SCHOOL PROJECT
Watch Time|February 2021
Glashütte Original’s Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920 pays tribute to the legendary Saxon schoolmaster who invented the flying tourbillon, on the occasion of the device’s 100th anniversary.
Mark Bernardo
It was the Swiss who invented the tourbillon, but it was a German who taught it to fly.

One of the most significant horological inventions of the 19th century, and one that would enjoy a major renaissance in the 21st, was the tourbillon, invented circa 1795 by the legendary Neuchâtel-born watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet. Named after the French word for “whirlwind,” the revolutionary device placed a pocketwatch’s escapement and balance inside a minuscule cage that rotated on its axis 360 degrees every 60 seconds, thus compensating for the ill effects of gravity on a timepiece’s accuracy. Breguet’s tourbillon, and those made by others subsequently after his 1801 patent expired, were designed in the original, classic style, with the rotating cage anchored by two supporting bridges, one on the movement side, the other on the dial side. It wasn’t until 1920, in the German town of Glashütte, that a new evolution of the tourbillon would emerge, one in which the cage was cantlivered, or anchored on only the bottom — thus offering, in theory, the technical bonus of a more stable rate as well as the aesthetic one of an unimpeded view into the dynamic motions of the escapement, minus the top supporting bridge. This more freewheeling style of tourbillon — dubbed a “flying” tourbillon, and marking its 100th birthday in 2020 — was the signature achievement of Alfred Helwig, one of the most influential figures in the proud history of Glashütte watchmaking.

Both Helwig (1886-1974) and the watchmaking school that would eventually employ him as headmaster are intertwined with the major milestones and important personages that make up that history. The school was established in 1878, several decades after the small town of Glashütte, in the state of Saxony, near Dresden, had become a booming watchmaking center largely thanks to the pioneering efforts of Ferdinand Adolph Lange (1815-1875), who established his eponymous firm in 1845 and spurred other entrepreneurs to follow his lead. One of these was Lange’s friend Moritz Grossmann (1826-1885), who founded his own watchmaking company in 1854 and, seeing the industry’s need to educate and train subsequent generations of horologists, established the original Deutsche Uhrmacherschule, or German Watchmaking School Glashütte, on May 1, 1878.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM WATCH TIMEView All

Three Greens for The Red, White, And Blue

Grand Seiko's New U.S.A. Exclusive Editions

1 min read
Watch Time
November/December 2021

Military Surplus

IWC Pilot's Watch Squadron Chronographs

1 min read
Watch Time
November/December 2021

Take-off

RGM Adds New Vintage Inspired Chronograph To Collection

1 min read
Watch Time
November/December 2021

Gray and Gradient

Oris Launches a Fresh-Faced Divers Sixty-Five

1 min read
Watch Time
November/December 2021

German Expansion

Mühle-Glashütte Teutonia IV Collection

2 mins read
Watch Time
November/December 2021

Aquanauts Assemble: Patek Philippe Expands Its Sportiest Collection with Aquanaut Chronographs In White Gold

— Patek Philippe added the first chronograph-equipped model in its sport-luxury Aquanaut family in 2018, delivering it in a steel case, a gradient black textured dial, and a choice of robust rubber straps.

2 mins read
Watch Time
July - August 2021

Anniversary Trip: Three New Grand Seiko 9F86 GMTs

WATCHTALK

1 min read
Watch Time
July - August 2021

Hand-Wound and HistoryBound: Breitling Premier Heritage Collection

— With the launch of its Premier collection, a contemporary revival of a 1940s gents’ dress watch, in 2018, Breitling firmly established its mission of reaching beyond a sporty, aviation style and entering more elegant market territory.

2 mins read
Watch Time
July - August 2021

Gucci Turns 100 and Turns Up the Volume On its High Watchmaking

— Italian fashion designer and entrepreneur Guccio Gucci founded his eponymous fashion house in 1921, and the first Gucci timepiece was released in 1972.

3 mins read
Watch Time
July - August 2021

Bulgari Lights Up The Night With New Aluminium Steve Aoki Special Edition

— As CDC restrictions on large indoor gatherings start to ease, homebound night crawlers are eager to resume dancing the night away at clubs and other festive venues.

1 min read
Watch Time
July - August 2021