June 26 is now known as “Tourbillon Day”… More low-key perhaps than the “May the Fourth be With You” Star Wars holiday, this day is fundamental to watch lovers because it marks a significant milestone in the history of watchmaking. On 26 June 1801, a certain Abraham-Louis Breguet (a.k.a the father of modern horology and one of the greatest inventors of the industry) patented a feature that would later become one of the most desirable complications possible to be found in a watch. This feature is the tourbillon and today it celebrates its 217th anniversary.
On June 26, 1801, Abraham-Louis Breguet (the founder of the brand Breguet – and one of the first watchmakers to create a proper brand) patented a revolutionary mechanism that neutralised the effects of gravity, providing incredible precision in mechanical timepieces. This invention was an engineering feat that cemented the illustrious watchmaker’s standing as one of the most innovative figures of his time – and certainly of the entire history of watchmaking. Breguet created, patented or improved many of the features found in timepieces (automatic winding, the perpetual calendar, the gong-spring, the equation of time, the parachute/anti-shock device or the Breguet terminal curve for the balance spring) but the one that most of us remember is the tourbillon.
What is a tourbillon after all? This device was patented on June 26, 1801, or rather on 7 Messidor, year IX, according to the Republican calendar that was still in force in France at that time. A.L. Breguet observed that gravity had a negative effect on the regularity of horological movements provoking variations in the timing adjustment. Since a pocket watch was worn most of the time in a static position, the gravity had a strong effect on the regulating organ. In order to counteract gravity, Breguet had the idea of installing the entire escapement (meaning the balance, the hairspring, the lever and the escape wheel) inside a mobile carriage that performs a complete rotation each minute (or more, as Breguet also created 4-minute tourbillons). Thus, since all the flaws are regularly repeated, they mutually compensate.
During his lifetime, Abraham-Louis Breguet created 35 tourbillon watches, and fewer than 10 of them are known to survive. Some examples are, however, easy to see in the metal, since the brand Breguet and its owners, the Hayek family, have decided to acquire some historical tourbillon pocket watches to be displayed in the brand’s museums. For instance (photo above), the Tourbillon precision pocket watch No. 1188 sold to Don Antonio de Bourbon, Infante of Spain, in 1808 will be exhibited in the Zurich Boutique and Museum starting from June 26, 2018.
Also, Tourbillon No. 1176 sold by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1809 – the one you can see above and that we featured in this article, along with the current Ref. 5367 – is displayed at the Paris Boutique and Museum. This watch features a 4-minute tourbillon and is a precision regulator.
The tourbillon is currently one of the cornerstones of Breguet’s collection. No less than 18 references feature this complex mechanism. Two of the latest examples introduced by the brand are the Breguet Marine Equation Marchante Tourbillon 5887 and the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat 5367 with enamel dial. Both share the same base movement, a combination of tradition with the one-minute tourbillon and superb hand-engraved decoration on the back, with modern features such as an ultra-thin profile and an automatic winding via a peripheral rotor. In a way, the spirit of Abraham-Louis Breguet is still alive, thanks to this combination of a historical feature with inventiveness and innovation.
So, on this June 26, we wish you a happy #tourbillonday. More details on www.breguet.com.