The irony of covering a tourbillon-equipped exemplar of watchmaking excellence with enough ice to raise the price to a high six- or even seven-figures has not been lost on us at Revolution. Diamond pavé cases, dials and (in extreme cases) bracelets represent the pinnacle of a watch hybrid aimed at two disparate types of jewellery lover. For the first, the traditionalist, a completely encrusted surface is nothing new, and fully pavéd pocket watches have been around for centuries. Imagine the cost of encrusting a case that presents the gem setter with four or more times the surface area of a relatively tiny wristwatch.

For the second, the new wave of deep-pocketed watch lovers, especially members of the hip-hop community and “kept” women, the addition of a layer of gems is to, say, an Hublot Big Bang or an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak what pimping is to a Bentley or Range Rover. Taste has been left at a door that has been flung wide open to those whose sensibilities are too dulled to understand concepts like “conspicuous consumption” and “vulgarity”.

Emperador Skeleton Tourbillon

One expects diamond encrustation to be a mandatory procedure followed by the houses that are jewellers first and high-end watch brands second, however they may perceive themselves: selling rocks is their stock in trade. Thus de Grisogono’s Tondo Tourbillon, any number of Harry Winston models, Jacob & Co’s Astronomia, Dior’s Christal and the Chanel J12 Flying Tourbillon are rightly, in a sense, jewellery first and watches second. But that is not to denigrate the superb timepieces underneath the gemwork: every one of these houses knows that encasing a quartz movement in diamonds is an affront, an insult to the client and an act that should be classified with Ponzi schemes, hence the stampede toward mechanical complications.

Conversely, Franck Muller, Corum, Patek Philippe, Richard Mille, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Greubel Forsey, De Bethune, Girard-Perregaux and others among the houses that are first-and-foremost haute horlogerie practitioners also offer flooded tourbillons. Due to the increase in popularity of gems across the board, all have issued fully pavéd versions of their finest timepieces. It is this amusing yin/yang relationship between diamond encrustation and the upper levels of technical achievement that has created an unusual – and surprisingly crowded – sub-genre.

The Chanel J12

To my horror, I was able to discover more than 25 manufacturers producing tourbillons with either the full pavé treatment – case, dial and bracelet – or more than just the bezel: case-plus-dial, dial-only or case-only. Even skeletons with reduced real estate are no deterrent, and the likes of Richard Mille and Roger Dubuis are prepared to leave no bridge, however narrow, unpavéd. Examples such as Mille’s RM51-02 show you that a skilled diamond setter can work even in the width of a millimetre or less.

Such is the nature of publishing and the dearth of pages that we had to restrict ourselves to a mere dozen examples, chosen at random from, and offering a mix of, both watch houses that dabble in diamonds, and diamond houses that dabble in timepieces. I am, however, aware of the skill needed to apply so many diamonds to a surface, especially one that moves like a bracelet, so I must tip my hat to the maestri of the gem-setter’s craft, as demonstrated to me up-close-and-personal at Cartier. The craft must be equated with the patience, the eye and the steady hand we take for granted in watchmaking.

As disdainful as I am of this showiness, and of the entire concept of pavé watch cases, I am reminded of a friend who acquired a fully gem-clad Rolex Daytona. His excuse? “What other watch could you wear in St Tropez to go with your Speedos?”

RM51-02
RM51-02

Audemars Piguet
Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon Chronograph in Yellow Gold

If you’re going to cover a tourbillon with diamonds and you wish to maintain a shred of masculinity, the go-to watch has to be the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. There are non-tourbillons a’plenty in the Royal Oak range that are also covered with stones, including time-only and chronograph models, but the Concept adds to the recipe a massive dose of horological credibility. Moreover, the use of yellow gold is right on point as this colour regains its prominence after decades of overshadowing by rose and white gold.

