Tourbillon Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014
by Ian Skellern
From now until the end of October, we will bring you round table discussions on the pre-selected wristwatches in each category of the 2014 edition of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
This will give you the chance to listen to well-known tastemakers and journalists in the world of horology talking about their favorites in each category and the watches’ chances. And please don’t hesitate to let us know if you agree or not: taste is subjective.
Note: each contributor is responsible for his or her own opinion, and it may not reflect the stance of Quill & Pad.
Quill & Pad editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr may not participate in these round tables as she is one of the judges for the 2014 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève and must retain neutrality. In today’s edition you will read the following participants:
IS Ian Skellern, co-founder of Quill & Pad
JM Joshua Munchow, resident “nerdwriter” for Quill & Pad
GG GaryG, resident collector for Quill & Pad
FG Frank Geelen, publisher and editor-in-chief at Monochrome
TM Tom Mulraney, CEO and editor at The Watch Lounge
TK Tomasz Kieltyka, owner and editor of Chronos24.pl
It should be noted that our panel members did not discuss their final choices with each other beforehand and chose their predicted winning watches individually.
IS: The more complicated the categories get the harder it is to make hard choices about which is better and why. This is the first category in which any of the pre-selected watches strapped to my wrist would put a smile on my face.
The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon is a watch that I both like very much and can rule out immediately. I like it because thin watches are both elegant and comfortable to wear . . . and tourbillons – quite literally – don’t come thinner than this. Timepieces in this category are most likely going to be worn as dress watches, i.e., under a cuff, so slimmer is generally better.
But I’m ruling the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon out because the whole point of a tourbillon is to improve timekeeping (whether it succeeds in this endeavor is another matter entirely) and in dispensing with a second hand, even one on the tourbillon cage, Bulgari has honestly stated that this watch is all about style (thin), not substance (accuracy). The Octo Finissimo Tourbillon is a great ultra-thin watch, but not a “great” tourbillon.
GG: For me, this category – watches that contain a tourbillon, but may also include other complications – is a bit of a hash. In this year’s competition, we have several tourbillon-based watches in other categories (including my pick in the Chronograph category, the De Bethune Maxichrono DB29, and a strong contender in the Calendar category, the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Terraluna). In this category two of the finalists also include chronographs. It seems to me that we have one too many categories in the competition given the overlaps.
The winner is a tough call! The diversity of choices is so large that it all depends how the jury members see the appeal of whiz-bang gizmos versus tourbillon-based, traditional complications versus simple, elegant designs.
JM: For this category I will say I am torn between technology and beauty. While the necessity of a tourbillon is debatable, the allure of one is obvious: a whirlwind on your wrist. But in the modern day, tourbillons are being put into everything from classic Breguet to the ever-more-modern TAG Heuer, leaving a lot of ground in between for interpretation. Because of that, I find versions I love that scream class and heritage and others that champion technological feats and innovation.
A strong choice would be the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon, which just happens to be the thinnest flying tourbillon ever made. With the delicateness of a tourbillon assembly, making it even smaller, thinner, and lighter is incredible, and it has great wrist presence too.
TM: My personal favorite in the tourbillon category is the impossibly thin Octo Finissimo Tourbillon from Bulgari. At just 1.95 mm high, this Swiss-Italian beauty boasts the thinnest tourbillon movement ever, which itself is housed in a platinum case measuring just 5 mm. Unfortunately, though, despite the technical prowess clearly required to create such a caliber, I just don’t think the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon has enough of the “wow” factor to really win the judges over.
FG: Bulgari did great with the world’s thinnest tourbillon. With a magnificently thin, manually wound tourbillon movement that measures under 2 mm in height, it’s simply astonishing!
TK: When it comes to tourbillon watches, once considered an element to improve accuracy by mitigating the effects of gravity, nowadays it mainly serves the purpose of aesthetics. There are manufacturers that occasionally include such timepieces in their collections to show their capabilities; there are also those for which it has become almost mandatory.
My favorite manufacture that makes watches equipped with tourbillons – Greubel Forsey – falls into the second category. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the French-English duo was awarded the Aiguille d’Or in 2010 for the Double Tourbillon 30° Edition Historique model. If it were up to me, the prize would go to them every year! (laughs)
IS: I find that the Villeret 12-Day One-Minute Flying Tourbillon is Blancpain at its best: a clean, white dial with absolutely nothing distracting attention from the flying tourbillon. And a 12-day power reserve is a significant “complication” in itself in my book. But I don’t really see the point of a long power reserve and automatic winding. Personally, I’d prefer a thinner movement.
