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  • Alvin

Top 10 Central Tourbillons | Whirlwinds from the US to China.

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

If you've seen any of my previous posts you might have seen some love for the central tourbillon from Omega, I think I've mentioned it in at least three posts. The Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon, I love it a lot. The other day I was perusing Chinese watches on the old Aliexpress and Chrono24 when I came across a brand I hadn't before, Haofa. At first it looked to be just another Chinese brand, but after a bit of exploring I came to their homepage and found a video of a rather flashy central tourbillon. On further reading and research turns out they are well established and have been pushing the Chinese tourbillon watch scene forward since 1996, and I didn't even feature them in my Chinese watch brand posts a couple of years ago, for shame. I was new, come on. I got them now, and I'm glad I have. They create timepieces with carbon fibre, crystal, gold, featuring dragons and pearl, and of course, tourbillons - single, double and central. This got me thinking about central tourbillons (CTs) - a little more than usual. Are there any others out there that I don't know about? I wondered. Well, it turns out there were a few, but also that there are so few. I have picked my top 10 brands for a quick look at each, actually I think there are 12 or 13 watches due to model variations etc, and they are presented in no particular order.

Omega De Ville Tourbillon
Img: Chrono24

What is a Tourbillon anyway?

You might be asking this question, let me help you. Tourbillon means whirlwind in French, got it, cool. Also this from Hodinkee - Watches 101;

A tourbillon is a mechanism that constantly rotates the balance wheel, balance spring and escapement while the movement is running. This is done to counter the affect of Earth's gravity on the isochronal properties of the balance wheel and spring.
The tourbillon was invented by Breguet in 1795 and patented in 1801. It is a French word that means whirlwind, which aptly describes it's motion. It is mesmerizing to watch the balance wheel oscillate at the same time it is turning 360 degrees. Breguet sought to eliminate positional error, that is the error introduced by keeping the watch in one position for an extended amount of time. His theory was that if the regulating organ of the watch was constantly in motion, the positional errors would be averaged out.
Today, the usefulness of a tourbillon is controversial, as a wrist watch is constantly being moved in different positions as it is worn. The tourbillon is often used as a display of watchmaking virtuosity, commanding high prices.

Got it? Good. Nowadays, it's less a useful complication or mechanism, than a showpiece, a stunningly crafted testament to human engineering prowess. They really are a fantastic addition to any watch box. The problem has been price and stigma, Swiss tourbillons are super expensive, and common cheap Chinese ones have been cursed with reliability issues and snobbery.


Tourbi or not Tourbi

If you search eBay for 'tourbillon' you get a whole load of watches tagged 'tourbillon' but are not. They have a little opening/window with a bracket holding the balance wheel, a part which every automatic or winding/manual watch has. These filthy buggers are trying to trick you, how very dare they, beware of these scumbags and toe-rags - though a little research as a buyer will make things clear.


Yes, Chinese Tourbillons are cheap but you can't get one for £50. These images are from eBay showing examples of misrepresentation, sales spiel as below;

-Mens Tourbillon Luminous Automatic Mechanical Watch

-Automatic Mechanical Watch Waterproof Tourbillon Hollow Fashion Men's Watch

-Homage Automatic Mechanical Skeleton Tourbillon Royal Oak Mens Watch Luxury

I've yet to see a false CT but it's only a matter of time.


It's Complicated

The thing with the CT is that as it takes centre stage it must become part of the mechanism that controls the hands, so you often see the central tourbillon which function as a seconds hand, encircled by short throw hands connected via plates. Some people dislike the short stubby hands but it's really the only way to do it, I guess it comes down individual design concept. Regardless, if tourbillons are seen as high horology/haute horologie, then CTs are forged by the watch gods.