As with the majority of tourbillons, the 44mm Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon Chronograph is manually wound, yet this movement possesses a massive 10-day power reserve. Its tourbillon is located at 9 o’clock and the power reserve indicator at 12, while other cool touches are the linear minute counter for the chronograph and the “function indicator” at 6 o’clock. This feature shows the user where the crown’s positioned – winding or time setting, with neutral in between.

Further adding to its undeniably radical stance are its carbon composite baseplate and bridges, which create a wonderful visual juxtaposition, like a funky, high-tech tool watch celebrating its Bar Mitzvah. Only five of these were produced, with the full version featuring a diamond-set bezel with 5.66 carats, as well as that wash of tiny diamonds set into the sloping case sections.

Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon Chronograph in Yellow Gold

Blancpain
Tourbillon Diamants

When a watch carries a price tag of $1.8 million, it immediately becomes part of a select – and notorious – group. While the price sticker isn’t a prominently displayed feature, and its owner isn’t likely to shout it from the rooftops, one glance at Blancpain’s Tourbillon Diamants signals its status. This watch is so completely pavéd with diamonds that hardly a filigree impression of its white-gold case, bracelet and actual setting elements can be seen.

It starts with a watch worth admiring, in whatever one of its many forms one chooses: this is a self-winding tourbillon with a power reserve of a week and it’s even water resistant to 100m. But surely only a profligate putz or the incorrigible son of a plutocrat or sheik would dive into the pool wearing this? Wonderful movement or not, its high price was achieved by its diamond-count, which consists of 480 in the dial, bezel, case, lugs AND bracelet, for a breathtaking total of 58 carats.

And what a dazzler it is, with the baguettes laid out asymmetrically like paving slabs on a Parisian courtyard. And yet, thanks to the complete absence of numbers, indices and even the brand’s name, this hours-and-minutes-only watch, with its tourbillon proudly displayed at 12 o’clock, is actually an exercise in subtlety. And that, for once, renders the unbridled excess as ironic.

Tourbillon Diamants

Breguet
Classique 5349 Grande Complication

If you are firmly of the “more is more” school of consumption, what could be better than a tourbillon? How about two tourbillons? And how about making the entire dial rotate as well?

While Breguet’s Classique 5349 Grande Complication is a misnomer – this is a time-only watch, not a collection of complications as needed to qualify – the overall achievement of fitting two tourbillons and having the entire movement complete a further rotation in 12 hours is a feat of grand proportion. A bit of leeway, then, is permissible, as is calling a tourbillon itself a complication. Like the Blancpain, too, this is an easy-to-read blingfest because the dark hands stand out against the dial.

That surface is completely covered in diamonds, a backdrop to the twin tourbillons with the rest of the platinum case dressed in baguette-cut diamonds. This watch required more than 570 parts, and it provided Breguet with three patents for what is truly a belt-and-braces arrangement: if one tourbillon fights the effects of gravity and two offer a “sympathetic” self-correcting effect, rotating the hole lot ensures even further denial of gravity’s intrusion. As I’ve said in public to much derision, “gravity sucks” when you’re talking about watch escapements.

That hyperbole, of course, is nonsense when discussing automatics, but this watch is manually wound. The bezel, lugs and case are pavéd with 107 baguette-cut diamonds weighing approximately 30.3 carats, while the silvered gold chapter ring and the dial’s rotating centre plate contain 310 diamonds of approximately 1.62 carats. The coverage stops at the caseback, which is see-through sapphire.

Classique 5349 Grande Complication

Bulgari
Octo Tourbillon Full Diamonds

Here at Revolution, we have never hidden our love for the Bulgari Octo, whether time-only, normal or super thin, retrograde, minute repeater or any other that the company cares to offer, simply because it’s a future classic. Bulgari’s champion in the arena reaches its pinnacle in the Octo Tourbillon Full Diamonds.

Here it’s fitted with the in-house calibre BVL 263,
a self-winding engine with 64-hour power reserve, showing only hours and minutes. Its tourbillon is mounted on a sapphire bridge.

