Summer 2020

A Whirlwind
of Progress
Why the skeletonized Tourbillon timepiece is the greatest feat in modern horological engineering.

Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin Openworked in pink gold. Courtesy Audemars Piguet

The aircraft isn’t the only masterstroke of human ingenuity that conquers gravity: devotees to all things horological would sooner marvel at a breakthrough achieved by Abraham-Louis Breguet around 1795, when the watch was still something worn in the pocket. Noting gravity’s detriment on timepieces’ accuracy—especially when they were removed from the pocket to consult or laid on a flat surface—he discovered that, if the escapement and balance wheel were housed in a rotating cage, it would compensate for positional anomalies. The Tourbillon watch was born.

Naming his mechanical triumph after the French word for “whirlwind”, he patented it in 1801. But little would he imagine that one day his invention could be squeezed into a wristwatch just three millimeters thick. Enter, stage left, the new Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Squelette 5395.

“Tourbillon” is the French word for “whirlwind.”

Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Squelette 5395. Courtesy Breguet

To achieve this horological feat, Breguet’s technicians have placed the rotor on the periphery of the plate instead of the center and created the silicon escapement in a more angular shape than its predecessors. The titanium carriage is directly connected with the wheel train instead of the pinion and base. And, thanks to the movement being skeletonized, the beholder can witness the entire micro-engineering theater—in which an ingeniously revised tourbillon has the lead role—playing out before them.

Another slim, skeletonized tourbillon piece we can’t take our eyes off at the moment is the RM 17-01 Tourbillon Carbon TPT Richard Mille introduced to its canon late last year, as well as the RM 52-05 Tourbillion Pharrell Williams manual-winding piece, designed in collaboration between Pharrell and Mr.Mille. Retro-classicists will favor Audemars Piguet’s take on this fascinating sub-genre: the Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra- Thin Openworked, introduced in steel and pink gold in 2016.

The hand-assembled tourbillon mechanism alone has over 40 parts that together weigh under a gram.

RM 52-05 Tourbillion Pharrell Williams. Courtesy Richard Mille and Robert Jeso

The jury’s still out—and engaged in heated debate—when it comes to whether there’s still any point in a design movement that doesn’t serve much purpose in modern timekeeping, but the sheer artistry of the tourbillon as a watchmaking technique is undeniable. Which, for true horolophiles, is reason enough to invest in one.

The hand-assembled tourbillon mechanism alone has over 40 parts that together weigh under a gram.The hand-assembled tourbillon mechanism alone has over 40 parts that together weigh under a gram.




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