Top Five Tourbillon Watches
A mid-summer watchnerd's review of five high-end timepieces, all from the Richemont Group
The tourbillon might not be considered at the same level as a minute repeater, which represents the pinnacle of haute-horlogerie, but it is indisputable that it represents a fascinating and even more intriguing complication. A minute repeater requires a trained ear and acoustics competence to be fully appreciated, while the tourbillon is there to be seen and it has now become an aesthetic complement, functional to the definition of the expressive strength of an haute-horlogerie complicated watch. Who remembers or even pays attention to the fact that Abraham-Louis Breguet originally invented this complication to correct the effects that the earth's gravitation had on the running precision of a timepiece? Nobody really buys it for this reason.
The Richemont Group might not be the largest watch-making group in the world (and its business is not exclusively focused on watch-making either), but it has currently the largest portoflio of top-watch brands. To make a long story short, almost all the watch brands in its portfolio feature at least one tourbillon in their catalogs, and its brands move with incredible independence; a factor that might not promote cost standardization, but that ensures that the identity of each brand is carefully preserved. Roger Dubuis, IWC, A.Lange & Söhne, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc are the brands that I have chosen and the timepieces you will see are not necessarily their most recent ones. The choice is based on the mix of present complications and personal tastes, which I will explain later, and which do not only come with just a tourbillon (or a single tourbillon) but the coexistence of one or more tourbillons and/or one or more complications. To use a term familiar to the business language, it is not a "like for like comparison”, and it would be impossible to expect it, because it is not like a comparison between sedans pertaining to the same market segment. The origins and the specific watchmaking heritage these brands belong to makes it impossible to compare them, as could be the case between two perpetual calendars, for example. And unlike what we saw in the first Top 5 article, retail price is not a factor of choice either.
Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Pirelli Double Flying Tourbillon
The double tourbillon is one of Roger Dubuis’s trademarks and is one of the characteristics that I naturally associate with the brand. Roger Dubuis began crafting complicated watches with a double flying tourbillon even before the Excalibur Spider case became so popular that people started identifying this collection with the brand itself.
Even before the acquisition by the Richemont Group, the Roger Dubuis collections were equipped with this complication, evidently one of Monsieur Roger Dubuis's favorite ones. The tourbillon was familiar, if you remember the Easy Diver - the only diver’s watch with a tourbillon, back then.
In the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Pirelli Double Flying Tourbillon the presence of the double tourbillon at six o'clock is the perfect complement to the skeletonized case of the Excalibur Spider (the merit also goes to the lack of the upper bridge of the tourbillon). Although I usually love even simpler watches - like the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Pirelli Medium White (my non-tourbillon Roger Dubuis's cup of tea) for example -, I believe that the expressive power of the Excalibur Spider reaches its peak with the double tourbillon. The hand-wound RD105SQ caliber was crafted in only 8 pieces and inserted within a 47mm diameter DLC-treated titanium case.
The Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Pirelli Double Flying Tourbillon is lightweight and sturdy, and it was the first step taken within a project that started off with Pirelli and then extended to a collaboration with Lamborghini Squadra Corse that brought us the Aventador S. If we talk about haute-horlogerie sporty complicated watches, this Roger Dubuis is unrivaled. Richard Mille, the only true competitor that comes to my mind, has a different product philosophy and does not craft double tourbillons either.
Montblanc Heritage Chronometrie ExoTourbillon Rattrapante
On this list there could not be a complicated watch that differs more from the Roger Dubuis than this ExoTourbillon, for characteristics and potential customers. With the Montblanc Heritage Chronometrie ExoTourbillon Rattrapante we experience the full classicism of the school of Villeret and of the Minerva manufacture that, thanks to Montblanc, resumed living and growing. At SIHH 2017, this masterpiece was being displayed at the center of the Montblanc booth and was carefully illustrated by one of the brand’s master watch-makers. The Montblanc Heritage Chronometrie ExoTourbillon Rattrapante combines the rattrapante chrono with Montblanc's super-efficient ExoTourbillon.
The double chronograph couldn’t be missing in a company that became famous for crafting hand-wound chronographs and double chronographs. What strikes the most, however, is how Montblanc managed to combine these two complications without generating any confusion in the user. The lower part of the dial displays the time, the second time zone (it can be activated through the big button located at 8 o'clock). Montblanc’s Exotourbillon located on the upper part is easily recognizable; the double infinity-shaped upper bridge is its trademark, while the fact that is completes a full rotation in 4 minutes (it is the only tourbillon capable of doing so as far as I remember) allows to save enough energy to guarantee up to 50 hours of power reserve; an enormous figure, when considering the two complications provided by the MB M16.62 caliber and how much energy a double chronograph usually requests.
Each one of us has two souls that often battle each other, and this is also reflected in the tastes and choices of each one of us; a more sporty, strong and innovative soul that always looks forward and that spontaneous feeling that reminds you of your classical origins and tradition. If the Roger Dubuis is the perfect example of the first case, the Montblanc Heritage Chronometrie ExoTourbillon Rattrapante is the best example of the latter. There is nothing more romantic than a Minerva caliber with its bridges decorated with a Côtes de Genéve motif and it is the same feeling I experienced when I wrote, years ago, about the Vasco da Gama.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon® for the 85th Reverso's Anniversary
The name, Gyrotourbillon®, indicates that this Reverso is not equipped with a traditional tourbillon, but with one that spins around more than one axis. The multi-axis tourbillons are a must for Horbiter®; I suggest you read, for example, our reviews of the Hublot MP-09 Tourbillon Bi-Axis or the Girard Perregaux Bridges Planetarium Tri-Axial. Produced in 75 pieces in platinum in 2016, to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the most famous watch in the world, it is reductive to include it in the Reverso collection, because it only has the appearance of a Reverso, while its characteristics make it unique, starting from the challenge of inserting a bi-axial tourbillon in the small rectangular case of the Reverso.
