I’m fascinated by tourbillons, the tiny, tiny mechanical marvel invented around 1795 by Abraham-Louis Breguet to increase the accuracy of pocket watches. It’s still one of the most complex and difficult horological complications to master and only a handful of manufacturers can make them. The basic idea is to offset the effect of gravity on the watch by rotating the scapement and balance wheel (often one turn per minut). While I’m mesmerized by normal tourbillons I’m totally hypnotized by Jaeger-LeCoultres Gyrotourbillon II. In this complication there are two tourbillons, one inside the other rotating on a perpendicular axis at a speed of one turn per 18.75 seconds while the outer rotates at the normal speed of one turn per minute. The result is a spectacular mechanical animation that not only takes the tourbillon into the 21st century but also is the base for one of the most accurate mechanical movements ever made.
While the Gyrotoubillon first made an appearance in the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gyrotourbillon in 2004 the highlight, in my mind, is the Reverso Gyrotoubillon 2 which was introduced in 2008. The mastermind behind the movement is Eric Coudray (the same man who brought the Cabestan to life) and it was designed by Magali Métrailler.
The real highlight designwise is the complete absensce of non-functional elements. As far as I can tell, every single part is functional and it’s still one of the most classy and highly decorated watches that I know of. Even the dial is reduced to its purest form, a single track showing the numbers. While many other high-end workshops finish their movements to a high degree and showcase it through casebacks and cutouts for tourbillons, in this case the movement is the watch. This is one of the most extreme cases of form follows function I have ever seen, and still it’s one of the most beautiful objects around.
The completely open access to the movement also means that the mechanical marvels are showcased in the best way possible. The reverso case is very well suited since it can show both sides of the wath even when it’s on the wrist and the gyrotourbillon, by its three-dimensional nature, is equally suited to both sides. The back features a power reserve meter and a second look at the 24h indicator wheel that’s also visble from the front.
Although this is the second use of a gyrotourbillon for Jaeger-LeCoultre this is the first time they (or anyone for that matter) has used a cylindrical balance spring. The shape of the spring allows it to have two terminal curves for a more even motion and to make it more isochronus in the goal for the best possible accuracy. It took the second place in the first official timing competition for over 35 years at the Neuchâtel observatory in 2009 (first place went to the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Tourbillon using calibre 987), so they must have done something right.
In total, there were 75 examples of the Gyrotourbillon II which retailed for $350,000. Comparing it to other ultra-luxury watches I actually find that a good value considering the functional horological innovations, the design and craftmanship. I only hope that I someday will be able to find one when I’m able to invest that kind of money.