While surfing the web for watches, you might have come across some very fancy, expensive watches with complex and intricate parts showing through a see-through front watch face. They have a funny-looking name: tourbillon. “So what’s the deal with tourbillon watches?” you ask.
First, let me give you a little background.
The word “tourbillon” is French for “whirlwind,” and refers to the watch movement’s complexity and multiple moving parts. It’s pronounced “TOUR-bee-yon,” like saying “tour beyond” but without pronouncing the final letter “d.”
Despite its French name, it was originally designed by a German-Swiss watchmaker in 1795. Without going into too much technical detail, it was the result of efforts to overcome the accuracy-degrading effects of gravity on mechanical movements back in the early days of watches. When mechanical (hand-winded) watches were left in one position (like on a shelf or in a pocket) for a long period of time, they tended to lose time, or even stop working at all.
The initial tourbillon movement featured a slowly rotating cage that contained the critical moving parts, so they’d never sit in the same position for very long and lose accuracy due to the force of gravity.
Since then, the concept has been improved and elaborated upon. Today there are tourbillon watch movements with truly astounding engineering and mind-boggling complexity.
The extreme accuracy and durability of electronic quartz movements, along with other advances in watch technology, pretty much trumped the need for a tourbillon movement. However, they’re still featured in some expensive watches today, mostly to demonstrate watchmaking virtuosity. It’s no easy feat hand-building a functional tourbillon watch movement. It requires hundreds if not thousands of painstaking man hours.
So why would you want to own a tourbillon watch?
Look at is this way: You can buy and own a luxury car that provides the latest in features and capabilities, and top performance. Or you can really make statement with a Rolls Royce, which is lovingly hand-built with ultimate care, only the finest materials, and artisan craftsmanship.
In the world of watches, owning a tourbillon is somewhat like owning a Rolls Royce. It represents a pinnacle of watch-making. Not only is it a thing of beauty and a wonder to behold, but it also says to the world, “I know and appreciate fine watches.”
So there you have it!