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29. August 2023

About the "Whirlwind"

Last month in our blog, we shared with you our delight at the reissue of the exquisite ‘Tourbillon Manufacture’ by Frederique Constant. But perhaps we, as watch enthusiasts, watchmakers and connoisseurs, wrongly assumed that the great significance of this truly revolutionary mechanism in haute horlogerie was also known to everyone. We don’t want to leave this without comment and our specialist audience can skip this blog entry for once – or refresh their knowledge.

What we fundamentally want from a wristwatch is, of course, for it to tell us the time reliably and accurately every time we look at it. In other words, the hands should move across the dial with absolute precision for at least a few weeks. However, the early masters of the art of watchmaking were faced with the problem that the weight of all the moving parts themselves impaired the accuracy of the watch. Due to gravity, the accuracy of watches is not the same in all positions (e.g. in waves on a ship). Abraham Louis Breguet invented the tourbillon in 1795 to eliminate such changes in position and the resulting inaccurate rate of a watch. The name can be translated as ‘whirlwind’, and this is exactly the charming sight of this rapidly oscillating tourbillon, which is often embedded in a peep window in the dial or on the glass back of a caliber.

American writer Thomas Pynchon, who deals with Breguet’s groundbreaking invention in his novel ‘Against the Day’, explains it as follows.

»Time was susceptible to gravity. So Breguet invented the tourbillon, in which the balance wheel and escapement are mounted on a separate plate that sits on the arbor of the fourth wheel, makes about one full rotation per minute and takes up most of the possible positions in space relative to the gravitational pull of the earth during the course of the day, so that deviations are compensated for and time is not affected by gravity.«

The passing of the seconds can be followed to some extent with the eyes, but from the minute scale and the hour indices onwards, our concept of time becomes increasingly abstract. With a model from the superb Manufacture Torubillon, however, the flight of time becomes more visible than ever before. We could watch this whirling mechanism at work for hours and hope that you will be just as moved by it when you visit us.

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Herzlich Ihr
Stefan Oberleitner



mit abgeschlossener Ausbildung im Uhrmacherhandwerk für unser Patek Philippe-Team