In the pavé version, its now-familiar 41mm case is made of white gold set with 262 baguette-cut diamonds of approximately 11.2 carats. The crown is set with eight baguette-cut diamonds nearing 0.15 carats and one brilliant-cut diamond of approximately 0.22 carats. The movement is on view through the white-gold caseback thanks to a transparent sapphire crystal. This Octo is water-resistant to 30m, but as pondered before: who on earth would wear this while swimming?

Its dial enjoys what is called “invisible setting,” here requiring 178 baguette-cut diamonds totalling around 6.75 carats with an opening at 6 o’clock to display the tourbillon in all its glory. While this doesn’t add more acreage with a bracelet, the black alligator leather strap is fitted with a double-blade folding clasp set with 35 diamonds totalling around 1.24 carats.

Octo Tourbillon Full Diamonds

Cartier
Clé de Cartier Flying Tourbillon

Acting almost as an intermission from a surfeit of diamonds, this beauty from Cartier is certainly a strictly feminine offering in this select group – relatively compact and with the pavé treatment confined to the case. Arriving at the Clé de Cartier Flying Tourbillon after those watches for which every millimetre is covered in stones comes as relief and, for me, a realisation: if pavé is on your wants list, leaving the dial “naturelle” might be the best compromise between in-your-face excess and watch legibility. And with Cartier’s distinctive Roman numerals
on the dial, who would want to cover this one up – even with diamonds? This face is simply stunning.

Here a flying tourbillon is integrated into the in-house 9452MC mechanical calibre, now a popular platform for Cartier’s speciality watches, contained within a 35mm Clé de Cartier white-gold case. It’s set with 478 brilliant-cut diamonds, for a total of 3.56 carats and, this being Cartier, the workmanship is impeccable. What am I saying? Every watch here exhibits phenomenal gem-setting.

Clé’s signature detail, the innovative crown that gives the watch its name, is topped with a rectangular sapphire, one of those fantastic contrasts that adds immeasurably to the “dazzle” effect of a diamond-covered surface. It also works with rubies or other deeply coloured accents, just one or two transforming the all-whiteness, but this dark blue gem links the Clé to other Cartier classics, especially the Tank.

Clé de Cartier Flying Tourbillon

Chopard
L.U.C Tourbillon Baguette

Like Cartier, Chopard is a house that is – in reputation rather than watch production numbers – considered equally adept at (or committed to) both watches and jewellery. In contrast, Graff and Harry Winston, for example, are biased more toward jewellery. The L.U.C range is Chopard’s top line, the source of its most complex pieces, so the L.U.C Tourbillon Baguette arrives with established haute horlogerie credibility and a heavy-duty reputation for its jewellery component.

Like most other completely pavéd models, the L.U.C Tourbillon Baguette is minimalist in terms of function or dial clutter: this watch’s face uses the popular technique of positioning the tourbillon in its own see-through aperture at 6 o’clock, while the hours-and-minutes are complemented by a power reserve at 12 o’clock. That’s it, rendering this watch elegant and easy to read.

Inside, the L.U.C Calibre 02.01-L is a mechanical hand-wound movement, which, thanks to L.U.C Quattro four-barrel technology, offers in excess of 200 hours power reserve. With a duration like that, you might forget to wind it, hence the power reserve indicator. Also adding to the credibility when faced with those, like me, who denigrate gem-fests, this movement is both a COSC-certified chronometer and bearer of the Poinçon de Genève quality hallmark.

And the gem count? This 25-piece limited-edition’s 43mm, white-gold case is set with over 300 diamonds, exceeding a whopping 27 carats.

L.U.C Tourbillon Baguette

Graff
Diamond MasterGraff Ultra Flat Tourbillon

Graff has certainly accelerated its efforts in the watch department, refining its faceted look and upping the complexity of the innards. Like Bulgari, Graff has added thinness to the virtues of a pavé tourbillon, but the rose-gold watch is still massive and masculine at 43mm. Covering that sized case and the dial required 288 diamonds totalling 10.8 carats.

