There are certain timepieces in the world of Haute Horlogerie that have come to change the course of time itself. Well, some more than others. These watches symbolise the accomplishments of high-end horology and depict the path which the watch business has taken in the past. Timepieces such as these are the foundations of everything that the luxury watch industry stands for. Be it the technology that they incorporate or the aesthetics that they implement, some watches truly excel at every aspect imaginable.
Making History – One Watch At a Time
These gems tell a story, and if you listen carefully enough, you might learn a thing or two. This blog will be discussing three such watches that have defied normalcy and strived for the unthinkable.
The World’s First Tourbillon – Breguet No. 169
The Tourbillion was, is, and by the looks of it will always be a great complication. It also happens to be the complication that has seen the most innovations over the course of time. The tourbillon has become a grand scheme that has become synonymous with the highest form of horology. There is seldom an Haute Horlogerie brand that does not feel obligated to design a timepiece that has the tourbillon fitted into it. It is not essential for any watch brand to hone the tourbillon but it sure is a lucrative idea. The first time this term was even heard was towards the end of the 18th century when Abraham Breguet created the world’s very first tourbillon watch, Breguet No. 169. It was fitted in a pocket watch. As far as the records go, he gifted it to his friend’s son. This friend was none other than John Arnold, the coveted English chronometer maker. The timepiece is now kept in the British Museum.
What makes this invention even more impressive is Abraham Breguet’s status. For those who do not know, Breguet, a Swiss-French national was living in Switzerland in exile as he fled the revolution engulfed France. The orderly chaotic nature of the tourbillon complication is therefore justified to some extent.
This invention back in 1808 acted as a catalyst and started a chain of imitations, improvisation, and innovation. Today, the tourbillon is an A-Class complication that is harnessed by the crème de la crème of the luxury watchmaking industry.
The World’s First Self-Winding Chronograph – Zenith El Primero
The chronograph is a widely popular complication. It is also somewhat of a rite of passage for mechanical watchmakers. Watchmakers all across the globe take pride in making their own chronographs as it is a huge milestone.
But the Zenith El Primero is kind of a controversial choice. The watch was released in the year 1969 as the first self-winding chronograph. Now that you think of it, 1969 was a pretty intense year. But the reason that this watch was controversial was that that very year two other chronographs with self-winding chronographs were launched. One was from Seiko and the other was from a Swiss syndicate with names such as Breitling and TAG Heuer.
It is a highly debated topic even today among watch connoisseurs as to which brand truly deserves the title for the first self-winding chronograph. But if there is one thing that is absolutely not open to argument, it is that the Zenith El Primero was the first one to have a full rotor self-winding chronograph movement. The others mentioned above had micro rotors. The full rotor and high beat movement of the El Primero put it above all. The timepiece from Zenith was also pretty popular for being able to measure time in intervals of 1/10th of a second which was yet another first for any mechanical watch. Now for the cherry on top, the other watches from Seiko and Breitling/TAG Heuer have long been discontinued while the El Primero is still in business.
The World’s First High-Risk High-Design Watch – Ulysse Nardin Freak
About 18 years ago, the world was introduced to the magic of the Ulysse Nardin Freak. The watch not only turned heads, it basically took the industry by a storm. Never has a watch been more aptly named in the history of watches. The Freak shocked the world of watch collectors and enthusiasts beyond the point of return. People were mesmerised, and milestones had been achieved.
The novel looking and larger than life timepiece had a carrousel tourbillon movement that rotated and showed the time. The watch had no signs of a conventional design which include hands and case. To add further to the list of accomplishments of the Freak, the watch had an all-new escapement. The escapement is essentially the part of the watch that tells the time. Nearly every watch produced in the past century used the same escapement. Even today, many watch brands opt for old school escapements. The most impressive feature of the Ulysse Nardin Freak, however, is the audacity with which it stands tall in an industry that is known to be not so welcoming of change.