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Tourbillons montage Tourbillons montage Photo: Modern Luxury

To create a tourbillon, in the world of haute horology, seems to be a kind of code, a signal that a brand has truly arrived and is ready to play with the big dogs. It is a technical tour de force that enhances a watch's precision, but it doesn't quite play the same role as it did at its invention in the early 19th century. Those were the days of top hats and watch fobs, when a pocket watch's continual upright position in a gentleman's waistcoat meant that gravity would exert a perpetual drag on the balance and balance-spring, negatively affecting its precision.

Abraham-Louis Breguet (basically the patron saint of watchmakers), came up with the idea of canceling out these effects by enclosing the balance, balance-spring and escapement within a carriage that rotates upon its axis—these days, the time of rotation is usually one minute. As the escapement passes through every position in its orbit, the tiny gravitational tugs on the mechanism cancel each other out, lending the watch greater precision and reliability.

With the arrival of the wristwatch, which is constantly changing position as  wearer walks or gesticulates, the tourbillon is no longer, strictly speaking, one of the more utilitarian complications. But as mechanical horology regained power and popularity in the 21st century, the tourbillon rose to new prominence as the “king of complications.” Its Old World flair and historical raison d'être has been like catnip for watchmakers eager to demonstrate their technical skill and willingness to raise the stakes.

We will explore the full range of tourbillons over this month, beginning with brands that present a classical style, treating the complication itself as the star of the show.

Breguet – Classique Complications 5317

Breguet --classique complications Breguet --classique complications Photo: Modern Luxury

The brand that carries Abraham-Louis Breguet's name also carries on his legacy, with an elegant model that makes the tourbillon stand out by contrasting it with the silvered gold dial, and adding a seconds display to the complication. Blued steel hands indicate the hours, minutes and seconds, as well as a five-day power reserve indication at 12 o'clock.

Patek Philippe – Ref. 5101/100R – Rare Handcrafts

Patek Philippe Patek Philippe Photo: Modern Luxury

Patek Philippe typically takes an understated approach to the tourbillon, hiding it on the dial side to avoid the deleterious effects that UV rays can have on the delicate, lubricated mechanical parts (being sure to display the tourbillon, however, through the caseback). This 2011 limited edition model displays the horologer's exquisite mastery of the art of engraving, creating an intricate world of arabesques and leafy curves.

A. Lange & Söhne – Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst

Lange & Söhne Lange & Söhne Photo: Modern Luxury German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne included a tourbillon in this special, 20-piece limited edition of the Lange 1, which evokes the many overlapping circles of clockwork on its dial. Small seconds overlap with the hour indexes, and the tourbillon, half-hidden, seems to be the logical startpoint of the power reserve display at 3 o'clock. The one-minute tourbillon includes a patented stop-seconds mechanism. “Doppelfederhaus” on the dial refers to the timepiece's double barrel, which provides the piece with a power reserve of 72 hours.

Vacheron Constantin – Traditionnelle 14-Day Tourbillon

Vacheron Constantin - traditionnelle 14-day tourbillon Vacheron Constantin - traditionnelle 14-day tourbillon Photo: Modern Luxury

The Caliber 2260 provides this tourbillon model with a whopping 14 days of power reserve, noted via display that is given nearly the same importance as the tourbillon itself on the dial. The Maltese cross on the tourbillon carriage visually echoes Vacheron Constantin's logo.