But as this Villeret model has no second hand, there is not even a tip-of-the-hat toward any pretense of accuracy being a goal. The Villeret 12-Day One-Minute Flying Tourbillon is an absolutely stunning watch, but as good as the flying tourbillon may be, it’s not good enough for me to choose as a winner in this category.
Random side note: Blancpain and Breguet seem to be in competition for the longest model name, with Blancpain taking the gold medal incorporating all the principle features in the name. Soon we will no longer need press releases or technical descriptions, as the name will say it all!
FG: For me the tourbillon category is the most difficult to choose a winner from. There are so many impressive tourbillon watches this year. The Blancpain with its 12-day movement and flying tourbillon, the Montblanc with its beautiful and innovative ExoTourbillon, and the TAG Heuer MikroPendulum Tourbillon. All very, very, impressive!
However, I think that the Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique will win in this category. It displays gorgeous classic beauty with its engine-turned dial, it’s very wearable with its dimensions (42 x 7 mm), and it’s also a perfect daily watch because it’s automatically wound.
IS: The Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique is everything I want a Breguet to be: guilloche dial, blued pomme hands and fluted case band, with just a soupçon of quirkiness in that off-centered tourbillon to make it interesting.
And despite having automatic winding, the Classique Tourbillon is slim; in fact Breuget claims it’s the thinnest self-winding tourbillon on the market, so that’s another point in it’s favor.
But while the Breguet is strong on classic and timeless elegance, I’m also looking for innovation here, and I feel that there are others in this category offering more on that front.
TK: Choosing the winner in the Tourbillon category isn’t easy. Among the nominated watches, we find classic ones with rich histories, like the one from Breguet, the company whose founder is considered the creator of the complication heading up this category.
GG: Last year’s jury showed deep affection for the independents, so the Grönefeld could be a dark horse, and for technical merit the Montblanc is a strong contender as well – but the more I consider it, the more I’m thinking TAG Heuer, unless the traditionalists sway the jury to the lovely ultra-thin Breguet. Can you tell I’m conflicted here?
IS: The Montblanc Villeret ExoTourbillon Rattrapante is the second of our “Villeret” watches in this category; slightly confusingly, Blancpain’s tourbillon starts with “Villeret” as well. But I digress.
What I really like about the ExoTourbillon Rattrapante are the stunning cream-colored enamel dial (though I’m just guessing it’s enamel as that isn’t mentioned in the description) and the large-diameter balance oscillating above, rather than inside, the tourbillon cage. Montblanc claims that it is the first tourbillon with a balance wheel diameter larger than its tourbillon cage. And I like the ethereal, twisted-cable-style tourbillon bridge as well.
But as impressive as the addition of split-seconds chronograph is, the chrono counters clutter (in my opinion) what would otherwise be a much cleaner and better-looking dial.
Without the chronograph I think that the ExoTourbillon Rattrapante would have been a very strong contender for me in this category.
JM: I have multiple favorites here, but of course we have to pick just one, which is something I will never enjoy. I love Blancpain and Breguet; even the Montblanc in this category is a very strong contender as you say, Ian. But I have to say I must lean towards the modern interpretations from the likes of Bulgari, TAG Heuer, and a personal favorite, Grönefeld with the Parallax Tourbillon.
GG: With last year’s Aiguille d’Or going to the technically inventive but operationally unproven Girard-Perregaux Constant Escapement watch and the prior year’s top prize awarded to TAG Heuer for the Mikrogirder, it’s pretty hard to bet against anything but the TAG this year, so I’ll go with that.
JM: Gary, my chosen winner has something the others don’t have and that is a second magnetic tourbillon that runs at 50 Hz as the timing mechanism for the chronograph measuring down to 1/100th of a second: the TAG Heuer Mikropendulum Tourbillon.
Plus, it is a category-busting style that leaves the others (even my sweetheart favorite Grönefeld) in the dust as it shirks tradition and goes for innovation in truly unique ways. Unless the jury is strictly voting on tradition, I think the goods in the Mikropendulum Tourbillon just might sway them over to the TAG Heuer fan club.
IS: As far as innovation goes, the TAG Heuer Carrera MikroPendulum Tourbillon has no peer in this category and it could well take the prize, Joshua. The MikroPendulum Tourbillon is world’s first double tourbillon combining a mechanical tourbillon (4 Hz) and a magnetic tourbillon (50 Hz) regulation system offering an incredible 1/100th of a second precision chronograph.
