The amazing little whirlwind that is the tourbillon was a mechanical solution to a vexing problem at the time, coming from the fact that pocket watches were invariably only in two positions. They were either vertical in your pocket or horizontal on your bedside table or desk. This meant that gravitational forces and friction were unevenly distributed and so was the oil used to lubricate these tiny handmade watch mechanisms. The tourbillon was meant to solve this by adding a complex, constantly moving complication to counteract gravitational forces and the inconsistencies they might cause. Developed by Abraham-Louis Breguet in the 1700s, the tourbillon put the watch escapement and balance wheel in a rotating cage and this, in theory, meant that the watch would be less affected by the pull of gravity and therefore the inconsistencies. Remember that a mechanical watch is made of tiny metal components and springs, and consistent operation is difficult to engineer into this. If you bring a modern watch in for a service assessment, you should get back a report that will give you accuracy over time at different positions, meaning the tests are for consistency of the watch's vibrations as it is placed on the side, tilted, upright and such. That is how crucial position is to consistent timekeeping. However, few watches today spend their time only vertically or horizontally. Because they aren't in our pockets, they are on our wrists. So what does the tourbillon actually do in a modern wristwatch? Tourbillons are wonders to behold. They are beautiful to look at and difficult to make. Like the wristwatch, the tourbillon has moved from being a technical answer to an important question to a herald of watchmaking mastery. This complication waned in popularity towards the third quarter of the 20th century - as did the mechanical wristwatch - only to see rebirth as a way to appreciate craftsmanship, a way to link to the past and the traditional, a way to mark yourself as unique or cultured or successful. The horological world sees these whirlwinds as badges of ability and honour, and there are now more watchmakers that put their own spin on this special but not exactly technically useful complication. These start at the standard tourbillon that runs on one axis to some that spin on several axes or spin as though they are completely untouched by anything else, to some that you won't even see at all on the watch face. Breguet, the name behind the invention itself and the company that is now part of the SWATCH Group, uses a single-axis tourbillon in its 2014 release Rose Gold Perpetual Calendar with Tourbillon (Ref. 3797BR/1E/9WU). The spinning cage is placed in the lower half of the watch face, held in place by thin metal bars in front and in back that allow you to see a good amount of the constantly-turning complication. The traditional tourbillon is held in place front and back. A "flying tourbillon" is one that is connected from one angle only, making it look like it is flying in space because, if supported only at the back, you will not see on the face what is actually holding it in place. An example of this is Jaeger-LeCoultre's 2014 novelty, the Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon (Ref. 1313520), which adds the audible striking of the time to this tough complication. Technically, the fact that the tourbillon is "flying" or floating means that it is an additional separate complication from the tourbillon itself. You can spin the tourbillon on more than one axis, meaning that it is turning or revolving while the internals are spinning. Jaeger-LeCoultre also released the Duomètre Sphérotourbillon (Ref. 6052520), which has a second axis at 20 degrees in addition to the axis of the carriage itself. Cartier adds a little magic to its two-axis tourbillon. The Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Double Tourbillon calibre 9454 MC takes the "floating" idea to a different level by having the complication look like it is unconnected to anything as it spins in a see-through window on the lower half of the face of the watch. The tourbillon spins away seemingly touching nothing, but it also moves around the bubble as well. It is enchanting to watch as you try to figure out how the power goes back and forth with no visible connection. If you really want to see nothing connecting, the Patek Philippe Grand Complications is for you (Ref. 5207P-001). The platinum men's Grand Complications has a minute repeater and an instantaneous perpetual calendar with moonphase, day, date, month and day/night indications on its clean face. You don't see the tourbillon anywhere, rather, you only see the word "TOURBILLON" just below the moonphase. This Geneva company at the pinnacle of watchmaking chooses not to have a tourbillon cluttering up its classically elegant and balanced watch faces. The tourbillon spins in track with the mechanical wristwatch, going from technical need to thing of beauty to decorative work of art to badge of honour for creator and wearer. It serves no real need on the wristwatch, but it is a complication that dares you to take your eyes away. As with many a work of art, it can be appreciated for its artistry, beauty and workmanship or it can be a tool to announce one's wealth, ability and taste. Whatever the reason for the purchase, you will have on your wrist a piece that links you to watchmaking history.