The 26 June marks Tourbillon Day, 220 years since the inception of this groundbreaking technical element on the watchface.
Checking the time is like breathing. It’s a component of our livelihoods that happens unconsciously – we govern our days, plan our lives, and respond to the question that vaults into our mind consistently by flicking our eyes to our smartphones and our wrists and we’re provided with an answer. What time is it?
Like breathing, we don’t question the formula. Rather, we rely on the faultlessness of two ticking hands to navigate their way around the clock, every single second of the day for infinity. That is, until you get water in your watch or do the age-old trick of putting your phone in a bag of rice. Come to think of it, do people even buy operational clocks for the walls of their homes anymore? As the age-old maxim goes, you don’t know what you had until it’s gone. But why don’t we know what we have when it’s there?
My early entrance into the watchmaking world has proved that I, in fact, have never questioned something so intrinsically valuable around me: how my watch tells the time and how it’s made. In the quest to disband my own ignorance, my reading led me to an article questioning how endangered the future of watchmaking is. Time has transformed our existence as humans and continues to do so for eternity, yet the history of these ingenious artefacts remains somewhat untold to the next generation.
My investigation into the world of watches began the tourbillon and as to why including one in a timepiece makes them more expensive. What was the appeal behind this coveted feature? Aside from increasing accuracy, gravity seemed to be the biggest feature at play. But for this tiny mechanism, revolving around an axis and weighing – astonishly – less than 1 gram, it counteracts the rules of gravity by averaging out errors.
At the hands of Abraham-Louis Breguet, whose household name I’d recognized from the lips of the luxury market, this technicality manifested in such miniature form, housed in a delicate cage on the pocket. But as evolution works, technical durability has a short lifespan in our modern society. Like the advent of the iPhone, once a spearheading device, now akin to a brick, the use of the tourbillon has become a visual feature today as well. While less than 20 years ago the watchmaking elite were proficient in producing tourbillons, they grew more affordable and commonplace as their influence in timekeeping.
But like Steve Jobs’ first iteration, we wouldn’t be where we are today without it. 220 years on, Tourbillon Day, marked as the 26 June, commemorates the pioneering patent. And while its legacy continues: the tourbillon propels a forward motion, just like our outlook in life, the need to continue moving forward as we look ahead to the future of tomorrow.