Maybe one of the most exclusive movements in watchmaking, the tourbillon is something many watch collectors dream of owning. However, for many collectors, the allusive tourbillon is out of reach. But what is a tourbillon? Who invented it? And why are they so expensive? These are the three questions that will be answered in this article.
What is a tourbillon?
All mechanical watches and clocks have what’s known as an escapement. The escapement is the beating heart of the watch, a lever which moves backwards and forwards, releasing a pulse to a gear which is responsible for moving the watch hands forward, although early versions of the escapement had a certain weakness: gravity. The effect of gravity on the mechanical components of the escapement meant that they weren’t very accurate. This led to the creation of the tourbillon, a spinning escapement allowing gravity to act evenly across the escapement, therefore improving accuracy.
Who invented the tourbillon?
On the 26th June 1801,Abraham Louis Breguet patented the tourbillon, a patent that would last for 10 years. Breguet was the first person to realize that gravity was the enemy of regulatory in horology. Therefore, he designed an escapement which would allow gravity to work evenly across the components of the watch.
Why are they so expensive?
If you have ever investigated purchasing a Swiss tourbillon, you will know how expensive they are. The cheapest being the Tag Heuer 02T which can currently be purchased brand new from a Tag Heuer authorized dealer for £14,350 only. So why so expensive? The answer is the skill, tools and craftsmanship needed to hand build a tourbillon. It can take 100 hours to build a tourbillon from scratch and only certain people can build them. This explains why most watches with Swiss tourbillons carry six figure price tags.