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Preview: TAG Heuer Mikrotourbillon S

Just when you thought that Basel was over, we can tell you today a little about a very special watch coming from TAG Heuer later this year- the TAG Heuer MikrotourbillonS- yes, a Tourbillon (and a double Tourbillon at that). Even better news for a small group of well-heeled collectors is that this is not a concept watch, but one that will be made in small numbers later this year. The watch is yet another development of the TAG Heuer Mikro platform and another complex high-precision Chronograph.

The watch is still being developed and going through the patent process, so we can’t show you any detailed photos just yet. Abel Court sat down with Guy Semon (Director of the R&D Division) yesterday to see the Mikrotourbillon in action and to get the inside scoop on the most ambitious watch ever conceived by TAG Heuer.

What is a Tourbillon?

A Tourbillon (French for “Vortex” or “Whirlwind”) is a method of regulating the movement of a mechanical watch. The regulating mechanism of a movement controls the speed at which a watch “beats” and therefore ensures the consistency of time keeping. There are several ways of regulating a movement, with the vast majority of watches using a balance wheel and spring. There are alternatives, such as the Mikrogirder, which introduced a method of regulating a movement with a network of vibrating micro-beams.

Perhaps the regulating system steeped in the most mythology is the Tourbillon, which places the balance wheel and escapement in a rotating cage- usually. The purpose of this is to compensate for any gravitational variations while the watch is being worn- especially those that impact the hairspring.

Back in the 1800s, the Tourbillon was a real advance in mechanical watchmaking and made the process of regulating a watch much easier- irrespective of the impacts of gravity. Today, there is no need for a Tourbillon to achieve accurate regulation of a watch, but it is still seen as the pinnacle of watch making given the complexity of the system.

While Heuer and TAG Heuer have offered many complications in their mechanical movements over the last 150 years, the company has never made a Tourbillon… until now.

The Mikro Platform

Over the last 12 months, we’ve written several stories on the Mikro watches- Mikrograph, Mikrotimer, Mikrogirder and now Mikrotourbillon. All of these movements have been developed from the same basic movement architecture- the Mikro platform. The photo above shows an exploded view of the Mikrograph (left) and Mikrotimer (right)- as you can see, the basic architecture is the same.

The two key features of the Mikro platform are:

  • Dual chain system- two separate barrels (one for watch function, one for Chronograph) and two independent regulators
  • Modified escapement and balance wheel/spring regulator

TAG Heuer was able to use an evolutionary approach for the systems in the Mikrograph (for example, a balance wheel and hairspring, but with an extra short and ultra rigid spiral), while more radical solutions were developed for the Mikrotimer (no balance wheel) and Mikrogirder.

Over the last 18 months TAG Heuer have demonstrated that the Mikro platform is highly adaptable, both in terms of frequency (which determines the precision of the Chronograph) and form of regulating mechanism. To summarise:

Chronograph Frequency

  • 360,000 beats per hour (Mikrograph and Mikrotourbillon)
  • 3.6 million beats per hour (Mikrotimer)
  • 7.2 million beats per hour (Mikrogirder)

Regulating Mechanism

  • Balance Wheel/ Spring (Mikrograph)
  • Girder system (Mikrogirder)
  • Tourbillon (Mikrotourbillon)

TAG Heuer Mikrotourbillon S

This is the very first photo of the new Mikrotourbillon. The watch uses a large Carrera-style case and is mounted on a rubber strap. You can see from the dial that the chronograph minute counter is at 3 o’clock; chronograph seconds at 6 o’clock and a power reserve at 12 o’clock. The central flying hand rotates every second and shows the 1/ 10 and 1/ 100th increments.

Like the other watches using the Mikro platform, the Mikrotourbillon has two barrels- one for the COSC watch movement (28,000 beats per hour) and one for the Chronograph (360,000 beats per hour).

The watch and Chronograph are both wound by the same crown, but the rotor only winds the barrel on the watch movement, while the Chronograph is manually charged.

Now for the very cool part- the double Tourbillon. The first Tourbillon (neither of the tourbillon has a traditional cage) regulates the watch and completes a single turn every minute. The second Tourbillon regulates the Chronograph and makes 12 rotations every minute. It can be stopped and re-started along with the Chronograph, which can measure to a precision of 1/ 100th of a second.

The chronograph in action is an amazing sight: a two Tourbillons rotating (the faster one 12 times per second) and a central Chronograph second hand spinning around once every second.

You can see the watch in action below in a YouTube video from Revolution Magazine.

As Guy Semon told Calibre 11:

“A Tourbillon is normally nothing to use in a TAG because it is too classic and “slow”…it does not add extra value for what TAG stands for…thus making a Tourbillon that actually can represent for what TAG Heuer stands for was a real challenge. And it had to tick very, very fast and with the greatest precision.”

As with the rest of the Mikro family, the Mikrotourbillon was conceived, designed and developed in-house at TAG Heuer by Semon and his team of 8 watchmakers. All parts for the watch are made in house, with the exception of the Spirals.

 Mikrotourbillon S- Price and Availability

The Mikrotourbillon S is planned for sale this September, with 15 watches being made at a proposed price of CHF 220,000.

So, What’s Next?

While it’s easy to get carried away with such an incredible watch movement, the bigger question remains: Why is TAG Heuer playing around with these ultra-high frequency, complex chronographs with alternative regulating mechanisms? The important part to remember is that most of the Mikro family of watches are concept watches and just like concept cars, the point of these is to demonstrate both technical capability and prepare the market for what is coming next.

We still need to see what’s “next”- but the technical challenge that really needs answering is not a Tourbillon or even a double-Tourbillon with a Pendulum- it’s to use the Mikro platform as the basis for a mass-produced movement that can power the next-generation of up-scale TAG Heuer watches.

The technical challenge of industrialising a movement can’t be underestimated- it’s taken TAG Heuer around 5 years to adapt the Calibre 1887 design and build the production facilities to full-capacity. TAG Heuer have shown us that it can design an innovative movement platform that is highly adaptable at the¬†haute horlogerie end of the market- to really impress, it’s time to put the Mikro platform into mass production. It’s time to go one better than the Calibre 1887.

Update- 1 July 2012

For the latest information on the MikrotourbillonS and to see photos of the watch, click here.

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Sources

– Wikicommons

– http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7Yfq9ZMz0Ck