An article in World Tempus from 2015 names only three CTs on the market, Bulgari, Omega and Hysek, I wonder if they even bothered looking in China? Probably not... I'm not saying WT do, but a lot of watch people only recognise tourbillons of Swiss origin. They are an esteemed and premium complication, overpriced to the nth degree, though very much form over function. Some people think that only the top brands are worthy of them, and those made elsewhere are inferior copies. I'm not sure if the exceedingly rare CT would be frowned upon or lauded, it's an achievement separate from the usual debate I think. I also think those people who show unregulated bias are wrong to do so. Sure some are trash, or not so great, but Memorigin, Hangzhou and Haofa have been at this while, they know what they're doing and shouldn't be tarred with the same brush as the dime a dozen tourbillons. It can come down to in-house customisation/implementation and quality control of these mass produced movements, but if you're putting a CT in a watch you're going to have to give it some serious attention, you can't just stick one in and hope for the best. Whirlwinds are troublesome by nature. Let's get stuck in.


Omega De Ville

Omega were the first to create and patent a central tourbillon, they are the kings of the space. They created a masterpiece of horological engineering, a milestone, a benchmark, as they often do. In my opinion, they have created one of the best watches to ever exist. It is groundbreaking, elegant yet robust, just an absolute showstopper - I'm gushing, I'll stop now. They unfortunately did a bit of an ugly skeleton version which I wasn't a fan of, but the De Ville numbered edition in red/rose gold released in 2020 is a work of art, so I added the official video for it, enjoy. It's a reasonable 43mm and you can pick one up for a reasonable £155,000/$192,000 on a good day, RRP is £178,000 - totally worth it. Above, you see the initial offering which is a bit more robust looking with the Omega logo sitting on the tourbillon cage, a masterful touch. I love the original one more, you can get one of those for around £50,000/$62,000 if you're lucky. Please buy me one.

Video: Omega/Youtube


Bulgari Octo Roma Papillon

The more I learn about Bulgari the more I like them, they mean business. They strive for a balance of innovation and beauty, they almost always succeed. They were one of the early CT adopters and are seasoned whirlwind wranglers. The 2023 Octo Roma hits the mark for me. Not as immediately pretty as the Omega in my opinion, but very elegant design at 41mm and a jump hour for legibility is very nice. A bargain too, seen for sale in Japan, pre-loved for just under £65,000/$80,000.

Bulgari Papillon Tourbillon Central Tourbillon

MB&F HM7 Aquapod

The lovable rogue Max Büsser and his band of misfits give us the aquapod. It's bold and bonkers as expected, a bit massive at 54mm but nice and legible at the least. MB&F pieces are works of kinetic art more than practical watches, the Aquapod definitely is the former. Still, it's a variation on the implementation of the CT, and a big-ass, beautiful one at that. Again, a bargain, seen pre-loved at £111,000/$137,000. Can you see a theme developing here...

MB&F HM7 Aquapod
Img: Hodinkee

Corum Bubble 47

Corum do some mad watches, and the Bubble idea is mad and original then you stick a really conspicuous and beautiful CT movement in the middle and I'm sure it's like walking around with a horological wonderland on your wrist. I'm not sure how clear that bubble glass is to actually read the time but the CT is boldly presented and looks great. The first I believe was released in 2018, as the Corum 47 Swoosh (L406/03664), and just this year their re-release collaboration with Label Noir (L406/04433 - pictured), it looks great. Yours for £82,000/£101,000 brand new, another bargain.

Corum Bubble 47 Central Tourbillon
Img + Vid: Corum



Franck Muller Grand Central Curvex CX36

Franck Muller are known for doing flashy tonneau shaped timepieces, well engineered but with quite a focused style and customer base. They were quite big back in the 2000s but have fallen out of favour these days. I was surprised to the Grand Central (great name btw) pop up, but it's nice to have some variety. I was also surprised to see some non-tonneau central tourbillons in the mix. It's the same concept in a different shell, but I think they both look pretty good. And at the feel good price of circa £112,00/$138,000, I would take one of each...


