Vacheron and Ferrier – A Tale of Two Tourbillon


Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Chronograph Tourbillon

I may have mentioned it before: the tourbillon is the most useless complication in modern watchmaking. Make that 19th century watchmaking. Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the device in 1795 to improve pocket watch accuracy, to stop gravity screwing with its internal bits when it’s standing still. Fast forward 225 years . . .

Longines Conquest V.H.P.

And a tourbillon-free $925 automatic Tissot Ballade Powermatic 80 COSC is accurate to -4/+6 seconds per day. For $200 less, you can buy the quartz-powered Longines Conquest V.H.P. above, accurate to +/- 5 seconds per year. Or a Seiko Astron that’s accurate to one second per 100k years. Or an Apple Watch that’s always accurate.

Yup, modern watchmaking’s got that whole gravity – accuracy issue under control. Oh, I forgot: no wristwatch needs a tourbillon. As so eloquently put it, “the wrist’s natural movement provides the same effect as the tourbillon against the pull of gravity.”

There are two reasons why watch brands still sell tourbillons: they’re really hard to make and people buy them. Actually, it’s one reason: people buy them because they’re really hard to make. Just as a circus act wouldn’t be complete without a TA-DA!, more than a few well-heeled watch buyers think high horology demands a tourbillon TA-DA!

Besides, a tourbillon looks kinda cute, mesmeric even, spinning away in your watch. I’m including the video of the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Chronograph Tourbillon above because unless you see the tourbillon moving, you’d be forgiven for thinking this watch is ugly AF.

Vacheron Constantin caseback

Which it is, at least when motionless. It looks like a perfectly tasteful Vacheron dress watch with some sort of mechanical alien exploding out of its head. A horror-logical riff on Alien.

Vacheron is proud of the fact that they put the tourbillon at the top of a watch with a monopusher chronograph. The arrangement does deliver a killer caseback – and a face only a mother could love.

Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle tourbillon 

As you can see, it is possible to integrate a useless tourbillon into an elegant dress watch without scaring little children. The non-chronographic Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle tourbillon has a certain savoir faire.

It’s price-on-request, but I bet it’s a fair sight cheaper than the chronograph tourbillon’s $245k. Anyway, Swiss watchmaker Laurent-Ferrier found a better way to make an attractive watch with a  tourbillon.

Laurent Ferrier Grand Sport Tourbillon

And there it is! Or, more accurately, there it isn’t. The former Patek Philippe Technical Director “hides” his eponymous brand’s tourbillon – you can only see it through the clear caseback. Like this:

Laurent Ferrier caseback

This little horological sleight-of-hand will run ya $176k. To quote the late John Prine and Iris Dement, Laurent-Ferrier’s got more balls than a big brass monkey.

That said, who pays list? And anyone who buys the Laurent Ferrier Grand Sport Tourbillon is purchasing a Rachel Cook-level sexy sports watch and proving – to him or herself – that they have a terrific sense of humor. A practical sports watch with a secret, thoroughly ridiculous mechanical affectation! How drôle.

Both watches tame the tourbillon for bragging rights and big bucks. But the Vacheron is a watch born for flexing – by both its creator and owner. The $70k cheaper Laurent-Ferrier is for fun! As Dr. Seuss reminded us, fun is good. Especially when it’s silly.


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