On the Cutting Edge of Time

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Have you ever encountered a situation where your watch and the time indicated in the office clock differs, missing an “on time entry” with a subtle difference of seconds? Is it because your watch is not timed correctly or has the battery gone down? Did you ever stop by to ponder the precision of your watch? Have you ever felt that you are following the wrong time? The answer to all these questions is quiet simple; the time displayed in a watch is all inaccurate. Surprised? Conventional mechanical watches provide inaccurate time due to the effect of gravitational forces on its various components. Watchmakers have always tried to battle the effects of gravity on a timepiece’s balance assembly. How do I get a watch that provides me an accurate time? “Tourbillon” Technology is the answer.

For centuries a tourbillon watch has been considered as one of the most complicated, ingenious and exclusive timepiece technology. Only the world’s most qualified watch makers were and still are able to make them. A watch with tourbillon movement remains a manifestation of a superior and the most exceptional type of watch, a luxury captured by select audience of addicted connoisseurs because the limited and the essential components of these tourbillons remain scarce.


Evolution of Tourbillon technology Source: iRunway

Time it right

The latest release of Roger Dubuis’ novel Genevian watch brand “the Excalibur Quatuor” is a perfect example that affirms this age old truth. Costing $1.1 million a piece, this looks like a time trender!

The Excalibur Quatuor seizes the brilliance and creativity of Roger Dubuis better than any other model. It represents innovation and features a completely original power reserve indicator, while respecting the great tradition of watch making.

The four sprung balances, which are the pulse of a mechanical watch, have been set at 45° angles to take both gravity and the wearer’s movements into account, providing unparalleled accuracy. By distributing the effects of gravity across the four balances, these effects are negated, thus resulting in a more consistent timekeeping rate, irrespective of the position or motion of placement of the wrist watch. All the technical details aside, the movement is quite dazzling to behold and the sound of four balances ticking brings to mind the whirring of a machine.

Peek into the Tourbillon

In a single axis tourbillon, the entire escapement is housed in a rotating cage, and the whole assembly is constantly moving.  No matter what position the watch is in, variations in the timings are essentially canceled out. The balance wheel does not just turn endlessly in one direction, rather, it moves back and forth, like a revolving pendulum, also known as balance wheel oscillation. The consistency in the back and forth movement of a balance wheel creates accuracy in the watch. For this reason, the tourbillon is often used at the seconds counter in a watch. The reason why balance wheel rotates in all possible direction is to nullify the effect of gravity caused by frictional and magnetic force.

Patenting Activity

The first registered patent on Tourbillon technology was filed in 1801 by Abraham-Louis Breguet. Lot of patenting activity has been going on since then in this technology.

There is some uniqueness in tourbillon watches designed by every manufacturer in the market. The figure depicts the working model of an Excalibur watch prior to the invention of Excalibur Quatuor. Roger Dubuis holds a design patent (USD636692S1) for the working model of the Excalibur watch.

The advancements in tourbillon technology made Roger Dubuis come up with a unique watch with four tourbillons placed at fixed angles relative to the plane of the dial. This advanced model eventually turned out as Excalibur Quatuor. Roger Dubuis has filed a patent application for the same.


iRunway analysis

The figure illustrates the distribution of patents in Tourbillon technology across the world. A larger chunk of patents is held by Chinese manufacturers, who provide Tourbillon technology at a cheaper rate. These Chinese watchmakers have become a potential threat to major Swiss brands. Major players in this niche industry are Swiss manufacturers such as Breguet, Greubel Forsey, Richemont Group etc. In spite of having a lot of products in Tourbillon technology, Luxury brands such as Omega, Zenith do not have significant patent assets.


iRunway analysis

If you think, the markets for these niche watches are dropping down. Well the answer is no, the buyers for these aesthetic and unique watches are growing. Players like Greubel Forsey, Omega have designed watches that provide world time on par with the earth’s rotation. There are masterpieces which work in anti clock direction, watches displaying the different phases of a moon, anti-magnetic watches etc. Well, with tourbillon technology growing in importance by the day, will watchmakers modify these antiques to work with precision?

(Featured image source: https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3786/8932690177_098ea4c580_z.jpg)

Sharon Elin Sunny
Sharon Elin Sunny

An interesting conversationalist, Sharon’s strong social streak finds her working towards uplifting the socially underprivileged when she isn’t helping grow iRunway’s IP services and blogging on new technologies.

Bhargav Ram
Bhargav Ram

Bhargav is a mechanogeek who goes right down to the nucleus of every product - from rockets to tablets - to understand its mechanism and blog about it.

1 Comment

  1. It has hardly been a decade since we have witnessed the phenomenon of smartphones. The introduction of devices such as Apple’s iPhone and several Android-powered phones literally changed the way we perceived cellular phones. Apart from the capability to make calls and send text messages, these smartphones can also perform most features expected from a computer. However, within the decade itself, we are in brink of another technological phenomenon. A few established organizations have launched smart watches, which do a lot more than just telling us the time.

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