Mechanical movement, the Tourbillon… E pur si muove! And yet it moves!

What’s in a name? The astral movement

In the 18th century, the aptly named “Age of Enlightenment”, several scholars were interested in astronomy. They understood the rigorous arrangement of celestial bodies. The movements of planets, the stars, and likewise the rotation of the earth are thus precisely fixed. These cycles, once determined, appear as constants of a mathematical rigor. We are a long way away from what Galileo muttered during his public retraction in 1633! And so, when Abraham-Louis Breguet filed his patent for a watchmaking mechanism to improve timekeeping, he permitted himself to call it the “tourbillon”, in reference to the rigor and precision of interconnected astral movements. First presented in 1801, this device was initially made in very small quantities before being incorporated in a variety of timepieces from the middle of the 19th century. At the end of the Watchmaking Crisis, around 1990, by migrating from the pocket watch to the wristwatch, the tourbillon sparked a great craze of enthusiasm amongst lovers of exceptional watches. And that the Earth turns on its own axis? This theory of Galileo’s was only proved in 1851, by Foucault’s pendulum.

Automatic tourbillon Seed VMF 3024

Effect of gravity on watch mechanism

The technical advances of the 18th century allowed watchmakers to understand the troubling effect of gravity on the precision of watches. In effect, depending on the vertical position of a watch, there are differences in the way it works. And there is no simple or complicated solution, no escape from gravity, this essential gravity that keeps our feet on the ground. The genius of Breguet lay in redefining the problem. Confronted by the variations caused by gravity, his idea was to make the balance and the escapement turn in the vertical plane to smooth the running of the watch. So, it becomes a question not of correcting, but of evening out the influence of gravity by a continuous adaptation of the watch mechanism’s vertical positioning. Two types of construction Creating a tourbillon is always a question of boldness, of seeking a subtle balance between effectiveness and aesthetics. There are two different methods of construction, the classic construction or the flying tourbillon a) The classic construction: the combination of the balance spring and escapement is placed in a cage which pivots between two bridges. This cage replaces the second wheel. A pinion fixed to the cage meshes with the intermediate wheel, itself driven by the mean wheel. The rotation of the cage drives the escapement wheel, placed in the cage, because its pinion works with a wheel fixed on the plate. The motive force from the barrel thus drives the escapement wheel via the rotation of the cage. Thanks to the escapement and the rhythm given by the balance-spring, the cage performs one rotation per minute. b) The flying tourbillon: the cage is held by a ball bearing. It carries around its edge gear teeth which mesh with the mean wheel. The rotation of the cage drives the escapement wheel because the outer portion of the ball bearing, fixed to the plate, acts as the fixed wheel. As for the inner part of the bearing, it is attached to the cage. This is the only difference in construction, the operating principles remaining the same. The second of the two has the advantage of positioning the balance and escapement appreciably further forward on the dial side as they rotate freely in their space, hence the name flying tourbillon. Purpose and evolution The primary purpose of the tourbillon is to increase the accuracy of a timepiece. Historically, this was proven effective with pocket watches. The considerable advances in manufacturing techniques due to the arrival of CNC machines, together with developments in metallurgy, have made obsolete many of the techniques our forebears used, for example tempering recipes and other similar subtleties. But there still remain today, as yesterday, the manual adeptness, the long patience of the watchmaker at the bench, and the skills required to master the assembly of a cage and precisely adjust its working. In the creation of wristwatch tourbillons, it is much more the aspects of technical mastery, the look and setting of this fascinating device on the dial that are sought after. Especially since a wristwatch, which is by nature very mobile on the wrist, places the timekeeping contribution of the tourbillon sharply in perspective. The drive to build new mechanisms has demonstrated itself in flying tourbillons, in cages that rotate around multiple axes, and in other displays of mastery. And here particularly, technological progress provides support for the intense determination of watchmakers to produce exceptional pieces. The tourbillon at VMF Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, with more than 15 years of activity, is a master of the delicate art of refined tourbillon movements. Far from being delicate or fragile mechanisms, our tourbillons are highly reliable. They are movements made for today’s world, capable of withstanding practically anything on their wearer’s wrist. They are also quality movements, made and finished according to the highest criteria. We produce calibres either specifically reserved for our high-prestige clients, or movements from our range that are accessible to all. The Seed VMF 3024, for example, combines automatic winding with a flying cage; while the VMF 5430 Seed, an extra-slim calibre, offers a wide range of customization possibilities.

  • a) The classic construction: the combination of the balance spring and escapement is placed in a cage which pivots between two bridges. This cage replaces the second wheel. A pinion fixed to the cage meshes with the intermediate wheel, itself driven by the mean wheel. The rotation of the cage drives the escapement wheel, placed in the cage, because its pinion works with a wheel fixed on the plate. The motive force from the barrel thus drives the escapement wheel via the rotation of the cage. Thanks to the escapement and the rhythm given by the balance-spring, the cage performs one rotation per minute.
  • b) The flying tourbillon: the cage is held by a ball bearing. It carries around its edge gear teeth which mesh with the mean wheel. The rotation of the cage drives the escapement wheel because the outer portion of the ball bearing, fixed to the plate, acts as the fixed wheel. As for the inner part of the bearing, it is attached to the cage. This is the only difference in construction, the operating principles remaining the same. The second of the two has the advantage of positioning the balance and escapement appreciably further forward on the dial side as they rotate freely in their space, hence the name flying tourbillon.

Purpose and evolution :

The primary purpose of the tourbillon is to increase the accuracy of a timepiece. Historically, this was proven effective with pocket watches. The considerable advances in manufacturing techniques due to the arrival of CNC machines, together with developments in metallurgy, have made obsolete many of the techniques our forebears used, for example tempering recipes and other similar subtleties. But there still remain today, as yesterday, the manual adeptness, the long patience of the watchmaker at the bench, and the skills required to master the assembly of a cage and precisely adjust its working. In the creation of wristwatch tourbillons, it is much more the aspects of technical mastery, the look and setting of this fascinating device on the dial that are sought after. Especially since a wristwatch, which is by nature very mobile on the wrist, places the timekeeping contribution of the tourbillon sharply in perspective. The drive to build new mechanisms has demonstrated itself in flying tourbillons, in cages that rotate around multiple axes, and in other displays of mastery. And here particularly, technological progress provides support for the intense determination of watchmakers to produce exceptional pieces.

Flying tourbillon

The tourbillon at Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier

Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, with more than 15 years of activity, is a master of the delicate art of refined tourbillon movements. Far from being delicate or fragile mechanisms, our tourbillons are highly reliable. They are movements made for today’s world, capable of withstanding practically anything on their wearer’s wrist. They are also quality movements, made and finished according to the highest criteria. We produce calibres either specifically reserved for our high-prestige clients, or movements from our range that are accessible to all. The Seed VMF 3024, for example, combines automatic winding with a flying cage; while the VMF 5430 Seed, an extra-slim calibre, offers a wide range of customization possibilities.

Manual Winding tourbillon Seed VMF 5440