Taking flight: the tourbillon celebrates its 220th birthday

By Chantelle Billson | 22 Feb 2021 | Style, Design

Tempus gathers the most exciting examples of gravity-defying prestige timepieces

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When it comes to modern haute horology, the tourbillon, which turns 220 years old this year, has long been more desirable for its beauty than for its practical uses.

The first patented tourbillon was developed by Swiss watch house Breguet in 1801, but ever more decorative and complicated variations, such as double axis and flying tourbillon, have since followed.

The tourbillon was originally developed to compensate for the effects of gravity on the movements of a watch – that, by mounting the escapement, balance and spring mounted in a tiny cage, which rotates on its axis, the watch maintains its single average rate for all its vertical positions – allowing you to keep perfect time.

A masterpiece of engineering, adaptations only add to the visual spectacle. The flying tourbillon – characterised by its ability to ‘float’ above the movement thanks to the cage’s lack of an upper bridge – has been one of the most beloved adaptations since it was invented by Alfred Helwig, at the Glashütte School of Watchmaking, in 1920.

Fast-forward to 2021 and the tourbillon remains a remarkable show of watchmaking excellence and is, perhaps, the most decadent accessory of all. To celebrate the tourbilon's birthday, we take a look at some of the most covetable timepieces to add to your collection.

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In a limited edition of 15 pieces, the Endeavour Cylindrical Tourbillon, released in June 2020, is a celebratory collaboration between H Moser & Cie and horological machine specialists MB&F to mark their decade-long friendship and shared 15th anniversary. This three- dimensional work of art is a uniquely collectable timepiece.

Inside its cylindrical sapphire crystal face sits a one-minute flying tourbillon and off-centred inclined clear sapphire dial, placed at an angle to ensure only to the wearer is able to read the sub-dial – which floats spectacularly above the watch’s iced blue fumé face. »



Limited to a single exclusive piece priced at $858,500 (£784,500), the breathtaking Excalibur Superbia is one of the most decadent timepieces of 2020. Describing the novelty as “the epitome of excess”, Roger Dubuis presents not one but two flying tourbillon in its Caliber RD0108SQ – making for an animated dial set against the brand’s distinctive skeletonised star.

Designed in collaboration with interior designer Kaz Shirane, the timepiece features a palladium and white gold case set with 600 tetrahedron-cut diamonds and sapphires, invisibly set on the curved surfaces of the flange, bezel, case and crown – a feat that took around 900 hours to complete by hand.


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Described by Omega as a “wearable work of art”, the 2020 De Ville Tourbillon was released just in time for the brand’s 100th anniversary as a limited-edition numbered production. Priced at £168,000, this exquisite novelty is the first Omega manual winding central tourbillon to be certified a co-axial master chronometer, able to resist up to 15,000 gauss magnetic fields.

Powered by a Calibre 2640 movement, the watch’s bezel, bridges and main plate are all cast in hand-polished 18K Sedna gold. The movement features a three-day power reserve indicator, which is visible through the sapphire crystal case-back. The case itself is crafted from a blend of 18K Sedna gold and Canopus gold, with the brand’s logo, lettering and hour markers in the same material. »


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Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Moon combines two of the brand’s most stand- out complications – a triple moon phase indicator and a traditional tourbillon – together for the very first time. A complex self-winding movement is housed in a timeless, eggshell-white matte dial, featuring subtle raised hour-markers and the brand’s ‘jumping date’ indication around the bezel.

Its striking sapphire crystal face and case-back showcase the spectacle of its intricate complications, while the new ‘le grand rose’ (pink gold alloy) case is resistant to wear. The finishing touch is the ageless alligator strap, adding to the undeniable class of this latest piece.


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Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon features both an automatic flying tourbillon and self-winding mechanism, and is available in three different references – including a rare grade five titanium edition, featuring a slate grey dial with new sandblasted central surface. The model is also available in stainless steel with blue dial and 18k pink gold with smoked grey dial, both of which feature a refined guilloché dial with an ‘evolutive tapisserie’ pattern introduced in 2018.

The in-house calibre 2950 is visible through the sapphire crystal case-back, while the open-worked oscillating weight is formed from pink gold or rhodium-toned pink gold, depending on the version. An additional first for the Royal Oak collection is the applied 24k gold Audemars Piguet signature, achieved through galvanic growth – a chemical process similar to 3D printing and applied by hand.