I think that, for many, the MikroPendulum will be an unbeatable combination of tourbillons.
The only thing letting the TAG Heuer down for me is that I’m old-fashioned and looking for something a little more “classy” in a tourbillon. The Carrera MikroPendulum Tourbillon looks superb, but its aesthetics have more in common with a sport’s watch than a dress watch.
TM: Although I think this is a very competitive category, my pick to win is the TAG Heuer Carrera MikroPendulum Tourbillon. Representing the culmination of TAG Heuer’s exploration of the cutting-edge technology the brand has pioneered over the last decade or so, the MikroPendulum is equipped with the world’s first double tourbillon regulation system, combining a 4 Hz mechanical tourbillon and a 50 Hz magnetic tourbillon in the same movement.
Astute observers will no doubt note the similarity to the highly acclaimed MikroPendulumS unveiled by TAG Heuer in 2013. That model, although aesthetically very similar to the new model we are discussing today, was actually equipped with two magnetic tourbillons: one for the movement and one for the chronograph, thus negating any possible negative effects on the accuracy of the movement as a result of the magnetic field created.
The fact that TAG Heuer has now found a way to combine a mechanical and magnetic escapement in the same movement side by side therefore is really quite special, and certainly not something you’re likely to see repeated any time soon. It also speaks to the brand’s mastery of this highly innovative technology, which I would have assumed we would have soon seen trickle down into slightly more affordable pieces had head of LVMH’s watch division Jean-Claude Biver not recently announced the intention to return TAG Heuer to the mid-priced market segment.
There is of course also some precedence here, with the case design of the MikroPendulum Tourbillon, with its novel stopwatch-like placement of the crown at 12 o’clock, inspired by the 2012 Aiguille d’Or winner: TAG Heuer’s Carrera Mikrogirder.
On the other hand, you could also make the argument that this might count against the MikroPendulum in the competition, in the sense that it is not original enough but somehow I don’t think that will be a determining factor.
TK: TAG Heuer often surprises of late with revolutionary conceptual solutions, which, despite the skepticism of the industry, usually find their way into regular production.
In 2010, during Baselworld, the brand presented the Pendulum movement, in which the magnetic regulation replaced a traditional hairspring. The idea was developed for a few years and eventually went into production as the Carrera MikroPendulum Tourbillon. People may like the idea or not; nevertheless, it’s a really revolutionary solution eliminating the need for a hairspring.
Unfortunately, the recent interview announcement in which Biver expressed that he will now position the brand at a lower price segment of around 1,500 – 4,500 Swiss francs, in practice probably means limitation or cessation of the haute horlogerie department.
The firm is planning to release smart watches as well. I’m a little concerned about the uncertainty of “traditional” brands in this new market segment.
GG: Well, in the past year I’ve added three tourbillons to my collection: last year’s GPHG Innovation winner, the Vianney Halter Deep Space Tourbillon; a vintage F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain; and this year’s F.P. Journe T30 Anniversary Tourbillon. Having voted with my pocketbook for the Journe T30, I suppose I should stick with that as my choice for the current-production tourbillon I would buy.
IS: I have a confession to make: I don’t consider myself a watch collector, but that said, I have been extremely fortunate in being able to acquire a few nice watches. By few I mean less than five. And one of those is a Grönefeld One Hertz.
And my One Hertz was originally a Techniek, which meant it had no dial because I liked being able to see as much of the movement as possible. But when I saw the new dials that the Grönefelds launched this year with both the One Hertz and Parallax Tourbillon, I asked if it was possible to add a new dial and blued steel hands to mine. It was and I received my new One Hertz (and it does look like a completely new watch) around a month ago and it’s rarely been off my wrist since.
And all that’s just a long way of saying . . . I’m biased!
But with that disclaimer out of the way, the Parallax Tourbillon was one of the most impressive watches I saw at Baselworld this year, and I don’t think I was the only one feeling that way.
GG: That Grönefeld looks super, but not quite different enough from the One Hertz already in my watch box, Ian! If I’m permitted to go off-piste once again, the current production watch that haunts me is the new Voutilainen detent escapement tourbillon with the tourbillon visible through the dial – make mine the blue dial, please!