Imgs: Franck Muller


Hysek IO

Hysek are an independent high-end brand that have been around since 1997, started by designer Jorg Hysek, he left in 2003 but the brand has gone from strength to strength, releasing its first manufacture tourbillon in 2008. They have used the jump hour movement instead of the short hands, which is nice though the skeleton dial does look a bit too busy. I couldn't find a price on this but suffice to say it's probably not cheap. This is why the Hysek is nice, it has the jump hour and minutes column, a very nice idea. The non-skeleton version in black is very tidy and has a quiet sophistication to it, they come in at a quite large, 45mm. £Much/$Many.


Imgs: Hysek



Haldimann H1 - Flying Central

Update - I knew this one existed, I just totally forgot about it when putting this post together. Which is a crime, just look at it, though I’m sure sooner or later someone would have reminded me. The Haldimann family have been in the business since 1642, that’s right, that’s what I said. The current torch bearer is Beat Haldimann, an apt name. This CT is a masterclass, extremely refined and oozes finesse. It sits at a perfect 39mm and 10.8. The watch is a symphony of exquisite detail, the hands are superb, engraved numerals and the tourbillon cage is extended and intricate. There is one for sale online for £180,000/$226,000, totally worth it.


Memorigin Six Steeds

The first of several Chinese CTs to make the list, which is quite nice to see. Memorigin are a well known and reputable brand out of Hong Kong, mainly serving the wants of the Chinese and HK markets. They only make tourbillon watches with their own movement, which is different, but they must know what they're doing. I have featured them previously and thought seriously about purchasing a pre-loved one, but then I didn't - the risk is great if you aren't living in/near HK. They have the name/logo on the tourbillon cage which spins with it, I like that as it leaves the dial free - to go nuts on, which they often do. The price for this one comes in at a relatively reasonable £10,215/$12.660. They do some design variations of the CT, going up to £30,000 for jewel encrusted versions, noice.


Memorigin Six Steeds Central tourbillon
Img: Memorigin

Haofa 3D Zodiac + 4 BARREL

Haofa, pronounced, 'how-far', as in how far can Chinese watches go? Pretty damn far we think. Haofa certainly don't pull any punches. They are a Chinese brand and have a clear local target market per the design language. The movements for the Zodiac and 4 Barrel are different per the tech specs so I have added as two watches on the list, fancy that one brand with two CTs on their roster and the 4 barrel, meaning 4 mainsprings giving the watch a power reserve of 120 hours which is pretty damn good (if it works). The Zodiac has a 42 hour power reserve which is the standard but low by comparison. I wouldn't imagine you'd be wearing it everyday, saying that it has the classy touch of the name on the CT cage, leaving the dial free for the 3D sculptures. Now, there are videos on the website for both of these watches and the Zodiac does look to be well made and solid. The 4 Barrel however, looks to lack some polish, and as you can see the actual dial is very tiny, which is weird. They come in at £2900/$3600 for the Zodiac, and £1611/$1999 for the 4 Barrel. Reasonable, yes, but neither is very practical and more a collectors thing.


Imgs: Haofa


Aragon DM

Now this is an interesting one, Aragon are an established brand, based in the US were their watches are built using part from Switzerland, Japan and China. They have a loyal base who love their sturdy selection of large watches, some flashy, some odd and others just bulletproof from what I gather. Their take on the CT is a unique concept, as they have labeled it a dive watch, not the usual pastime for the dainty tourbillon, never mind the CT. I'd like to get my hands on one, but my first impressions are that it's a solid looking diver, I like the knurling, and the dial with CT looks good but it is weird to see in a dive watch. I think I like it. The Hangzhou movement is housed in two versions, a 45mm and 50mm, so, big and bigger. I think a tourbillon takes a bit more space than usual but it would have been nice to see it at 43mm, saying that, this is the Aragon way, they go big. I have to commend the look, it's bold and it's different. At £625/$850 it is an absolute steal, while there is a deviation in design concept, it's a fantastic (/the only) way to get a CT from a reputable brand with established service and loyal customer base. I am seriously considering the 45mm. Seriously...


