We are well past the halfway mark, with all the dust settled from the year’s biggest horological events, so now is as good a time as any to look at some of the best luxury watches 2018 has brought us.
To kick off, we have chosen our three favorite new tourbillons – generally thought of as one of the most challenging complications to build and representing the pinnacle of the watchmaker’s art. And like other works of art, they are essentially useless.
The tourbillon was patented in 1801 by Franco-Swiss maestro Albert-Louis Breguet, as a solution to a real problem suffered by pocket watches. As they spent the majority of their time in one of two positions, worn vertically in a vest pocket or stored horizontally, the hairspring would be put under considerable strain and affect the accuracy of the timekeeping.
Breguet’s answer was to house the escapement in a protective cage, moving in a constant state of rotation. The gyroscopic effect cancelled out the influence gravity had on the hairspring and improved overall precision.
Of course, with the popularization of the wristwatch, and particularly the automatic, self-winding caliber pioneered by Rolex, the movement is kept in continuous motion anyway and gravity isn’t an issue.
Nevertheless, tourbillons (from the French for whirlwind) are still produced by some of the highest of high end manufactures, as a display of just what can be achieved by true horological artisans.
As well as being impossibly intricate and extremely time-consuming to make, they are also generally cripplingly expensive, with prices starting deep into five-figure territory and climbing far out of sight.
But for those lucky few who can blow the budget on one of these undoubted masterpieces, below we have chosen three of this year’s finest.
Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic
It is hard to think of any other watch that is quite as impressive as Bvlgari’s latest endeavor. The most recent salvo in their relentless battle with luxury Swiss rivals Piaget, the Italian-based brand has set a double world record with the Octo Finissimo this year, taking the title for both the thinnest automatic as well as the thinnest tourbillon.
With a movement measuring 1.95mm thick, the entire watch weighs in at only 3.95mm. For scale, just the sapphire crystal on the Rolex Deepsea is 5.5mm.
Bvlgari already held the record for thinnest tourbillon movement, a manually-wound caliber they released in 2015. This new mechanism keeps the same dimensions even though it is now automatic. The impossibly thin winding rotor is made from an ingenious combination of white gold and aluminum, their differences in mass causing the circular weight to rotate in a precisely regulated way.
Even more remarkable, Bvlgari have managed to retain the overall design language of the Octo range in their ultra thin edition. The 42mm diameter sandblasted titanium case has the recognizable squared angles and countless facets of the rest of the series, countered by the sheer fineness of the piece to make it the ultimate elegant dress watch. It even has a power reserve of 52 hours.
The Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Automatic Tourbillon is an undoubted masterwork from one of Italy’s oldest jewelry houses, and its price is a reflection of that fact. To get your hands on one of the 50 pieces in the limited edition run will set you back around $140,000.
Cartier Rotonde de Cartier Skeleton Mysterious Double Tourbillon
Another name representing the finest in haute horlogerie, Cartier has produced some iconic timepieces during their 170 year history. Their latest though is on another planet from the simple elegance of a Tank or a Santos.
Housed inside a 45mm platinum case, the Mysterious’s skeletonized bridges form the dial’s Roman numeral indexes, while at the same time letting you see the magnificent Cal. 9465 MC at work. The in-house, manually-wound 26 jewel movement is made up of 286 components and gives a 52 hour reserve.
The real news however is the double flying tourbillon at the six o’clock. Seeming as if it is floating in thin air, hence the ‘Mysterious’ tag, the mechanism completes one full revolution every 60 seconds, while the cage itself rotates around its large aperture every five minutes. It is a stunning example of what can be done with over a century and a half of watchmaking tradition behind you.
The otherwise monochromatic piece is given a couple of flashes of color, in the blue sapphire cabochon topping the winding crown and with the blued steel hands that gives the watch a great deal of legibility, despite the intricacies of the dial’s many flanks and angles, and the fluted outer ring of the tourbillon’s setting.
Like the Bvlgari, the Rotonde de Cartier Skeleton Mysterious Double Tourbillon is another limited edition, this time restricted to just 30 pieces, with a price of around $216,000. If you come up with more money from down the back of the sofa, you can request a variant with a diamond-enhanced bezel for $324,000 or, if you have a particularly big sofa, one with a full pavé case at $530,000.
IWC Schaffhausen Portugieser
2018 was a banner year for luxury maison IWC Schaffhausen. The ultra high end Swiss manufacture, founded in 1868 by American Florentine Ariosto Jones, celebrated its 150th anniversary by unveiling a total of 27 limited-edition pieces at SIHH in January.
Among them were two new tourbillons to join their vaunted Portugieser line, a collection that dates back as far as 1939 when the brand supplied the Portuguese navy with timepieces that were large enough to be read at a glance.
As one of IWCs core offerings, a new Portugieser issue is always something very special, and the Perpetual Calendar and the Constant-Force Tourbillon ‘150 years Editions’ are no exception.
Each piece represents some sublime technological mastery; the former (the IW504501) is the first example from the brand to combine a perpetual calendar with a tourbillon complication. It is powered by the 51950 caliber, a modification from their base 51900 range, used in the Tourbillon Mystère Rétrograde, but with the addition of a calendar module. The newly developed white lacquer dial fitted into the 45mm 18k red gold case displays the day, date, month and four-figure year, along with the power reserve, which is an incredible 168 hours due to the movement’s twin barrels. The moonphase, usually found at the 12 o’clock position, has been moved to the six o’clock, and nestles inside the month sub dial.
Restricted to just 50 examples, the price for the IWC Perpetual Calendar Edition 150 years is around $125,000
The Constant Force Tourbillon is, if anything, even more impressive. The ref. IW590202 is available with either a blue or white lacquered dial on its 46mm platinum case, limited to just 15 pieces each.
A watch driven by another gem of a movement, the manually-wound, in-house caliber 94085 has a power reserve of 96 hours and combines a perpetual moonphase complication with a constant-force tourbillon—an IWC innovation that provides the balance with a regulated impulse and causes the tourbillon cage to advance in one-second jumps. In addition, the moonphase is precise to within a single day over the next 577.5 years.
Less busy looking than the Perpetual Calendar, the two share a number of design characteristics, such as the heat-treated blue hour and minute hands and the large, gnarled crown. Best of all, both watches feature a sapphire crystal display case back to show off their incredible engines.
The extremely limited edition Constant Force Tourbillon is yours for around $253,000.