What makes a tourbillon watch so expensive?

There are several aspects which make a tourbillon watch so special and prestigious. First. the movement itself and the complexity of its mechanism. Its level of finishings also plays a major part in the price of a tourbillon watch. Its provenance and whether it is made in a country where labor force is cheap, also greatly influence its price. Let's dive into the world of high horology to understand why the price of a high-end tourbillon watch can easily reach six figures, and what makes it one of the most prestigious fine timepieces.

A Swiss Made tourbillon mechanism

What is the purpose of the tourbillon mechanism?

If you own a mechanical watch, you might have noticed that it tends to be less accurate (losing or gaining a few seconds per day) if you leave it on your bedside table or if you don't wear it every day. That’s because, when your watch remains in the same position for a long time, the forces of gravity tend to affect the movement accuracy. And this is what a tourbillon is designed to solve.

In 1801, the French-Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet patented the tourbillon mechanism, which is still used today by high-end luxury watchmaking brands in their most prestigious timepieces. By rotating the axis of the balance wheel into different positions, this mechanism allows gravity to pull at different angles, thus counteracting the effect that gravity has on a watch when it stays in the same position for a long time.

A watchmaking virtuosity

A tourbillon mechanism is among the most complex watch complications, It generally consists of between 50 and 80 parts, weighing a total of little more than a gram, which typically makes a full rotation every 60 seconds. It is not to be confused with similar inventions such as the Carousel which came as a modification of the original tourbillon movement and is generally mounted on the fourth wheel, whereas the tourbillon is independent of this gear.

In the world of high horology, a tourbillon is considered one the most advanced inventions among horology complications, and a watchmaking virtuosity. To further increase the watch accuracy, a tourbillon can be adjusted to various positions, or placed on a multi-axis to further decrease the gravity effects. Some watchmakers even place several tourbillon mechanisms on a single watch, reaching the highest level of engineering virtuosity.

Although some modern watchmakers view the tourbillon as an invention from the past, there is growing interest among watch lovers for tourbillon watches as it is not only one of the most sophisticated, but also certainly the most fascinating watch complication ever invented.

The tourbillon mechanism is a fascinating form of kinetic art

The importance of craftsmanship and finishings

Whether a watch is made industrially or with a high number of craftsmanship hours; whether it is finished by a machine or by an artisan; whether or not final touches are applied by hand and with great passion; those are elements which make a lot of difference in the price and the quality of a timepiece. Needless to say that the price of labour greatly influences the price of a watch, which is why many mass-luxury watchmakers subcontract part of their watch production in Asia.

However, delocalisation goes against the original principles of luxury, which are to create highly exclusive and rare products, made locally, often by artisans with a lot of passion, skills, time, and attention to details.

An eternal piece of high-end horology

There are various aspects of a tourbillon, which make this fascinating watchmaking complication eternal, and explains the increasing demand for tourbillon watches.

The beauty of this ingenious mechanism is indisputable. Whereas in the past, the first tourbillon movements were hidden inside the case, today, most tourbillons are open to view, unveiling the beauty of the mechanism. When Cartier released its Santos 100 Flying Tourbillon, it was defined as “elegance in a massive white gold case”. Since then, the tourbillon watch has been a synonym of elegance.

The name “tourbillon” itself was inspired by planetary movements, in which the orbital course of a heavenly body is combined with its rotational movement, and recalls the magic of celestial times on our wrists.

A tourbillon is a mesmerising form of kinetic art. Thanks to high horology masters, today the word “tourbillon” not only reminds us of the rotating movements inspired by planets, it also refers to craftsmanship expertise, great human engineering achievement, and eternal beauty. For these reasons, this watch complication will remain a constant source of inspiration and fascination for years to come.