Tourbillon Watches Guide: What Is A Tourbillon Watch?

The tourbillon watch movement is an invention that dates back to the 18th century. 

While its purpose is no longer relevant, we still see tourbillons on countless luxury timepieces.

Read on to find out why!

What Is A Tourbillon Watch?


In tourbillon watches, the escapement and balance wheel are placed inside a small moving cage. Usually, on the dial of the watch. 

While this type of movement started off simple, it has developed over time into a complex mechanism with around 70 parts.

Often, these watches boast exposed dials. Which allows us to peek into this impressive mechanism.

The History


In 1795, talented watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the beloved tourbillon watch. The French-Swiss designer was also known for devising the rotor in the automatic watch we all know and love.

Surprisingly, the watch did not take off immediately. It took a few years for watch aficionados to appreciate its benefits.

Something that sped up this process was the quartz crisis in the 1970s. While the rest of the watch industry was producing countless quartz watches that the public adored, Switzerland did not want to move away from mechanical movements. Which resulted in a decline in the Swiss watch industry.

However, Switzerland still managed to survive by making their mechanical timepieces as desirable as possible. A significant part of this was the production of tourbillon watches. As they were extremely difficult to make, Swiss watchmakers found a unique selling point in the tourbillon.

These watches reached their peak in the 1990s when luxury watches were all the rage. Only elite watchmakers were capable of making them. Therefore, it was only the most prestigious brands that sold these watches.

Nowadays, the tourbillon is still present in many watches due to its elegant appearance.



Historically, the tourbillon watch was made for pocket watches. 

Pocket watches would sit in the same position for long periods of time. Either on a flat surface or upright in the wearer’s pocket.

This meant that the mechanism (particularly the pallet fork, balance wheel, and hairspring) was affected by gravity. Which had a knock-on effect on the level of accuracy.

With a tourbillon, however, the mechanism would rotate consistently. Meaning the negative effects of gravity were cancelled out.

Interestingly, a secondary purpose of these watches was to boost watchmakers’ reputation. It took a lot of skill to produce this type of watch due to the intricate detail needed. So, watchmakers could show off their expertise through fashioning this movement.

Types Of Tourbillon


The general purpose of the tourbillon is the same in every watch. However, it is executed in slightly different ways.

With a traditional tourbillon, there is a bridge that holds it in place at the top and bottom. Furthermore, the tourbillon rotates on a single axis.

The flying tourbillon involves the removal of the bridge. Resulting in a tourbillon that is only supported from one side. With this type, we can see the full tourbillon in all its glory thanks to the absence of the bridge.

The multi-axis tourbillon consists of an escapement that moves around multiple axes. We can have double-axis, triple-axis or even quadruple-axis tourbillons.

Finally, when a tourbillon gyrates on multiple axes, we call it a gyro tourbillon.



As you now know, these watches were initially prised for their high accuracy as they counteracted the effects of gravity on pocket watches.

However, this is not an issue with wristwatches. As the regular wrist movement replicates the rotation of the tourbillon.

So, what are the benefits of a tourbillon watch? And why are they so expensive?

Firstly, they hold a great amount of value. It is incredibly complicated for watchmakers to build small moving parts inside a petite cage. So, these watches represent excellent craftsmanship.

Secondly, these watches are a feature of mechanical watches. Which are sometimes overshadowed by their automatic and quartz counterparts. This results in a greater desire for mechanical movements. In other words, the rarity of these watches makes them compelling to watch connoisseurs.

Finally, the aesthetics of the tourbillon watch are difficult to compete with. No watch lover can resist a complex mechanism showcased in a charming exposed dial.

Our Final Thoughts


Famed for their accuracy and aesthetics, it comes as no surprise that these watches have remained a firm favourite of watch enthusiasts throughout the decades.

If you adore the vintage look that these watches exude, why not add one of these watches to your collection?

Alternatively, if contemporary style is more your thing, Uniform Wares has plenty of options for you.

Browse our watches for sale to find your dream luxury timepiece!

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