Glashütte Original Limited Edition Flying Tourbillon Honoring Alfred Helwig, The German School Of Watchmaking, And Glashütte’s 175th Anniversary
For lovers of fine mechanical watches, the tourbillon escapement invented by the ingenious Abraham-Louis Breguet to compensate for the negative impact of gravity on the accuracy of pocket watch regulators needs no further explanation.
For more than 200 years the little “whirlwind,” as its name in French literally translates to, has turned heads and warmed hearts. Watching the filigreed parts comprising the escapement and balance wheel inside a miniscule cage usually revolving at a steady pace of 60 seconds is a mesmerizing, if not to say a hypnotizing, experience.
Despite the many technical advancements of watchmakers today, still only the most talented are able to design and craft a tourbillon. Also, while tourbillons have enjoyed an unprecedented surge since the 2010s – which may seem at times like a bit too much overkill – they are still relatively rare in the larger scope of things.
Glashütte Original is flying high with tourbillons
One strong player in this league is Glashütte Original. As the official successor of Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB), which united all local manufacturers during the socialist years of the German Democratic Republic (for more on that, see 175 Years Of Watchmaking In Glashütte: A History Of Fine German Watchmaking), Glashütte Original not only has a particularly strong bond with the history of the Saxon watchmaking metropolis, but also with the tourbillon – or, more precisely, the flying tourbillon.
In 1995, the freshly privatized firm introduced the first flying tourbillon in a wristwatch, which was named for its inventor, Alfred Helwig (1886–1874), one of the most talented watchmakers in the history of Glashütte. An expert in chronometry and an author of specialist literature, from 1913 to 1944 Helwig was most importantly a dedicated teacher at the town’s watchmaking school, a technical think-tank and breeding ground for young talents founded in 1884 by Moritz Grossmann. During these three decades, he taught more than 800 hundred students.
The most important topic in the curriculum was the improvement of precision – the essence of horology, which was particularly important during Glashütte’s era of observation clocks and marine chronometers before and during the two world wars. Those highly specialized and super accurate timepieces were crucial for ship and aircraft navigation.
A masterpiece in the master class
Together with his master watchmaker students, he developed several highly accurate constant-force clocks certified for their precision at the German Hydrographical Office (Deutsche Seewarte Hamburg), at that time the institute for marine chronometers and observation clocks in German-speaking Europe. His most famous invention was the flying tourbillon from 1920, a sophisticated construct that was anchored on one side only. Forgoing a top bridge, the open construction revolves around its own axis once every minute – the uninterrupted view putting this highly sophisticated regulating mechanism in the spotlight.
With the new Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920 – Limited Edition, Glashütte Original once again nods to the history of the historic figure and his invention. The brand has issued several tributes over the years, the most recent having come about in 2019. Featuring a flying tourbillon with hacking seconds, zero-reset, and minute ratcheting for precise time setting, this combination in the Senator Chronometer Tourbillon – Limited Edition was a world’s first and holds two patents.
Sophisticated simplicity meets technical complexity
Like the Senator Chronometer Tourbillon, the Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920 – Limited Edition is limited to 25 pieces only and sure to appeal to discerning collectors. Presented in a 40 mm pink gold case framing a gold, silver-grained dial with a railroad chapter ring, applied gold indices and baton-style hands, it offers the clean, distinct design of timepieces that helped sailors navigate in the 1920s, but with a modern twist. The layout, with a prominent subsidiary seconds subdial at 6 o’clock, is very balanced and highly legible.
The Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920 exudes a stark aura of timelessness and understatement, however the tourbillon cannot be seen on the dial side of the watch. Only a small word found in the subsidiary seconds’ dial provides a hint as to this watch’s technical prowess.
To some enthusiasts, this approach of hiding the mechanical treasure might seem quite unusual, if not to say strange, since in modern watchmaking the tourbillon is very much about aesthetics. They want an unobstructed view to the mechanical spectacle that a tourbillon in general, and a flying tourbillon in particular, provides. Some might even argue that visibility is the whole purpose. While this is the first time that Glashütte Original has chosen to cover a tourbillon by the dial, brands including Patek Philippe and Laurent Ferrier often cover their tourbillons dial side, offering a view of them from the back only.
Turning the Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920 – Limited Edition over, the flying tourbillon comes to full life through the exhibition case back, seeming to fly above the main plate at the 6 o’clock position. Weighing only 0.2 grams, it comprises dozens of finely finished components that are painstakingly decorated and assembled by hand.
The same is true of the other parts of manually wound Caliber 54-01, which is fine adjusted via regulation screws and sports a generous power reserve of 100 hours. This masterpiece of Saxon watchmaking features the typical Glashütte three-quarter plate with Glashütte ribbing, blued screws, engravings, beveled edges, and screw-mounted gold chatons.
No matter which part you look at, you will discover both beauty and brains.
For more information, please visit www.glashuette-original.com/collection/senator/alfred-helwig-tourbillon-1920-limited-edition.
Quick Facts Glashütte Original Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920 – Limited Edition
Case: 40 x 13 mm, pink gold
Movement: automatic Caliber 54-01 with one-minute flying tourbillon, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, 100-hour power reserve, 2 diamond endstones
Functions: hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds
Limitation: 25 pieces
Price: €120,000/€116,970 within Germany