Teaching the Art of Swiss Watchmaking


The Tourbillon Model

The 2012-2014 class had the interest, the passion, the skills and the knowledge necessary for this kind of project, so there was no real excuse not to do it.

In initial brainstorming sessions we pondered the following questions:

–      one piece built in collaboration or each student builds his own model?

We decided that each builds his own.

–      Various designs or same design for all?

We decided to go with the same design for all in order to reduce the risk of malfunction by design or strange appearance

–      Scale?

We decided on factor 4, very common for this kind of projects.

–      Model of what tourbillon?

We decided to go with a classic and timeless beauty: Alfred Helwig’s Flying Tourbillon from 1921.


Design and prototyping was done parallel. We started with the cage, the cage support and main bearing, followed by the oscillator and the escapement. Once the tourbillon mechanism itself was completed and functional, we designed and built the drive train and the barrel.

The large rubies required for the impulse stone, unlocking stone and locking stone were substituted by tungsten carbide.

With the help of the prototype we could optimize our design in some areas, especially the power output of the barrel, the adjustment and design of the detent, as well as the oscillator (balancewheel/hairspring configuration), and as soon as the design of a functional group was finalized the students transferred it into the ‘real thing’.




All the models are built without the use of numerically controlled equipment. The most sophisticated piece of equipment used was a manual lathe with milling attachment.

Below you can see some details of the assembly process in a loose chronological order.

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