Patria Brigadier Tourbillon Subscription Edition: A Beautifully Hand-Finished, Swiss Made Tourbillon for 18,000 Swiss francs is the Bargain of the Year, perhaps the Decade!
by Ian Skellern
Love them, hate them, or even indifferent, tourbillons hold a special place in the hearts of many (if not most) watch collectors and watch brands. Tourbillons used to be very rare and only the very best watchmakers could correctly assemble and finely regulate a tourbillon. Abraham Louis Breguet invented the tourbillon back in 1801, and that was for pocket watches. It took another 130 years before French brand Lip first put a tourbillon in a wristwatch by, but they were prototypes rather than commercially available watches.
In 1947, Omega created what is widely considered the first production tourbillon wristwatch: the caliber 30I. But that was developed especially for observatory trials, and in those they blew away the competition away recording the best results ever by a wristwatch at the time. However, only 12 caliber 30I movements were made and they were strictly for use in chronometry competitions. It’s worth noting that in 1987 Omega found a few (it’s not known how many) of those movements and serviced, cased, and sold them.
And for the next 50 years or so, tourbillon wristwatches remained relatively rare. But as high-end mechanical watches became ever more popular over the last couple of decades, tourbillons proliferated from many brands, and not just those known for haute horlogerie.
But one thing remained constant: tourbillons were extremely expensive!
François-Paul Journe told me once that the only reason he launched his Tourbillon Souverain back in 1999 with a tourbillon was that he didn’t think anyone would pay over $100,000 for a complicated remontoir d’égalité constant force device on it’s own, and that’s the complication he really thought was more significant for precision.
In the development of the Harry Winston Opus 5 by Urwerk back in 2004, Max Büsser tried unsuccessfully to convince Felix Baumgartner to add a tourbillon, because like Journe, Büsser was worried that collectors would not pay over $100,000 for a watch, which while complicated, did not have a tourbillon. A tourbillon was the simplest complication (they still demand very talented watchmakers to assemble them) to warrant a 100k+ price tag.
Anything under $100,000 for a good Swiss tourbillon was considered a bargain (if you liked the brand).
Then in 2006, Jaeger-LeCoultre shocked the horological world by launching the Master Tourbillon in steel for the incredible (at the time) and seemingly ridiculously low price of around €35.000 (a time when the USD was half that!).
And since then, except for a plethora of cheap and cheerful (more cheap than cheerful) Chinese tourbillons, and even JLC soon bumped up the prices of there once relatively affordable tourbillon, prices for this mesmerizing rotating escapement have remained out of reach for all but the most financially advantaged of collectors.
Patria is an old Swiss brand with historic roots. It was founded in 1892 by Swiss maker Louis Brandt. As Elizabeth Doerr explained in Patria: Historical Name, Vintage Look, New Technology, And Flyback Column Wheel Chronograph, “Brandt’s original workshop was an établisseur, meaning that its core business was to assemble movements and pocket watches.
Only after Louis Brandt’s death in 1879, did his children Louis-Paul and Charles-César choose to produce their own movements, changing the company’s form to that of a manufacture in 1880 and marketing their cylinder calibers in watches they called Jura, Helvetia, Celtic, Gurzelen, and Patria among others. The Omega brand name only came along in 1894 with the invention of a forward-thinking 19-ligne movement created specifically with serial production in mind.”
Patria watches were worn by soldiers, and the style clearly reflected the military look. For maximum legibility in the trenches under low light conditions (were they ever sunny?), the hands and numerals were filled with radioactive – what could go wrong?) – glow-in-the-dark radium lume.
The Patria brand eventually fell victim to the Quartz Crisis in the 1970s and disappeared from view, until being resurrected by Jolyon Lambert, a youngish British industrial designer who had designed watches and founded a company called Blade Render specializing in the three-dimensional design and rendering of watches, whose clients include Akrivia and Gronefeld.
Lambert has long loved watches and precociously dreamed of having his own brand when he was just 11 years old. It ended up taking him another 20 years when he realized his childhood dream with Patria. Unfortunately for Lambert (but fortunately for us), as for most of us, his tastes in beautiful watches far exceeded his budget so he decided Patria would make high quality beautifully finished Swiss watches available at relatively affordable price.
Patria’s first model, the Brigadier Flyback Chronograph (see Patria Brigadier Flyback Chronograph: Run, Don’t Walk, It Was The Best Value Swiss Made Automatic Chronograph Available Today (Until Sold Out)) cost only 5,285 Swiss francs, which was an incredibly low price for a very nice flyback chronograph.
The price was so low in fact that it came close to bankrupting the brand, but Lambert learned a few lessons the hard way, shook himself off and got straight back into developing a tourbillon. At 18,000 Swiss francs, the Brigadier Tourbillon Subscription Edition is considerably more expensive than the chronograph, but for the quality evident throughout the watch, it’s incredible value for an extremely nicely hand finished Swiss tourbillon.
In the words of Patria founders Jolyon Lambert and Adam Stansfield, “Our choice was to resurrect a heritage brand instead of embarking on a completely new venture. As passionate watchmaking enthusiasts, our goal was to become guardians of history and tradition. During this pursuit, we discovered Patria Watch Co, a remarkable historical brand on the verge of fading into obscurity. Our mission became clear: to salvage this venerable name and prevent it from being lost in the annals of time. However, our intentions reached far beyond the mere creation of a watch brand. We firmly believed that tradition forms the foundation for innovation. Therefore, our latest horological creations serve as a tribute to the revered watchmakers of the past, while incorporating our own inventive spirit and artistic finesse.”
