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Traditional to radical: new tourbillons at SIHH 2019
Connoisseur of watches

Traditional to radical: new tourbillons at SIHH 2019

Wednesday, 20 February 2019
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Carol Besler
Journalist

“Watches are functional art.”

Carol Besler covers watches and jewelry worldwide.

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5 min read

Tourbillons were the hot new complication in the late ’90s and early aughts. At the time, it was impressive enough to show the escapement on the dial, with its twirling carriage and decorated bridge. Nearly 20 years later, tourbillons need to pack a little more oomph to impress potential buyers.

Now that the market is back, so is the tourbillon, with futuristic designs, new materials and sometimes radical aesthetics. Here are some pieces introduced at Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie.

Girard-Perregaux Bridges Cosmos

This model so raises the bar on showmanship that the tourbillon is almost beside the point. Girard-Perregaux ambitiously depicts all 12 constellations in 3D, the entire earth in 3D, a day/night indicator, a GMT second time zone along with the tourbillon escapement, all on a 48mm canvas. And yet the blue and black color scheme keeps the composition from feeling crowded or over the top. The adjacent globes represent the view from earth to space and vice versa. The space globe rotates every 23 hours, 58 minutes and 4 seconds to show sidereal time, with constellations lighting up via luminescent hydroceramic particles. Tourbillon? What tourbillon?

Bridges Cosmos © Girard-Perregaux
Bridges Cosmos © Girard-Perregaux
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel

The even more complicated Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel is really the masterpiece of the fair. This is the fifth watch in which JLC has showcased a multi-axis tourbillon, which this time shares the spotlight with a Westminster carillon minute repeater and a perpetual calendar. There is also a constant force mechanism to keep the amplitude steady, which seems like a must in a watch that uses so much power. As if this package weren’t enough of a performance, the date indicator hand is designed to jump from 16 to 17 over the tourbillon aperture so as not to obscure the view. This is sure to be one of those collector’s pieces we will see at auction in a few years (or perhaps sooner).

Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpetuel © Jaeger-LeCoultre
Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpetuel © Jaeger-LeCoultre
Bovet 1822 Recital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One

This watch challenges the traditional aesthetics of the tourbillon, taking the concept of skeletonization to the next level with a transparent sapphire crystal case. The slope-sided case design was inspired by a writing desk that belonged to Bovet owner Pascal Raffy’s grandfather. The material is lightweight but only seems fragile: sapphire is one of the hardest gems known to man. The only transparent material that would be harder is diamond, which would be exorbitantly expensive. The movement, a flying tourbillon, was built from scratch to fit the inclined case.

Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One © Bovet 1822
Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One © Bovet 1822
Roger Dubuis Excalibur One-Off

Also defying traditional design boundaries – albeit predictably for this brand – is the Roger Dubuis Excalibur One-Off. Like the one-off Lamborghini SC18 Alston supercar that inspired it, this watch is built for performance and designed to attract attention. The case, like the body of the car, is carbon fiber. Bezel and minute markers are ceramic, which is used on the car’s brakes, and the strap has a mesh inner lining made of the same nylon fibers embedded in the Pirelli tires made for Lamborghini. The movement is a dual flying tourbillon that, like all Roger Dubuis watches, is finished to Poinçon de Genève standards.

Excalibur One-Off © Roger Dubuis
Excalibur One-Off © Roger Dubuis
H. Moser & Cie Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black

At the other extreme, aesthetically, is the H. Moser & Cie Swiss Alp, perhaps the most minimalist tourbillon ever made. There are no hands and no numerals; just a flying tourbillon at 6 o’clock. It succeeds in resembling an Apple watch before the button is pushed to access the display. In this case, however, a lever is pushed to activate a minute repeater that chimes the time. Markings on the crown allow setting.

Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black © H. Moser & Cie
Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black © H. Moser & Cie
IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition Le Petit Prince

This piece is a little more on the traditional side, even with its 9’oclock tourbillon position and off-centred moon phase and power reserve. It incorporates two “firsts” for the brand: the first pilot’s watch with a constant-force tourbillon; and the first with a case made of hard gold, IWC’s proprietary red gold alloy, which they say is 5-10 times more wear-resistant than regular red gold. The Petit Prince collection is inspired by the classic children’s book written by French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and like all pieces in the collection, it is essentially a fancy pilot’s watch. The constant force tourbillon ups the game somewhat. Not too many pilots used tourbillons. The perpetual moon phase display incorporates a bit of levity: a tiny sculpture of the little prince standing on the moon. The movement is the manual-wound Caliber 94805, previously used in the brand’s elite Portugieser collection.

Big Pilot’s Watch Constant Force Tourbillon,
Big Pilot’s Watch Constant Force Tourbillon, "Le Petit Prince" edition © IWC
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon

Finally, on a more down to earth level, is the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon, the only one in this group with a steel case, which makes it the most accessible and the most wearable. It has a very wearable ultra-thin case for a tourbillon (10.39mm), thanks to the ultra-slim caliber 2160, with a peripheral rotor – introduced last year in the gold Patrimony Traditionnelle tourbillon. The Overseas collection is more modern and sportier, with large markers and hands filled with Super-Luminova for easy reading. Yet the blue lacquered dial, the Poinçon de Genève hand-finished movement and, of course, the tourbillon escapement keep it within the realm of fine watchmaking.

Overseas tourbillon, rubber strap © Vacheron Constantin
Overseas tourbillon, rubber strap © Vacheron Constantin
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