FG: I’m also very much impressed by the sheer beauty of the Grönefeld Parallax Tourbillon, with its raised tourbillon and the technical solution (that saves energy) for the central second hand. The stainless steel bridges are the Grönefelds’ signature and always an immense pleasure to look at.
TK: If I had to make a choice and single out a winner, it would have to be the one presented by Tim and Bart Grönefeld. Perfect details and unusual solutions (tourbillon cage synchronized to the central second hand) as well as design, boldly displaying the cage with spinning balance wheel, would make me want to buy the Parallax Tourbillon, proving that a “little” manufacturer can make a lot of “big” technology.
For me, the history of a manufacturer is an important factor. Let me remind you that these siblings originate from a family in which both father and grandfather were watchmakers. Bart and Tim were educated in Switzerland and worked for the best (like Renaud & Papi), even though they decided to return to Holland and expand their own business. I appreciate their courage, but above all, the perfectionist approach to their creations.
IS: With this watch, the Grönefelds have ticked all of the boxes in what I’m looking for in this category: clean looks: check; technically superb tourbillon (floating above the dial): check (the way the tourbillon bridge and second hand look so good being synchronized made me feel surprised that nobody had thought of that before); immaculately finished in-house movement: check (the all-stainless steel bridges are just icing on the cake); and interesting innovation (push-to-wind, push-to-set crown with function indicator): check.
But even though I’m a big fan, all of the above wouldn’t have been enough for the Parallax Tourbillon in this category for me without this last essential feature: Bart and Tim Grönefeld take accuracy very seriously in all of their watches, and this tourbillon isn’t a pretty show pony.
The only central hand on the Parallax Tourbillon is the second hand, and that’s so that precision can be measured as accurately as possible. There’s even minimum parallax error (hence the name). And, naturally, the seconds hack (stop) when setting so you can set to the second.
JM: The Parallax features soft, hacking seconds that stops the second hand at zero, and the tourbillon, for precise setting to take advantage of the tourbillons supposed accuracy. Also featured is a push-to-set, push-to-wind crown that includes a clever mechanism inside that I firmly enjoy.
FG: My personal favorite out of these six pre-selected watches is the Grönefeld Parallax Tourbillon. I like the design a lot, I love the visual treat of the raised tourbillon and I find the stainless steel bridges among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in any watch.
The Parallax, like its One Hertz brother, wears really well, and balanced, on the wrist and is a very masculine timepiece. Beside the stainless steel bridges that have been finished to a spectacular level, I also have a bit of a weak spot for the lugs and the case finish, which is really superb.
IS: The only thing I don’t like about the Parallax Tourbillon is that it creates a twinge of envy every time I look at it while I should be (and usually am) more than happy with my One Hertz.
The results are in, and its a dead heat with three votes each for the the TAG Heuer Carrera MikroPendulum Tourbillon and the Grönefeld Parallax Tourbillon.
Ian Skellern: Grönefeld Parallax Tourbillon
Joshua Munchow: TAG Heuer Carrera MikroPendulum Tourbillon
GaryG: TAG Heuer Carrera MikroPendulum Tourbillon
Frank Geelen: Grönefeld Parallax Tourbillon (though thinks the jury will pick the Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique)
Tom Mulraney: TAG Heuer Carrera MikroPendulum Tourbillon
Tomasz Kieltyka: Grönefeld Parallax Tourbillon
For more information on the pre-selected Tourbillon watches:
Blancpain Villeret 12-Day One-Minute Flying Tourbillon
Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra Plat Automatique
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon
Grönefeld Parallax Tourbillon
Montblanc Villeret ExoTourbillon Rattrapante
TAG Heuer Carrera MikroPendulum Tourbillon
You can partake in the fun as well by checking out the competition and voting for your favorite in the Public Prize category. If you vote, you will be in the running for a Girard-Perregaux Vintage 1945 XXL Petite Seconde model worth more than 10,000 Swiss francs. Note: you only have one vote in total, not one vote per category, so choose wisely!
Click here to vote ww.gphg.org/watches/en/grand-prix-dhorlogerie-de-geneve/2014/PRE.
For more information on this year’s GPHG, please read New Jury And Categories At The 2014 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
To find out more about the Grönefeld Parallax Tourbillon, please read Copernicus, Alignment Shift, And The Grönefeld Parallax Tourbillon: A Nerd Story.
To read other GPHG round table discussions, please click:
Ladies’ Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Ladies’ High-Mech Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Men’s Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Chronograph Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Calendar Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Mechanical Exception Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Striking Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.