montre tourbillon fonctionnement

What would watchmaking be without its complications, its attention to detail and overall drive to push mechanical boundaries and create fascinating movements ? Yet, this secret industry remains full of mysteries and technicalities that can leave people puzzled. So whether you are an amateur wondering about the way watches work, lost because of the jargon or simply looking for a reminder, we have something for you. In Complications Made Easy, We’re going to simply address some of the major movements featured in watches that keep amazing us. Today we’re taking a look at the tourbillon watch.

What is a tourbillon watch ?

Considering how popular it is among watchmakers and watch enthusiasts, there is a good chance you’ve heard of the tourbillon watch by now. In case you were not familiar with it, you probably asked yourself what does tourbillon watch mean ? You’re probably wondering what does a tourbillon do as well ?

To be honest, by today’s horological standards, a tourbillon doesn’t do much anymore. But it still remains one of the most complex watch complication to produce and a fascinating feat. Also sometimes described as a “rotating cage”, the tourbillon originally aimed at improving the accuracy of mechanical watches.


Exemple d’un tourbillon sur la Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon de Ulysse Nardin.

By the way, the man who gave us the tourbillon is a french inventor, Abraham-Louis Breguet. As he was a clockmaker for the french royalty in 1801, he came up with the tourbillon as a mean to fight gravity and improve accuracy. Unfortunately the task ended up being too complex and he died before he could finish it. But he led the way for many other watchmakers, who were able to perfect the mechanism. So now that we’ve covered what a tourbillon is and were it came from, one question remains, how does a tourbillon watch work ?

Mechanics of a tourbillon watch

This movement gets its name from those of the stars, which were called “tourbillon” in french back in the 18th century. The mechanism rotates a cage containing the escapement and balance wheel the same way a planet does, in order to negate the positional errors caused by the effect of gravity.

Gravity impairs the right functioning of a watch and prevents the steadiness of its motions, known as isochronism. The functioning of a watch may vary depending on the vertical position it is, which the tourbillon tries to correct by forcing the cage to rotate in order to go through every possible position and average out the errors.


Un tourbillon bien visible sur une montre squelette de Ulysse Nardin

More than being really nice to look at, the tourbillon main goal is accuracy. Well at least it used to. In the smart phone era the tourbillon might not be as useful and some experts even debate as to wether or not it ever improved accuracy. Nevertheless, it still remains one of the most impressive feat of watchmaking and a mechanism we can’t keep our eyes off of.