Abraham-Louis Breguet designed many inventions, but patented just two, the constant-force escapement, and the tourbillon. It was the latter that would consolidate his fame as a watchmaking genius: a system that improved the accuracy of a mechanical watch by cancelling out the detrimental effects of gravity on the balance wheel. In the tourbillon, the entire escapement is mounted in a tiny mobile cage that itself completes a rotation every minute. The earliest tourbillons were hidden inside the movement, but soon this fascinating mechanism, like a beating heart within the watch, was given a prominent position on the dial.
Good examples can be seen in the contemporary tourbillon watches by Breguet, such as La Tradition Tourbillon, which actually includes four patented features and six landmark inventions. One of them can be credited to another genius, Leonardo da Vinci, whose notebooks contain a drawing illustrating a fusée that enables a mainspring to deliver energy at a constant force even while it runs down. In this watch, brilliant engineering becomes a fascinating performance, a piece of horological visual theatre.
Breguet and the tourbillon were celebrated in an exhibition titled 'Breguet, the innovator. Inventor of the Tourbillon,' at Cité du Temps in Geneva, from 21 January to 24 February 2013. The show will subsequently tour Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the U.S.A., giving the public the chance to find out more about historical tourbillons and contemporary masterpieces.