Article by Eric Tyler
The newest Swiss flying tourbillon’s development is as epic as the watch itself.
In the world of luxury watches, a Swiss tourbillon guarantees a place on the haute horology stage. This singular complication has an almost magical aura and can transform the most mundane of pieces into a highly coveted collectible. The rotating cage is instantly recognizable (although there are sleights of hand in the industry with open hearts) and acts as a kind of Ferrari, Lamborghini or McLaren badge on a sports car.
What exactly is a tourbillon, where did it come from and why does it usually carry a staggering price? Well, let’s take a closer look at the HORAGE Tourbillon 1 that went from ambitious to monumental, resulting in something beyond what was imagined at a price simply unheard of in Swiss watchmaking.
The tourbillon isn’t a recent development. In fact, it’s among the oldest of horological complications. Invented by Breguet in the late 1700’s and officially patented in 1801, the tourbillon is French for “whirlwind” and brings the balance wheel and escapement into a rotating cage. Most rotate once per minute (doubling as a seconds indicator) and counteract the forces of gravity by always shifting positions, thereby increasing accuracy. This was game changing for pocket watches that were usually in one static position, but a bit redundant for wristwatches that frequently move. After hundreds of years, it remains among the most difficult and complex complications to produce. There are several types of tourbillons, but to keep things simple, they can be broken down into fixed and flying variants. A traditional one is fixed via a bridge at the top and bottom, while a flying tourbillon is cantilevered and supported only from the back. This leaves the complication exposed on the dial side and seemingly floating without a support. Eye candy for sure and the ultimate display of watchmaking prowess, even if the original purpose is generally obsolete today.
The all-new Tourbillon 1 with solid 18K gold case upgrade and gold movement.
Although founded less than 15 years ago with the first watch presented in 2009, HORAGE is no stranger to in-house production. The first in-house movement was the K1 automatic, following several years of research and development. It’s no run-of-the-mill engine, either, having a 65-hour power reserve, official COSC chronometer rating and in-house developed silicon escapement. It’s also modular with 18 possible configurations, greatly reducing the need for extra modules.
The K1 Caliber - Horage's first summit.
K2 Micro-rotor movement currently in production and consumer program starting Q2 2021.
The even more advanced K2 followed with a complex micro-rotor, and in-between all of this was the Tourbillon 1 project. The goal was to provide a premium Swiss-Made flying tourbillon for well under CHF 10,000, which is an industry first. Tag Heuer shocked the industry several years ago with the Carrera Heuer-02T Chronograph tourbillon for only CHF 15,000, and this is an industry giant with the added resources of parent company LVMH. The HORAGE Tourbillon 1 was announced in early 2020 with a starting price of only CHF 6,990 (ex.vat), from a team of less than ten. Unlike the K1 and K2 movements, the tourbillon was to be produced by Swiss movement manufacturer La Joux-Perret with HORAGE’s silicon escapement integrated.
Original Tourbillon 1 - Soon, would to receive a serious in-house upgrade.
Orders were placed and production was underway, but at the eleventh hour, HORAGE’s partnership with the manufacturer wasn’t realized. Needless to say, this small team was suddenly in a very difficult position. Most watchmakers, especially ones of only 12 years, would’ve thrown in the towel and offered refunds. HORAGE isn’t like most. The team put their heads together and quickly developed a moonshot – they were going to design and produce their own in-house tourbillon caliber in record time, delaying initial deliveries by only a matter of months. Prices would also remain unchanged, even as their own costs skyrocketed. Ambitious to the point of madness, the extreme talent, innovative spirit and raw determination culminated in an entirely new movement, featuring major improvements across the board. Achievements like this are rarely seen in Swiss watchmaking and this is truly history in the making.
Horage co-founder Andreas Felsl going over the new drawings with Tourbillon 1 lead Silvan Deutschmann.
The original K-TOU Tourbillon caliber, of which working prototypes were produced, was already a marvel at the price with a 72-hour power reserve, COSC chronometer certification option and aesthetic customizations at the time of order. HORAGE’s new in-house movement on the outside has the same general appearance and fits the cases and dial grids that were already produced, but internally it’s an entirely ground-up development. Designed and produced in an unprecedentedly short time period, the new movement features more than 120 hours of reserve (approaching double the original), lower profile and tourbillon cage with half the weight. An improved silicon escapement is also on-board. Nothing was carried over from the original design as the team developed this from scratch, utilizing a base from the in-house K1 and K2 calibers. Using the “System-K Core Components Toolkit” derived from 12 years of experience with the prior movements, the team began this incredible challenge in June 2020 and will meet their goal of delivering the first watches by the end of Q1 2021. An extraordinary turnaround of less than a year. And this was all achieved in the midst of the worst global pandemic in a century.
DLC coating was added to the main barrel to provide ensure generations of wearing.
The titanium flying tourbillon cage with 43 parts is packed into 3.9mm and weighs just 0.29 grams. Weight is a big contributor to precision and power reserve. If you look close you will find THE+ on the escape wheel.
A mesmerizing case back view unlike anything else ever produced.
The devil is in the details. Even the hands setting mechanism received a beautiful brushed decoration.
How was HORAGE able to produce its own flying tourbillon when time literally was working against them? A team of incredible engineers and watchmakers technology, unprecedented watchmaking expertise and many sleepless nights, coupled with the will to achieve the impossible. Artificially inflated prices have no place here. And the highest level of quality expected and ready to deliver for such a piece is on full display – absolutely no corners were cut.
Based in Biel/Bienne, the heart of Swiss watchmaking, HORAGE is a true legend in the making.
Written by Horage enthusiast Eric Tyler - Let him know your appreciation in the comments.
Photography by Carpe-Diem Studio and Landon Stirling