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Bold But Discreet - Understating the tourbillon

Bold But Discreet Understating the tourbillon

Every once in a while, the tourbillon stays hidden against the wrist. Brands who resist the tempation of flaunting it are but a handful, and one just joined in.

It's not of its own doing, it didn't choose to nor was it destined to become one. But the tourbillon is somewhat of a flasher. If a watch includes one, it will be made visible through an opening on the dial or in the middle of a skeleton movement. And if it wasn't clear enough, its name can even be written down on the dial. More than fifty brands conspicuously showcase it, finding it hard to turn down the easy publicity this complicaiton brings. There are three notable exceptions to that rule. Three brands who hide their tourbillons, making it a feature exclusively reserved for the owners and the people they choose to share it with. Three brands which haven't always kept their accomplishments on the down low, but which decided that this rotating organ deserved a little bit of privacy.

Understating the tourbillon

Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920 © Glashütte

Historically, one must recognize that tourbillons had stayed hidden for almost 200 years. They were never produced en masse, but the few examples by Breguet, Omega or Jaeger-LeCoultre, to name but a few, were invisible because no one then would have had the gawl to drill a large hole in a dial.

Then in the early 2000's, Patek Philippe started manufacturing their first modern, stand-alone tourbillon as this complicaiton was on the verge of becoming the absulute star of high-end watchmaking. Back then, the brand shied away from ostentation and it was only logical that the ref. 5101P had stashed its tourbillon away from prying eyes. Echoing the production of their tourbillon pocket watches, essentially destined to compete in chronometry contests, the brand kept writing the serial number of the movement on the dial, as well as the word toubillon itself. Still the latter remained located bottom-side, with no aperture, no skeleton version until 2019 and the arrival of the ref. 5303R Minute Repeater Tourbillon Singapore 2019, followed by the non-limited ref. 5303R in 2020. Yet even on these partially skeleton models with transparent dials, the tourbillon only shows its back and is far from being flaunted.  

Understating the tourbillon

Ref 5101 © Patek Philippe

More suprising, Panerai's tourbillon, lodged inside their Calibre P.2005, was never made clearly visible, except on its skeleton versions. Yet the brand never hesitated to make a splash and theirs was a spectacular tourbillon. It was lodged transversally, spinned in the vertical plane and did so every 30 seconds. It wasn't even always announced by a writing on the dial. One had to spot the little dot inside the small seconds at 9 o'clock, which is the only infallible sign of there being a Panerai tourbillon inside. Then came several skeleton models, like the Scienzato series, where hiding anything wasn't the idea at all.

Understating the tourbillon

Luminor © Panerai


Then in 2020, Glashütte Original joined in. The brand is new to this as all of their tourbillons were so far very neatly exposed. They all were, and still are, of the flying kind. The brand is celebrating the centenary of the invention of the tourbillon without superior bridge and gave their novelty the name of its creator, a celebrated professor of at the Glashütte watchmaking school, Alfred Helwig. The new Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920 is a model of understatement, one seldom reached even by the Saxon brands. The movement is plain awesome, structure and finishings alike, but one must flip the 40 mm rose gold case to admire it. The three-quarters mainplate of calibre 54-01 is sitting on pillars to both accomodate and showcase the tourbillon. Glashütte Original decided that great honours are great burdens and gave their latest tourbillon a rest... but not entirely as they elected to print its name inside the small seconds.

Understating the tourbillon

Calibre 54 © Glashütte

Brands

Glashütte Original is the rightful heir to Germany’s 170 years of legacy in the art of watchmaking. Glashütte Original is an authentic high-end manufactory that outfits all of its watches with...

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Every Panerai watch is as unique as the story it tells. Since 1860 Panerai has produced high-precision instruments and watches, developed and created to meet the most rigorous military standards....

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Patek Philippe enjoys outstanding renown and rare prestige, due to the constancy with which the Manufacture has applied its philosophy of excellence ever since it was founded.

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