Now, there is another chapter in the history of the Tourbillon, the Harry Winston Histoire de Tourbillon 4. Angus Davies provides an in-depth watch review of this haute horlogerie creation from the jeweller to the stars.
In 1801, Abraham Louis-Breguet arguably the most accomplished watchmaker ever, patented his invention, the tourbillon. The complication countered the negative effects of gravity on the rate keeping of a pocket watch.
The pocket watch would be typically worn in the front pocket of a waist coat, held in a vertical position. On removing the pocket watch, it would be placed in a vertical holder or attached to a hook to ensure upright orientation whilst its owner was resting.
Today, tourbillons feature in several high-end wristwatches, however, the efficacy of its inclusion has to be questioned. A wristwatch will be held in a variety of positions, not merely the desired vertical plane.
Those of inquiring mind may query the motivation for selecting a tourbillon. In many instances, it is no longer to enhance the rate keeping of the watch but rather to own a piece of elevated watchmaking. There is only a small percentage of competent watchmakers able to work on these uber-complicated timepieces. Their creation is simply breathtaking. They confer a majestic beauty I never cease admiring.
Typically a tourbillon will locate the regulating organ of the watch within a cage and this will often make one full revolution every minute, dependent on the model. The spectacle of the “whirlwind” (the translation of tourbillon) turning is mesmerising to watch. Some may argue the revolving cage is merely an example of conspicuous consumption and a little outré. Indeed, several manufacturers have hidden the cage, making it only visible via a sapphire caseback. However, I adore the sense of theatre which comes with wearing a tourbillon with its virtuoso performance visible on the dial.
Some brands have tried to bestow their wristwatches with enhanced rate keeping and placed the regulating organ within two cages, working at two different angles. Now, there is another chapter in the history of the Tourbillon.
The Harry Winston Histoire de Tourbillon 4 features a regulating organ, placed within three concentric cages, each of which rotates at disparate speeds and moving at dissimilar angles. This will clearly counter the effects of gravity in various positions and begs the question why it has never been done before. Firstly, it presents vast challenges in terms of conception and execution. Secondly, three cages should potentially quaff energy from the mainsprings with an insatiable thirst. However, Harry Winston have employed much resources to ensure that the Histoire de Tourbillon 4 parsimoniously consumes energy.
The tourbillon is unbelievably light with a mass of 1.57 grams. Moreover, frictional forces have been mitigated and two fast rotating barrels have been included in the specification which together, provide a power reserve of 50 hours.
Harry Winston create beautifully elegant, classical timepieces such as the Harry Winston Midnight Automatic and the Midnight Big Date. Conversely the brand produce incredible watches which embrace cutting edge aesthetics such as the sublime Opus models and the Ocean Sport timepieces. The modernity of these latter watches is repeated with the Histoire de Tourbillon 4 albeit embracing new design codes.
Presented in three-dimensional form, the dial consists of four key elements.
A subdial located at 1 o’clock, conveys hours using an orange coloured hand. Arabic numerals are presented against a satin brushed silver-coloured surface. The midnight hour is depicted in orange, a playful deviation from the black used for the remaining hours. At the centre of the subdial, the Harry Winston logo is presented against a brushed, black galvanic surface.
At 3 o’clock the power reserve indicator is presented on a truncated circle. The blue hand points to a blue scale, arcing northwards. An adjacent scale shows the energy stored in the twin barrels, expressed in hours using Arabic numerals. The text is presented in a modern font congruent with the contemporary character of the watch. When the sump is empty, the hand points to the orange markings shown on the scale.
At the southerly aspect of the dial, resides the tourbillon. It is framed with the brand’s nomenclature and the name of the model. A blue hand located above the tourbillon points to a 300 second scale on the perimeter of the domed area. The curved sapphire crystal, resembles a lunette in side profile, flooding the congregation of parts below with light.
