On June 26, 1801 (or rather the 7th Messidor of the year IX, according to the republican calendar that was in force in France at that time), Abraham-Louis Breguet obtained a patent for his new type of regulator, the “Tourbillon”. By neutralizing the effects of earth's gravity on the regularity of movement, this invention contributed to the fame of the illustrious watchmaker.
"More than 220 years after its birth, the tourbillon still exerts the same charm and remains, more than ever, the prerogative of the manufacture."
Thanks to the invention of the Tourbillon, A.-L. Breguet has improved the precision of pocket watches and, above all, has created one of the finest complications in the watchmaking universe.
Breguet was well aware that gravity was the enemy of the regularity of watch movements, changing the time settings whenever the watch worn changed position. To solve this problem of earthly gravity, inherent in any human activity, the master decided to install the entire escapement (the balance wheel with the respective spring, the anchor and the escape wheel, i.e. the parts most sensitive to the effects of the force of gravity) inside a mobile cage that completes one complete rotation every minute. In this way, the defects, which have a regular occurrence, compensate each other. The constant variation of the contact point of the rocker arm pins in the respective rubies also ensures better lubrication.
Although the evolution of watchmaking has made it possible to make significant improvements in terms of regularity by more classical means, the Tourbillon, patented in 1801, remains an extraordinary invention, as well as a milestone in Breguet's career. Furthermore, the discreet link with astronomy and the human sciences places it among the prominent elements of a crucial era for European thought. Since then, the Maison Breguet has been proudly committed to paying homage to this invention through increasingly elegant timepieces.
The result of an ingenious but extremely complex idea to implement, the Tourbillon was far from being "operational" in the summer of 1801. The first, in fact, was only put on the market in 1805, after two experimental models (the watch No. 169, given to the son of the London watchmaker John Arnold in 1809, and the No. 282 watch, completed in 1800 and sold long after by Breguet's son). The following year, the invention was presented to the public during the National Exhibition of Products of Industry which was held in Paris, on the Esplanade des Invalides, in the months of September and October 1806. Described as a mechanism that allows timepieces to “maintain the same precision whatever the position of the watch, vertical or inclined”, the tourbillon has never ceased to exert its charm.
For the greatest watch enthusiasts it was impossible to resist its charm. Among these stand out the famous Italian patron and collector Sommariva, Monsignor Belmas, bishop of Cambrai, the Bourbons of Spain who came to own three Tourbillons, purchased between 1808 and 1814, and the Prince Regent of England who, in 1814, bought a large Tourbillon adorned on top of a gilt bronze cone. Wrapped in an aura of mystery and reserved for a select few, the Tourbillon was sold in only 35 units between 1805 and 1823, the year of the master's death, but his successors were able to perpetuate that extraordinary savoir-faire up to the present day, enriching it of increasingly innovative features.