Originally developed by the French Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1795, who had been long hailed as the “King of Fine Watchmaking”, tourbillon movement has stood the test of time. Typically tourbillons are only featured exclusively in expensive luxury watches. For centuries tourbillon watch has been considered as one of the most complicated, ingenious and hence exclusive timepieces. History has solidly demonstrated its superiority as an internal watch mechanism, and as a beautiful demonstration of watchmaker’s craftsmanship and expression of their watchmaking virtuosity.
As with any high-quality item of superb quality, a frequent concern is the cost. Many would-be wearers of these exquisite watches are daunted by the price tags of these timepieces. The tourbillon has long been the exclusive preserve of elite Swiss watchmakers, to obtain a piece of these beautiful artworks, spending the upwards of USD50,000-100,000 is not uncommon. However the Chinese tourbillons, some even selling under $1000, have made this marvel of micro-engineering accessible as never before. Chinese watches have entered the market and a number of Chinese watch manufacturers are manufacturing tourbillons at affordable prices. Chinese tourbillon watches are amongst the most affordable and quality choices for those seeking to buy exceptional accuracy in an artistic tourbillon timepiece with a lower budget.
The First Chinese Tourbillon
The Mystery Tourbillon was made in 1993 by Hong Kong’s master watchmaker Kiu Tai Yu a member of the prestige Horological Academy of Independent Creators (ACHI). It was the first tourbillon movement made by the Chinese. Many considered Master Kiu’s tourbillon watches as pure arts as they were never intended for general sale.
Chinese Tourbillons and Movements
The Chinese watch maker Tianjin Sea-Gull, in business since 1955, manufactures a fourth of the precision timepieces produced on the entire planet. Sea-Gull’s first tourbillon movement ST80 was developed in 2005. It was the successor to its most successful movement ST6D.
A large proportion of ST6D had sadly found their way into high quality counterfeits, such as fake Rolex and Omega. Nevertheless the ST80 movement has earned a good reputation in Sea-Gull watches and external brands.
Sea-Gull’s first double tourbillon watch ST8080, with one carrousel and one common axis-tourbillon, was released in 2006. ST8080G is the luxury version, encased in 18k rose gold with a crocodile hide strap, the build is absolutely amazing. Its retail price in China is around CNY230,000 (USD35,000). Although the price may seem high to some, many tourbillon watch fanatics consider it as an absolute bargain to own such an amazing piece.
The Beijing Watch Factory produces the TB01-2 flying carrousel-tourbillon which currently is the most expensive Chinese tourbillon on the market. Titanium flying tourbillon cage is featured in this watch, both the dial and movement are usually elaborately decorated as well. Beijing has also developed TB02, a double-tourbillon, TB03, an 8-day tourbillon, TB04, a dual-axis tourbillon, and, MRB1 a tourbillon with minute-repeater.
Watches made by the Shanghai Watch Factory were once touted as a luxurious status symbol among Chinese Communist elites. They are the oldest and most highly regarded of Chinese watchmakers. Shanghai manufactures a full range of quality timepieces. Commencing with its Classic Tourbillon the tempo moves up to its top-of-the-line Orbital Tourbillon. The distinguishing characteristic of the Orbital is a tourbillon escapement that orbits its outer dial mounted on a 12-hour karrusel platform.
Although the Liaoning Watch Factory only began developing their tourbillon movement since early 21st century, they have great success due to the much lower cost of their tourbillon movements. Liaoning has developed a unique aesthetic for their skeleton tourbillons that make them distinctive from the ones from the skeletons made by Sea-Gull, Beijing etc. The Liaoning movement was even used as the 150th anniversary watch of the prestigious British Horological Institute. Swiss watch makers Cecil Purnell also use an ebauche of the Liaoning tourbillon, finished in Switzerland with local content and sell them on the market as Swiss watches.