From that moment, Moradi’s single focus in business was to become recognized as the pinnacle of value and world-class quality in the his Community. Over 34 years later, CJ Charles continues to grow and thrive as a successful, family-owned business that consistently provides exceptional service to all their clientele.
- Swiss Watches Magazine. Year Of The Tourbillon: The Story Of Abraham-Louis Breguet, The Man Who Defied Gravity. https://swisswatches-magazine.com/blog/breguet-year-of-the-tourbillon/
- GQ UK. The most important inventor in watch history. https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/abraham-louis-breguet
- Forbes. The Eroding Exclusivity Of The Tourbillon Watch. https://www.forbes.com/sites/arieladams/2012/09/14/the-eroding-exclusivity-of-the-tourbillon-watch/?sh=1dbd9ea33724
- A Tourbillon Ups the Value of a Watch Exponentially. So What Is It? https://www.gq.com/story/watch-glossary-tourbillon
- Lifestyle Asia. Uncomplicate this: Tourbillon, the whirlwind fighting against gravity. https://www.lifestyleasia.com/sg/style/watches/uncomplicate-tourbillon-whirlwind-fighting-gravity/
- Time and Watches. The Tourbillon, history of a watchmaking feat. https://www.gearpatrol.com/watches/a214358/tourbillon-watches/