Developed 220 years ago by Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747–1823), the Tourbillon has never been as vital to fine horology as it is today. Regarded as one of the greatest complications of all time, it continues to flourish at the House of Breguet, its custodian. However, it has also been adopted by a number of other watchmaking brands because when Breguet patented it in 1801 it did so for only 10 years! Throughout the 19th century, it inspired other engineers, among them Bahne Bonniksen who, based on the observations made by Breguet, invented the carousel.
The fascination with Breguet’s invention derives from its very genesis: The Tourbillon is more than just a mechanical work of art – it is the result of a precise study of physics, a human adventure and an industrial saga in its own right. In 2021, the House of Breguet will commemorate its founder’s ingenuity, and the treasure that is the Tourbillon, through various events and the celebration of a new model on June 26. When the patent was obtained in 1801, the date correlated with the post-revolutionary Republican calendar of France – “7th Messidor of the year IX,” which refers to June 26th on our modern day calendars.
Although designed for pocket watches, which were generally worn upright, Abraham-Louis Breguet’s invention made its comeback in the mid-1980s, in the much smaller cases of wristwatches that were far less sensitive to gravity. How ironic! Since then, the triumph of the Tourbillon has proved unstoppable, and year by year, it gains ground. Today, the main advantage of the Tourbillon no longer lies in increased precision. Instead, the enlightened amateur may delight in the beauty of a brilliant invention, in a chapter of human history and in the reassuring regularity of a revolutionary process (in every sense of the word) which, 220 years later, continues to bear witness to the human spirit.