Jaeger-LeCoultre is not new to super complications on a Reverso basis, the first and most famous being the Reverso Grande Complication a Tryptique with tourbillon, perpetual calendar and equation of time, as well as the Gyrotourbillon 2. Jaeger-LeCoultre created the Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon® eight years after the launch of the Gyrotourbillon 2, and one of the aspects on which he worked the most, was the reduction of the overall size of the watch: from a 55mm x 36mm x 15.8mm case, the master watchmakers went to 51.1mm x 31mm x 12.4mm.
These three numbers would be enough to indicate how caliber 179 is much more evolved, compared to the 174 caliber. The adjustment system rotates inside two cages, which in turn rotate on two axes at different times. The rotation is visible on both sides, as the Tribute Gyrotourbillon® is a Reverso Duo: the front view shows hours and minutes and the Gyrotourbillon indicates continuous seconds, with the balance wheel in the shape of the Jaeger-LeCoultre anchor-styled logo. On the opposite side, the visualization of the movement of the Gyrotourbillon is completed, and one can appreciate the entirely hand-made decoration of the bridges.
IWC Da Vinci Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph
Renewed in 2017, the Da Vinci collection has definitively returned to the classic round shape, eliminating from IWC collections the last square case to date. At the top of the range, the Da Vinci Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph combines three complications in quite an atypical way: one-minute tourbillon, chronograph and retrograde date. I believe that the addition of the retrograde date derived from the desire to provide a further touch of classicism to a collection that is once again, with the Portofino collection, IWC's most classic collection.
If you have also followed our preview of the SIHH 2018, you will have noticed that the brand has increased the number of complicated and ultra-complicated tiempieces, within its strategic plan of constantly repositioning itself up-market. Caliber 89900 is a chronograph with Flyback function, 68 hours of maximum power reserve and a Tourbillon with Hack Seconds function; it therefore stops when you pull out the crown to adjust the time. Perfect heir to the 3750 reference, the IWC Da Vinci Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph is made of red gold with a 44mm diameter and 16.9mm of thickness, two not too small sizes, considering the classic cut of the Da Vinci collection, but understandable when it comes to a watch "Engineered for men", with which we already familiarized when we talked about the Perpetual Calendar version, the best tribute to the creative genius of Kurt Klaus.
I'm not the biggest Da Vinci collection fan, but the level of complication and the mixture of complications on the Tourbillon Retrograde Chronograph compensate for that excess of classicism, that makes the collection the most feminine of all the current collections created in Schaffhausen.
A.Lange & Söhne Tourbograph Perpetual Pour le Mérite
Are we facing the most complicated watch ever made by the Saxon brand? We probably are, and quite certainly, it is the most technically refined among all the ones I have included in this list, because the A.Lange & Söhne Tourbograph Perpetual Pour le Mérite is a double chronograph, tourbillon, perpetual calendar and is equipped with a constant force regulating system via fuse and chain.
The case of 43mm in diameter and the thickness of 16.6mm do not therefore make news; the more than 1200 parts of the caliber make hotter news, a number explained by the approximately 600 parts that make up the fuse-chain assembly. Unlike other complicated ones, I remember the Zenith Academy Georges Favre-Jacot as one of the best examples of the genre; the fise-chain system is not visible from the side of the movement, and this is partly due to technical reasons, because a dominant motif of the Saxon school, is understatement. Technically, the platinum case could have filed something up to the current 16.6mm, if the L133.1 caliber had been thinner: the perpetual calendar was added to the movement and this explains why the tourbillon is "encased" in the dial, the upper bridge curved, and the complete movement so thick.
Staring in front of the caliber of a Lange is a joy for the eyes, and it virtually brings the Saxon brand closer to the Minerva school. Lange even surpassed itself this year, when it made the Triple Split Chronograph, the only chronograph in the world to split hours, minutes and seconds. Among the most easily recognizable parts visible through the transparent case back are the two column wheels, which activate the two chronographs, respectively.
Talking about pros and cons, as I did in the first Top Five article, makes little sense on this occasion, because the five tourbillons of this article are special timepieces, and, in some cases, they have all been sold before even being presented to the public. The level of these watches is stellar and talking about their daily use, their pros or cons, is a concept that is difficult to associate to all of them. There are, however, some distinctions to be made, if we consider the heterogeneity of the choice; the IWC and the Roger Dubuis are perhaps the most usable of these timepieces. Although very exclusive (at least as much as a Lange Tourbograph among classical watches) the Roger Dubuis Double Tourbillon boasts a lightness and a sporty tone (I have worn more than one of these timepieces) that make it the most user-friendly tourbillon currently on the market. The same goes for the Da Vinci Retrograde Tourbillon that represents a first step in the range of the complicated watches of this brand, that can count on even more complicated and exclusive watches.
(Photo credit: Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®