The new Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon Numbered Edition shows the future of Omega and of this complication in the most extreme demonstration of Omega’s famous central tourbillon.
Omega has made some of the most remarkable watch movements of the twentieth century. Their 2500 movement made George Daniel’s co-axial escapement mainstream and their 55x / 56x and 321 calibres are still regarded as some of the best movements ever made after nearly 70 years. Moreover, today they produce some of the best mainstream movements with technology, innovation and quality to rival the likes of Grand Seiko and Rolex. However, a high horology brand they are not.
Even so, the tourbillon has been a central component (pun most definitely intended) of their collection since 1994 when, after three years of development, the original Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon was launched. To mark the 100th anniversary of Omega, this watch followed in a line of Omega tourbillon watches which would have disappeared entirely if not for the rise of interest in mechanical watches in the 1990s.
You see, in the post-war years, the tourbillon was looked to by Omega as a means of securing chronometric competitions which had, historically, sorted the wheat from the chaff of the watch world. In this way and much like the movements made specifically by Rolex, Longines and Jaeger-LeCoultre for such tests, the tourbillon was not conceived for the public but purely to demonstrate absolute accuracy under scrutiny.
When compared to the classic purity of achieving ultimate accuracy in a watch, the 1990s were a world apart and a tourbillon hidden in the guts of a watch simply wouldn’t do. Instead, Omega spent three years developing one of the most original tourbillon watches of all time and, with this 2020 version of the Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon, they have made the best tourbillon yet: the first truly amagnetic tourbillon.
Understanding the Tourbillon’s Merit
The tourbillon is a complication often regarded as being the very pinnacle of watchmaking. Designed to rotate the most obviously-active portion of a movement — the escapement — the tourbillon holds a unique place in the hearts of many. The idea of a tourbillon being robust and resilient to daily and perhaps even careless use remains rather alien. However, the new Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon Numbered Edition suggests a very different interpretation of the complication.
One well-founded connotation of a tourbillon is, for better or for worse, its fragility. Being the product of extensive research and originally designed to enjoy a much more stable environment in a pocket watch, the tourbillon was patented in 1795 by Abraham-Louis Breguet as an answer to the effect of gravity on an escapement. The principle was simple: if the escapement of a watch were to rotate, gravitational pull would be averaged thus increasing accuracy.
Now, in the context of a wristwatch, the practical benefit of a tourbillon is almost comically small. However, the point still stands that, prior to becoming a virtually ornamental complication, the tourbillon was a very innovative answer to making a watch resistant to the elements.
The Amagnetic Tourbillon
When Omega launched the original De Ville Central Tourbillon, the package was far from the slick, elegant package we have today. With crown guards, a large Omega logo on the central tourbillon and Constellation-esque lugs, this was a tentative attempt at producing such a watch. In 2020, by contract, we find ourselves with one of the most exciting watches currently offered by Omega.
The new version is a watch of spellbinding wonder as a unique demonstration of what Omega could be if it took Patek Philippe as competition in place of Rolex. Housed in a large but svelte 43mm case, this watch is given a modern feel by housing a brushed Canopus white gold inner case within the polished Sedna rose gold outer case.
Most striking is the display which, in black and rose gold, should be distinctly kitsch yet manages to remain elegant. A key trick seen on the original central tourbillon Omega and retained here is the operation of the hands via two sapphire crystal discs under the dial from gears beneath the bezel. The result is a handset which appears to levitate over the dial which, in truth, is exactly what it is doing.
In the middle, placed in an uncommon but ideal position for symmetry and spectacle, is the one-minute tourbillon which gives this watch its name. This not only gives an exciting view of mechanical motion but also presents George Daniel’s co-axial escapement in full view — perhaps the most recognisable feature of a modern Omega. Speaking of appearances, the new cal. 2640 turns a new page amongst tourbillon movements especially when compared to its predecessor.
You see, the original cal. 1170 in the 1994 was, with the best will in the world, not a very beautiful movement. Naturally, it gave a stunning complication but it cannot hold a candle to the veritably mesmerising 50-jewel cal. 2640 of the new Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon. Constructed not from rhodium-plated brass but from solid 18k gold, this is the first Master Co-Axial Chronometer tourbillon. As such, it not only offers resistance to the earth’s gravitation field but also to essentially any magnetic field which you could come across.
Aside from this, this movement is delightful in the way it adopts the details of Omega’s other movements. By this I mean that it shares a similar style of striping on the front and uses two spring barrels in series to provide a 72-hour power reserve yet, beyond that, it adds a level of refinement rarely seen from Omega.
High Horology from Omega
Most notably, and utterly obvious across the plates and bridges, is a virtually obsessive level of anglage or bevelling. Finished with enormous skill by a master watchmaker, these bevelled edges are everywhere from the jewel placements to every single line between bridges. Even the mechanism for retaining the two dial-side sapphire discs features such finishing despite never being seen by the owner. In some ways, this is a rare occasion when a watch actually deserves to have a skeletonised dial or, indeed, no dial at all. I would be prepared to argue that the dial of this watch simply cannot hold a candle to the beauty of the movement.
Looking at the back of the movement, the finish which catches one’s attention is a matted or grained finish sitting between the raised and brushed plate edges. As stated by Hodinkee’s Jack Forster, this is reminiscent of the traditional English watchmaking which inspired George Daniel himself but may also be an appeal to Omega’s different heritage to major haute horlogerie houses.
A Pair of Dilemmas
In truth, there are only two dilemmas which I can see in this watch. The first is, if I may repeat myself, that the design of the dial simply doesn’t live up to the beauty of the movement. Whilst the case manages to be appealing, a sunburst dial will not make a 43mm dress watch any more elegant. Instead, the inclusion of fussy fluted sections and Sedna gold diamond on the tourbillon cage suggests that Omega doesn’t think that a buyer will appreciate the sheer brilliance of the movement without ‘luxury’ cues. Out of respect for the level of watchmaking present and for the sort of buyer, I stand by the need for a superior view of the movement.
The second dilemma is the price. And its a big one: 162,750 Swiss francs. Even so, I have no doubt that this watch is worth the money. Aside from having a virtually unique complication, it is a world first and houses one of the world’s most beautiful movements. In any case, we can all admire what has been achieved here.
Availability: CHF 162,750
- Dimensions: 43mm
- Material: 18k Sedna and Canopus Gold
- Crystal: Sapphire
- Display: Floating hands on two rotating sapphire discs / Central tourbillon to display the seconds / Sunburst black dial with Sedna gold accents
- Water Resistance: 30m / 100ft / 3 ATM
- Movement: cal. 2640: Hours, minutes & seconds / Central 1-minute tourbillon on the dial side / Hands driven from under the bezel on transparent rotating discs / 72-hour power reserve from twin mainsprings / Manually wound / 50 jewels / 18k Sedna gold construction