Gravity is arguably the most elusive of all physical phenomena and has piqued the curiosity of the human mind since time immemorial. In H. G. Wells’ book “The First Men in the Moon”, which was published in 1901, an eccentric scientist named Cavor developed a mysterious material that cancels out gravitational forces. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, gravitation can be neither neutralised nor deflected in the real world. One hundred years before Wells wrote his novel, watchmakers at least discovered a way to outfox gravity – with the invention of the tourbillon.
The tourbillon is probably the most elaborate horological complication for improving the rate accuracy of a mechanical watch. Patented in 1801, it was first integrated in pocket watches and later in wristwatches as well. To compensate for the influence of gravity on a possible centre of mass error of the balance, the entire escapement – the balance, lever, and escape wheel – is in a cage that rotates about the fixed fourth wheel once a minute.