At 9 o’clock is the minutes display. It combines two scales to convey the minutes past the hour. Minutes from noon to 30 are shown on an inner ring with white text on a black background, in conjunction with a short white hand. Minutes from 30 to 60, are presented on a black outer ring in conjunction with a blue tipped hand. It sounds confusing at first, but actually it is very easy to interpret. Blue text is used to depict “60” on the outer ring, repeating the design language of the hour display.
An open-grid configuration is located between the hour and minute displays, allowing an obscured view of the componentry within, further tantalising the wearer.
This watch is no shrinking violet. It has a 47 mm case diameter and a substantial height of 21.7mm. This may prove prohibitively large for those with small wrists, however, it would find a welcome home on my larger-than average arm.
The case is constructed of 18-carat polished white gold. The caseband, Winston arches adjacent the crown and the lugs are presented in Zalium™, a material we have seen Harry Winston use before, to pleasing effect on the Ocean Sport Chronograph Limited Edition. The zirconium based alloy is exclusive to the brand famed for being “the jeweller to the stars”. It is light, harder than titanium and resistant to corrosion.
The crown is also made of white gold, but features two rows of textured rubber enhancing tactile grip and, by default, aiding adjustment.
The caseback is partially open and brings together sapphire crystal, 18-carat white gold and Zalium™ plate with DLC treatment.
Breguet would have been pleased with the treatment of the balance spring. It features a Phillips curve, an evolution of the Breguet overcoil. It ensures the balance spring is optimised to exhibit superior isochronism.
The complete movement consists of 345 components, 134 of which form the tourbillon. Whilst I know I am repeating myself, something that comes with my advancing years, just take a moment to contemplate the combined mass of all 134 parts. It only weighs 1.57 grams. This provides an insight into the matchless micromechanics which Harry Winston have exampled.
Modernity in terms of styling and breakthrough horology have not come at the expense of traditional craftsmanship. Whilst the bridges and mainplate are titanium and PVD treated, they feature hand-chamfering, the product of the artisans deft skill. The carriage pillars, formed in titanium are expertly detailed with circular graining. Fellow followers of flawless finishing can be rest assured, this is a beautifully crafted movement.
I have made much reference to the tourbillon in the opening paragraphs of my article. However, I want to return to the three carriages, as they justify special mention. The internal carriage containing the balance spring and the escapement pinion make one full revolution every 45 seconds. The Intermediate carriage performs a similar feat every 75 seconds and the external carriage has a rotating cycle of 300 seconds. This latter cycle is shown on the previously mentioned scale which surrounds the tourbillon cage.
Brief familiarisation with the specification of this timepiece soon makes it apparent this timepiece was the fruition of talented minds, spending hours labouring over the subtle nuances of its magnificent form.
Harry Winston state in its press pack, that in excess of 3,500 hours were expended in its development. Moreover, it takes a full 160 working hours to assemble the Caliber HW4501 before it is cased-up.
I accept the brave, avant-garde styling of the Harry Winston Histoire de Tourbillon 4 may not be to everyone’s taste. Whenever you push boundaries, there is a greater probability to disenfranchise some would-be buyers. However, I applaud Harry Winston for being brave, seeking new means of expressing time and embracing blue-sky thinking with its triple tourbillon system.
Model: Harry Winston Histoire de Tourbillon 4
Case: 18-carat white gold and Zalium™ with DLC treatment on caseband, arches, lugs and tourbillon bezel; diameter 47.00mm; height 21.70 mm; Water resistant to 3 bar (30 metres); sapphire crystal to front and rear.
Functions: Hours; minutes; 300 seconds indication on the tourbillon; Power-reserve indicator
Movement: Caliber HW4501; manual-wind; frequency 21,600 vph (3 Hz); 59 jewels; power reserve 50 hours; 345 parts.
Strap: Black hand-sewn alligator leather strap supplied on a 18-carat white gold, double-ardillon buckle.
Angus is a self-confessed watch addict and is frequently asked to contribute to various printed magazines and websites around the globe. He also writes for individual watch companies on matters of horology and has appeared on television and radio as an industry expert.