Ten years ago, it would have been difficult to compile a list of five top tourbillons introduced at Baselworld, since so few brands were invested with the expertise or means to develop this prestigious complication. Today, compiling such a list is even more difficult, because so many brands are making tourbillons, some introducing several at one show. Since the tourbillon was invented more than 100 years ago, today it is not the invention itself but the artful adaptation of it that we admire. Meanwhile, ladies’ timepieces are on everyone’s radar for two reasons. Watch companies have been inventing new movements just for women’s collections; and they have become the ideal canvas for the emerging significance of habillage – finishes such as gem-setting, engraving and enameling – as a true hallmark of high watchmaking.
The great thing about the tourbillon/carrousel is that it beautifully illustrates the difference between the two mechanisms, helpfully labeling each. Blancpain has made a specialty of the carrousel mechanism which, like the tourbillon, averages out the effects of gravity on the balance by keeping it in constant rotation. A tourbillon does this by means of a rotating cage, while a carrousel uses a platform on which the balance wheel and bridge rotate like a wooden horse on a merry-go-round, hence the name. In other words, one rotates and the other circles the perimeter. The carrousel has its own gear train, independent of the escapement, while the tourbillon is directly linked to the escapement – thus, there are more components for the carrousel. The two mechanisms combined on Blancpain’s new model are linked by a differential gear system, which transmits the average rate of both regulators to the time display. The combination is a world first.
It is not often that a tourbillon is almost overshadowed by the other indications on a dial, as it is on the Antikythera SunMoon, perhaps the world’s most interesting watch. If you want to impress someone, this perplexing collection of indications should do the trick. The Antikythera SunMoon includes both a solar and lunar calendar, and an indication showing the sidereal position of the Sun and the Moon. These indications will tell you, for a given day of the solar year, the name of the constellation behind the sun and the time required for the sun to pass through that constellation. It will also tell you the phase of the moon, or more specifically, its shape in the sky, as well as the name of the constellation behind it and the time required for the moon to pass through that constellation. It is also a flying tourbillon. The name is a tribute to the Antikythera mechanism, a second-century astrolabe-like astronomical calculator believed to be the world’s first, discovered off the coast of Greece in 1901. The case is titanium, with a crown on each side, one for winding and setting the hours and minutes, the other to scroll through the “lunisolar” calendar.
Purists complain that adding a tourbillon or some other high-profile complication to an iconic model detracts from its original design and intent. Adding a tourbillon to the Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20, however does not mess with the pilot watch’s aesthetic; rather, it enhances it. The onion crown, super-large, luminated hands and numerals, extra row of stitching along the strap attachment and distinctive font identify it as a working watch, a vital instrument for flying. And this tourbillon is a working tourbillon, with a seconds hand attached to the cage and a date index around the perimeter, giving it a functional aesthetic. The carriage occupies the 10 o’clock position rather than the traditional 6 o’clock position, which it means it emerges from under the shirt cuff with the slightest bending of the elbow – important, since one of the responsibilities of wearing a tourbillon (and a good reason for owning one) is to show it off as much as possible.
Ulysse Nardin introduced its first in-house skeleton tourbillon caliber in a blaze of glorious understatement. The most decorative element of the caliber UN-170 is the engraving on the barrel at 12 o’clock. It touts, in relief, the brand name and power reserve specification, an impressive 170 hours. The open, architectural layout of the satin-finished bridges was inspired by traditional pocket watch movements. It is spectacular in its simplicity, and fully exposed on both sides through sapphire crystals. The blue of the steel screws matches the color of the silicon components, including the balance spring, anchor and escapement wheel. Ulysse Nardin has used silicon in its movements since 2001. The Skeleton Tourbillon Manufacture flying tourbillon is available in two limited editions: 99 pieces in red gold and 99 pieces in platinum.
This complex construct of glass and steel is the timepiece version of Modernist architecture. Reduced to an austere network of bolts and bridges, it epitomizes the restrained aesthetic of industrial design. Instead of decoration and adornment, it lets the construction materials dictate the design codes. The tourbillon cage is suspended between two sapphire crystals, with no apparent mechanical connection to the rest of the movement, with the cage held in place only by two steel bridges. Because this is a manual wound movement, there is no rotor at the back to block the view of the tourbillon. Minutes are tallied by a small red arrow on an index that circles the jump hour window at 10 o’clock, so as not to block the hour indication. They occupy a dial plate made of black sapphire that is also suspended by bridges. The two complications are driven by caliber HW4401, with a twin barrel. A case set with 58 baguette diamonds is optional.
Patek Philippe has been paying special tribute to women in recent years, creating a buzz for example when it introduced its new chronograph caliber 29-535 PS in a ladies’ diamond-studded watch in 2009. It continued on that path with this year’s Calatrava 7121J. Here, Patek pays a different kind of respect for women, demonstrating that ladies’ models can not only be watches of substance when it comes to the mechanicals, but also as understated as its men’s models, in the classic Patek style. The subdued colors, limited to gold and cream, and classic officer’s style case demonstrate the brand’s confidence to appeal to women without excessive adornment. Thus, the ladies’ Patek never loses the brand’s signature aesthetic.
This is a masterpiece of jewelling, set with 958 baguette-cut diamonds and 1,978 brilliant-cut diamonds, totaling 65 carats – which must be a record for a jewelry watch. The dial, case and bracelet are invisibly set, which means each diamond must be perfectly cut to create a seamless diamond-studded surface showing no spaces and no setting prongs. The happy diamonds that distinguish this collection are, in this case, embellished with side diamonds, creating an even more spectacular effect than usual. The Happy Sport is a perfect example of the new wave of jewelry watches in another sense: it contains a Chopard manufacture movement, automatic caliber L.U.C 96.17-L. Another future collectible.
With the Reine de Naples collection, Breguet harnesses technology in the service of ladies’ watch design. The genius of the collection is its combination of finish and technology to create something uniquely feminine. For the Day/Night, Breguet employs a 24-hour disk to execute a highly decorated rendering of the day and night sky over a backdrop of lapis lazuli. Day is illustrated by clouds of white mother-of-pearl, while the night sky is dotted with gold stars and a titanium moon. The sun is represented by the faceted, engraved rim of the balance wheel. Other notable flourishes include the elegant coin-edge case side and a diamond-set flange (in addition to the bezel). Another nice feminine touch is the egg-shaped case, symbolizing the origin of life.
Omega ambassador Nicole Kidman debuted this watch at the jury photocall at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where she served as a judge. The bracelet combines bezel-set diamonds set randomly alongside Akoya culture pearls, while the bezel is set with snow-set diamonds – arranged closely together in random sizes in order to create a sparkle effect, like snow. The watch is a fine example of how far this genre has evolved since the days when creating a jewelry watch simply meant taking an existing model from a collection (men’s or ladies’) and fully setting it with round diamonds, all in a row – impressive and expensive, but not very creative. The new Ladymatic contains an Omega Co-Axial movement.
The movement of the Tambour Monogram Tourbillon employs a micro-rotor, not for reasons of compacting the movement in order to create a sleeker watch, as Patek Philippe does, but in order to provide an unobstructed view of the tourbillon cage from both front and back. Positioned in the traditional space at 6 o’clock, the cage is visible through sapphire crystals. The micro-rotor is thus strategically placed at the 12 o’clock position so that when it swings down, it doesn’t block the view of the tourbillon from the back, as a regularly positioned oscillating weight would. The design of the cage and bridge are also significant. Each represents two petals of the Louis Vuitton floral motif (called the Lozine). Together, they show the full flower once every minute when the rotating tourbillon cage aligns crossways with the bridge.