By Rebecca Doulton
Originally developed as a complication by Breguet in 1795 to counter the effects of gravity on pocket watches, the tourbillon has spiralled from anonymity into the limelight. Tourbillons, which essentially unite the escapement and balance wheel in a rotating cage, spent most of their historical life hidden inside the movement.
However, since the late 20th century and in spite of the fact that their function has never really been validated, tourbillons have come out of the case and are flaunted on the dial. Far more hypnotic that a rotor, tourbillons are mesmerizing visual reminders of the amazing symphony of components at play inside your mechanical watch.
Tourbillons have become part of the aesthetic experience in many high jewellery models. Chopard's Imperiale Tourbillon Joaillerie, winner of the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève, is proof that a breathtaking high jewellery watch is not incompatible with a serious chronometer-certified tourbillon calibre. Covered from head to toe in diamonds, the tourbillon is held in place at 6 o´clock by four amethysts, although one may be excused for missing a spin given the extravaganza of precious stones on display.
de GRISOGONO, a brand associated with the jet-set party crowd, was also tempted by the spinning complication and launched Tondo Toubillon Gioiello in 2012. In keeping with de Grisogono's high jewellery party mood, the oval bezel and lugs have been set ablaze with diamonds to offset the mother-of-pearl dial, with its mechanical tourbillon whizzing between 7 and 9 o'clock. Depending on the shade of dial, the diamonds may be black, brown or white, matched with a bubbly galuchat strap.
When it comes to bubbles, however, Girard-Perregaux's Cat's Eye Tourbillon fizzes like fine champagne. With its spectacular bubbly pearl dial, snow-set diamond bezel and case, the tourbillon is held in place by the house's iconic hand-engraved gold bridge. Bolder still is Jacob & Co's Brilliant Tourbillon, a whopping 47mm dial, invisible set with 220 pink baguette pink sapphires (also available with 100 rubies or blue sapphires) that frame the one-minute flying tourbillon in pride of place at 6 o'clock.
Cartier proudly flaunts the maison's skills in both haute joaillerie and haute horlogerie with its magnificent Tourbillon and Bird Watch. Belonging to Les Heures Fabuleuses collection, a beautiful gem enhanced and enamel coloured humming bird hovers over the flying tourbillon.
Bulgari's homage to the tourbillon is housed in the colourful Berries Tourbillon watch. Featuring retrograde hours, the tourbillon is emphasized and surrounded by a lavish swirl of seven colourful gemstones.
In a more classical vein, Jaeger-LeCoultre's Rendez-Vous Tourbillon Night & Day provides a beautiful guilloché dial on which to display the magical workings of the one-minute tourbillon sitting at 6 o'clock and features a pretty night and day aperture just below 12 o'clock. One of the few octagonal sided models featured in this review is Chanel's Premiere Flying Tourbillon. Housed in a white gold case inspired by the geometry of Place Vendôme, the flying tourbillon has been crafted in the shape of a Camelia, Coco Chanel's favourite flower. Performing one rotation per minute, the petals indicate the passing seconds.
The evening sky is another decorative motif that appears in DeLaneau's Square Dôme Full Moon Tourbillon. The Swiss watchmaker was the first to create a tourbillon designed specifically for women 10 years ago and to celebrate, it has revisited the tourbillon theme with a collection of seven one-off tourbillons based on its rectangular-cased Dôme model. The Full Moon Tourbillon features a beautiful Grand Feu enamel celestial dome with a full Moon floating above the tourbillon like a sheltering sky.