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Watch intel: Your 60-second guide to the tourbillon

Words by Rob Chilton

One of watchmaking’s most treasured complications

• This year marks the 220th anniversary of one of the greatest watchmaking complications of all time: the tourbillon, a cage inside the watch that enabled its components to be unaffected by gravity.

• Its creator Abraham-Louis Breguet was an apprentice watchmaker in Switzerland and Paris, where he enrolled at Mazarin College to study mathematics and physics.

Breguet started business in 1775

• He set up his watch company in 1775 and made watches for Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI.

• He fled Paris during the French Revolution and returned to Paris in 1795 when he spent five years working on a new mechanism referred to as a ‘tourbillon regulator.’

Abraham-Louis Breguet made watches for royalty

• Eventually called the tourbillon, Breguet patented his device on June 26, 1801, choosing the word because of its association with astronomy and its description of the energy that causes the rotation of the planets around the sun.

• He spent a decade fine-tuning the mechanism and making it reliable, insisting to audiences at several World Fairs that it allowed timepieces to “maintain their accuracy, irrespective of whether the position of the watch is upright or tilted.”

Breguet Tourbillon Extra-Plat in rose gold

• Breguet and his staff produced 40 tourbillons between 1796 and 1829, around 10 of which were used to help sailors navigate at sea. Approximately 30 of these original watches have survived and now rest in museums and private collections.

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