There are three key aspects of a wristwatch that generally determine if you like it or you don’t: the dial (do you think it has a pretty face?); the case (will it fit your wrist?); and the movement (is it any good?).
Even the most fastidious movement snobs among us (and I count myself as one) are unlikely to buy an expensive (or even cheap) watch unless they like the look. And the distinctive retro-military style of the Brigadier Tourbillon is something you will either love or hate. That said, the style accurately reflects Patria’s WW1 military history as the style is modeled on the Patria ‘3 ADJ’ trench watches worn by soldiers in WW1.
The caramel-colored pigment of the hand painted ‘Old Radium’ Super-LumiNova (thankfully not radium) in the hands and numerals, was especially developed for Patria, and glows bright green in low light, just like the radium of the original watches. The lume is hand applied by Super-LumiNova specialist Frédéric Thierry and his team at Monyco.
The distinctive hands are shaped using Patria’s own specially developed ‘Flame-Anglage’ technique, which involves flame heating the hands to blue color while maintaining the anglage on the hands.
I like the retro font and color of the numerals and the blued lume-filled hands fit the style, especially against the white enamel dial, but what I like most of all about the dial of the Brigadier Tourbillon is how the opening on the tourbillon completely fills the whole space at the bottom of the dial from the center to the very bottom. This highlights that the movement perfectly fits the case.
At 39 mm in diameter, the Brigadier Tourbillon hits the sweet spot for me in terms of wristwatch case size, and at 12 mm high it will comfortably slip under cuffs. This 40-piece launch limited edition is in 316L stainless steel, but I’m sure (more expensive) editions will follow with precious metal cases.
A 50-meter watch resistance rating means you don’t have to worry about the shower (or even a swimming pool). The Brigadier Tourbillon is not a sports watch, but it’s no prima donna either and should be at home in both formal and casual occasions.
The Brigadier case has a highly polished rounded bezel, which nicely contrasts with the brushed sides of the case and bezel. And the wide polished angles on the lugs add a pleasing touch of class.
And you have the option of either a caramel brown or midnight blue Italian leather strap.
The Swiss Made (which is already a surprise for an 18,000 Swiss franc tourbillon) proprietary Caliber PA-130 movement was developed for Patria by manufactured by Olivier Mory, who is a very experienced watchmaker and movement designer who has an impressive CV that includes Renaud & Papi, Richard Mille, and Valfleurier.
While Mory has his own company, OM Mechanics, developing and making movements, he is a stakeholder in Patria, so it makes the tourbillon at least partially an ‘in-house’ movement. I wore the first prototype for a week during Watches & Wonders 2023 and found it both reliable and surprisingly accurate – surprisingly because the watch was only finished the day before I started wearing it and I didn’t expect the regulation to be so good.
The movement is hand wound and features an impressive 110-hour power reserve, but what really stands out – especially for an 18,000 Swiss franc Swiss Made tourbillon – is the high standard of the finishing. Hand finishing no less! And the screws are even flame blued, at this price I would have expected chemically blued screws. And there’s even an impressive 5-year warranty.
The hand finishing is by Philippe Narbel, who worked at Audemars Piguet for eight years before setting up his own movement hand decoration company, Manufactor. Narbel is considered one of Switzerland’s leading hand finishing artists and is renown for his stunning anglage.
After wearing it for a few days I was very impressed with the Brigadier Tourbillon Subscription Edition, but I did have one gripe: I felt that the crown was a little too small and would have liked it to be a slightly larger diameter to make winding easier. That said, I did ask a few collector friends for their opinions on winding the watch and, while one agreed with me that he would prefer the crown to be a little larger, another three thought it was fine as is, so that’s unlikely to be a deal-breaker.
Few would consider anything costing 18,000 Swiss francs (approximately $20,000) to be cheap, but for a Swiss Made tourbillon with a beautifully hand-finished movement, it’s a bargain. That’s unbeatable value for money and I expect this first edition of 40 pieces to sell out quickly, especially as 25% of them have already been ordered even before the watch launched. Delivery is anticipated towards the end of the year. I’m sure that more editions of the Patria Brigadier Tourbillon will follow, but they are unlikely to be priced at such an attractive level.
For more information and how to order, please visit https://patriawatch.co/product/brigadier-tourbillon-subscription-edition/
Quick facts: Patria Brigadier Tourbillon Subscription Edition
Indications: hours, munites
Case: 316L stainless steel, anti reflective coated box sapphire crystal, anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal display caseback
Dimensions: 39 mm diameter x 12 mm high
Movement: Calibre PA-130 hand wound, proprietary, Swiss Made, 60-second tourbillon; 3 Hz balance; 100-hour power reserve, 19 jewels
Finishing: hand anglage, Geneva stripes, perlage, bead blasting, flame blued screws
Water resistance: 50 meters
Strap: option of either midnight blue or caramel brown Italian leather
Warranty: 5 years against manufacturing defects
Price: 18,000 Swiss francs (excluding taxes and shipping)