Innovations and inventions rarely maintain their relevance over a couple of decades, nevermind a couple of centuries. There is generally a continual stream of progress, and things invariably fade into obscurity. There have been very few exceptions to this over time.
The 220th anniversary of one of these exceptions falls in 2021 however. Arguably, the most significant watchmaking complexity of all time.
Patent Granted in June 1801
On June 26, 1801, the impeccable creation of Abraham-Louis Breguet and his House earned the rights for a patent for a new variety of regulator called the Tourbillon.
It took at least six years for Breguet to obtain the patent. He originally conceived the Tourbillon idea in 1794/95 when he resided in Switzerland, but it wasn’t until June 26, 1801, that he secured it in Paris.
When Breguet obtained the patent in 1801, he only held it for ten years, so numerous other watchmaking brands adopted it throughout the 19th century. The carousel, invented by Bahne Bonniksen, was also derived from the inspiration and observations of Breguet.
Patent for the Tourbillon regulator (1801 – National Institute of Industrial Property, Paris)
Breguet observed that the enemy of the regularity of horological movements is gravity; hence the provocation of variations in timing adjustment each time there’s a positional change when a watch is being worn. The maestro watchmaker’s brainwave was to inaugurate the entire escapement into a mobile carriage that would complete a full rotation every minute. By regularly repeating the imperfections, a process of mutual compensation occurred, solving the gravity dilemma.
The Tourbillon is far more than just a watch. It is the product of a human adventure, a study of physics and a fascinating work of art.
Abraham-Louis Breguet created 35 Tourbillon watches during his lifetime, of which fewer than 10 are believed to have survived. Here are two of the masterpieces that have.
Breguet No. 2567 first sold in 1812, currently in the House of Breguet collection.
Breguet Tourbillon precision pocket watch No. 1188 sold in 1808 to Don Antonio de Bourbon, Infante of Spain.
The Meaning of Tourbillon
The astronomical meaning of the word ‘Tourbillon’ has been long forgotten. The term initially referred to either the energies that caused the planets’ rotation around the sun or the rotation on a single axis of the planetary system back in the 19th century. However, the modern meaning of the word interprets into either ‘uncontrollable storm’ or ‘violent rotation.’
Breguet, the brand, celebrates June 26 as Tourbillon Day and will hold special events at the Breguet boutiques in New York, Zurich and Taipei to showcase their extensive collection of Tourbillon pieces. Among them will be the stunning Classique Tourbillon Extra-plat 5367 with its incredibly slim profile of only 7.45 mm, enamel dial and peripheral rotor, providing minimal obstruction to marvel at the exquisitely engraved movement.
This year’s celebrations are not only an opportunity to commemorate the ingenuity of Breguet but to appreciate the jewel that is the Tourbillon. Over two centuries since its inventor first patented the timeless timepiece, it remains a work of art and a high point in the history of horology.
Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat 5367. Back and front.