Aragon central tourbillon Chinese tourbillon
Img: Aragon

ZEROO TIME T6 THE QUASER

And now for something from somewhere a little different but also not - from the land of the rising sun, Japan via the home of the new school whirlwind, China. Zeroo Time have only been around since 2017, making their break via Kickstarter. They have been giving it loads with tourbillons single, double and of course a CT. The watches are made in China, which allows for an attractive price point, but they are finished and quality checked in Japan, we trust that. It's a good looking watch, that comes in a number of colour ways, I like the moody black (sold out obvs). The design is pretty simply but the lugs coming down over the bezel is a nice design note, and the whirlwind is very much centre stage, the hands aren't great, not being integrated into the rotating discs. This well balanced CT comes in at an actual bargain of £2585/$3202.


Zeroo time central tourbillon Japanese
Img: Zeroo Time

The WhirlwEnd

If you're seen wearing a Swiss or premium brand tourbillon you'll be showered with praise and plaudits. But if you're seen wearing a non-Swiss or non-premium tourbillon you will be met with shocked haughtiness, hushed disappointment, and troubled expressions. Ooh what if it goes wrong, it's only a matter of time, who will service it, etcetera. Some concerns may be valid. Now, if you wear a CT of any race, creed or origin, I believe the reactions drawn will be different. I think, as long as the design isn't too particular (six steeds, zodiac etc - but even they have their draws) there will be a more tempered acceptance, a respect for the design and execution of a tricky complication. I hope it would be appreciated for the special thing that it is, a testament to horological engineering and craftsmanship - but I know better. I think Zero Time hits the mark here, a great balance of design and quality.


It's been fun and interesting looking into these central tourbillon watches. I find it a bit odd to think about buying a CT when previously I was flapping about whether to go for a regular Chinese tourbillon, again. The Aragon and the Zeroo Time are the obvious choices, I will be looking into it, post a long awaited purchase (first impressions coming soon hopefully). And I will continue dreaming about the Haldimann and Omega, there's a diamond bezel one on Chrono24, it's a bit much but I could pull it off. I am off to do the lottery.



Yours Whirlingly,


Alvin



P.S. CT Comparison table.


Brand

Model

Base/

Parts

Case Size

Thick

ness

Power

Price

Omega

De Ville

5933.30.32

Swiss

39mm

Auto

​£50,000

$62,000

€58,000

De Ville 529.53.43.22.01.001

Swiss

43mm

12.7mm

​£155,000

$192,000

€180,000

Bulgari

Octo Roma Papillon

Ref: 103475

Swiss

41mm

Manual

​£65,000

$80,000

€75,000

MB&F

​HM7 Aquapod Platinum Red

Swiss

58.8mm

21.3mm

Auto

​​£111,000

$137,000

€128,000

Corum

Bubble 47

L406/04433

Swiss

47mm

19.6mm

Auto

​£82,000

$101,000

€95,000

Hysek

IO

Ref: IO4526R02

Swiss

45mm

11.4mm

Auto

​£much

$more

€many

Memorigin

Six Steeds

China

​42mm

15.3mm

Manual

​£10,215

$12,660

€11,900

Haofa

3D Zodiac

China

43mm

15.5mm

Manual

​£2,900

$3,600

€3,380

4 Barrel

China

​43mm

12.5mm

Manual

​£1,611

$1,999

€1,877

Aragon

DM

US /China

45mm

18mm

Auto

​£625

$850

€799

Zeero Time

T6 / The Quasar

Japan/

China

43mm

11mm

Manual

​£2585

$3202

€3008

Franck Muller

Grand Central Tonneau

Swiss

58.70 x 40.16mm

7.73mm

Auto

​£112,000

$138,000

€129,400

Haldimann

H1 - Flying Central

Swiss

39mm

10.8mm

Manual

£180,000€210,000$226,000




 

LINKS & THINGS


HODINKEE


WORLD TEMPUS CTs


FRANK MULLER


ARAGON


CORUM


HAOFA


MEMORIGIN


ZEROO TIME


OMEGA


BULGARI


MB&F


HALDIMANN


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