The tourbillon is actually older than widely believed, having been around for over 220 years. Contrary to popular belief, it was not invented in 1801 – that was the date Abraham-Louis Breguet patented the invention – rather he began working on it quite a bit earlier, around 1795. Despite two centuries having passed, that has not stopped the finest watchmakers from further refining it.
Today we will be looking at five timepieces that have successfully condensed the tourbillon to the bare minimum, squeezing it into slim watch cases thinner than 10mm high.
The heftiest of them all, but still remarkably slender, is the 40mm and only 9.9mm high F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain. An icon of modern fine watchmaking, the symmetrical dial of the Tourbillon Souverain displays Journe’s beautifully finished tourbillon cage on the left, the highly legible and also finely decorated time indication on a sub-dial on the right, while a running seconds below and a power reserve above the axis formed by these two elements further enhance the balanced look of the dial. Time indicated clearly and a tourbillon displayed proudly – this is the exquisite F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain.
Coming in at 41mm wide and 8.85mm in height, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra-Thin is true to its name. The hand-wound 2924 manufacture caliber by Audemars Piguet is composed of 216 parts, offers a generous 70-hour power reserve and is just 4.46mm. The blue dial with the restrained Petite Tapisserie hobnail guilloche, in combination with the trademark Royal Oak hands and indices offer excellent legibility, while the manufacture’s movement decoration can be scrutinized through the opening at the tourbillon’s opening at the six o’clock position.
Parmigiani Fleurier shows off its in-house movement design prowess with the Tonda 1950 Tourbillon. The PF517 manufacture caliber is the world’s thinnest flying tourbillon movement with automatic winding: it is just 3.4mm high and the case measure 40.2mm wide and 8.65mm thick. A additional cool little detail: the tourbillon cage is crafted from titanium and weighs a lighter-than-featherweight 0.255 grams.
It should come as no surprise that the manufacture named after the tourbillon’s genius inventor, Breguet, also offers an Extra-Plat, ”Extra-Flat”, timepiece. Measuring 42mm wide and just 7mm high, the beautifully classical case houses a 3mm in-house movement with a special and indeed very rare peripheral winding rotor. That feature offers the convenience of automatic winding without adding any height to the thin profile of the 581DR caliber. Stunning and daring dial design meet with a unique movement construction in the Breguet Extra-Plat 5377.
The thinnest of them all comes from the extremely capable manufacture of Bulgari – still to this day the underdog among the few truly and fully vertically integrated watch brands. With its very own dial, case and movement producing and assembling facilities, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo was designed and is produced by Bulgari and the thinnest tourbillon wrist watch ever made. The movement is a mere 1.95mm thick, while the case is just 5mm from case-back to the sapphire crystal. The Octo’s remarkably elegant case has never been this thin and this comfortable to wear – and its timeless design now meets true manufacturing expertise.
This was but a quick glance into the minute and yet endlessly fascinating universe of ultra-thin tourbillons, fine watches that truly need to be held in one’s hand to be fully appreciated. So be sure to check them out first hand as soon as you can.
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Victor Toth – Czech Republic
Victor Toth is a Prague-based, professional photographer-turned-watch enthusiast and freelance journalist, whose journey into the complex world of fine watchmaking had begun a number of years ago. Over this time it has become his passion to share his understanding of the finer details of beautiful timepieces, all in an effort to encourage a more thorough appreciation of this wonderful and complex universe of fine mechanics.