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The Tourbillon Patent is 200 Years Old

Abraham Louis Breguet made the clock for Napoleon’s carriage. It was a heavy piece weighing more than 100 pounds. In the 18th century, the finest clocks money could buy had a tourbillon as part of the movement.

Much more than two hundred years ago, Breguet patented the tourbillon as a pocket watch feature (not a complication) in the noble pursuit of greater precision in timekeeping. The tourbillon rotates the beating “heart” of a watch, the escapement, thereby minimizing the effect of gravity since the pocket watch was mainly kept in one position.

Essentials Need Not be Multiplied Beyond Necessity

A wrist watch differs greatly from a pocket watch as it is not held in one position, but rather comes in and out of many different spacial orientations. Therefore, the effect of gravity is not a significant performance factor. Nevertheless, many high-end brands now offer a very small number of wrist watches with tourbillon movements, and these can cost many times what the non-tourbillon movements would cost. The inclusion of the tourbillon represents watchmaking virtuosity but needlessly saps mainspring energy without improving timekeeping.

In addition, the display of the tourbillon through a cut-away in the watch face is a decorative distraction.  In my opinion, the face of a watch should not be distracting—it should be simple and informative. For some, a timepiece is also viewed as an accessory that can convey an image, but that image can be “frilly” and “old-school.” To me, a watch is ultimately a timekeeping device, and all other aspects of it should not detract from its main purpose—to allow the wearer to keep time accurately and easily.

My Favorite Simple, Accurate Watches

Bremont Solo

Bremont Solo

A certified chronometer with a simple, clear face, a date display and anti-reflective coatings on the sapphire crystal, the Bremont Solo fits my requirements for simplicity and accuracy to a “T.”

Grand Seiko Diver

Grand Seiko Diver

My first fine watch was a 1974 Rolex Submariner that would never run fast—it always ran slow, even after servicing.  The Grand Seiko Diver has the same visual appeal as the Submariner but is a much more accurate time keeper.  In addition, it has an anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal and a power reserve indicator, both of which I find helpful.

Ball Engineer Master II Pioneer

Ball Engineer Master II Pioneer

Chronometer rated, the Ball Engineer Master II Pioneer has tritium gas tubes for the hands and hour markers that glow all night, every night. It also features an anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal that allows the useful Rolex-style date magnifier to shine and a sleek, shiny stainless-steel bracelet with a double deployment clasp that practically disappears.


About The Author: Dr. Robert Simon


Bob Simon has an assortment of mechanical watches that reflect his desire for excellent timekeeping and simplicity. His profession of prosthodontics (the dental specialty of replacing missing teeth) has required attention to fine detail in prescribing and delivering dental restorations. The father of three adult offspring Bob enjoys golf and bridge.

Read more from Dr. Robert Simon

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