Graff’s faceted cases are designed to evoke the cut of a diamond, even in models where there are none present. For this watch, the case alone is set with 128 of those stones, accounting for just over half the carat count, and each set into Graff’s patented diamond mosaic setting.

Here the jeweller’s talents come to the fore, the pavé boasting a mix of invisibly set brilliant- and triangle-cut diamonds to maintain the overall facet motif. A radiating pattern of 160 baguette-cut diamonds accounts for the remaining 4.9 carats, covering the dial, with a triangular emerald jewel marking 12 o’clock, completed by diamond-set lugs and a diamond-tipped crown. That emerald, like Cartier’s sapphire, adds hugely to the drama.

Powering the watch is the manually wound Graff Calibre 4, with a complex and minute ball bearing system contributing to a flying tourbillon movement with a thickness of just 3.5mm. The Graff Diamond MasterGraff Ultra Flat Tourbillon displays hours, minutes and seconds via the tourbillon.

Diamond MasterGraff Ultra Flat Tourbillon

Hublot
Classic Fusion Skeleton Tourbillon

Again, cost equals notoriety and a few years ago, Hublot’s Black Caviar Bang shouted its price from the rooftops. A change from the rest, this stealthy, macho take on the most highly visible luxury sport watch of them all had its case, crown, dial and clasp covered in baguette-cut black diamonds, 544 of them with a tally of 34.5 carats. Less costly but just as dazzling – if lacking the stealth element – is the Classic Skeleton Fusion Tourbillon.

Its case is made of rose gold, with the entire top set with 232 brilliant cut diamonds, weighing a total of approximately 1.44 carats. These frame a rose-gold bezel set with 54 baguette-cut diamonds totalling approximately 3.02 carats. As the bezel is secured like all Big Bangs with six H-shaped polished titanium screws, the contrasts continue – a nice break from complete pavé that can seem monochromatic at times.

What really rocks with this watch is that it’s one of the few full skeletons in the bunch, its main rival on that score being Roger Dubuis. Despite the absence of a dial, Hublot has fitted applied polished rose-gold hour markers to match the rose-gold hands. What’s seen of the movement’s plate and bridges is plated in black. At 6 o’clock beats the 60-second tourbillon of the manufacture Calibre HUB6010, with an approximate power reserve of 120 hours.

Classic Fusion Skeleton Tourbillon

Piaget
Emperador Skeleton Tourbillon

Tempted though I was to include the outrageous Emperador “Temple”, that watch’s $3.3 million price tag lifted it way out of the stratosphere and its one-off status means it must have found a home some time ago. For the record, your three million did buy not one but two watches, because the lid contained a time-only watch, covering the tourbillon, the first timepiece clad in 481 brilliant-cut diamonds, 207 baguette-cut diamonds and an emerald-cut diamond on the top of the case, while the inner timepiece bore 162 brilliant-cut diamonds and 11 baguette-cut diamonds. To ensure thoroughness, the bracelet was also covered with 350 baguette-cut diamonds.

More likely to find a home is the Piaget Emperador Skeleton Tourbillon in the quasi-rectangular 32mm x 41mm white-gold case – very 1940s. It’s set with 171 brilliant-cut diamonds of approximately 2.1 carats in total, with the buckle set with 26 brilliant-cut diamonds of around 0.4 carats. Within is the party trick that turns this into a pub quiz answer, for it is driven by the Piaget manufacture 600D hand-wound, gem-set skeleton movement. And according to Piaget, it is the thinnest mechanical flying tourbillon movement in the world, at 3.5mm thick. Although this is a skeleton, the anorexic bridges still hold 160 brilliant-cut diamonds totalling around 0.4 carats, accented by seven blue sapphire cabochons of approximately 0.2 carats.

Emperador Skeleton Tourbillon

Richard Mille
RM51-02 Tourbillon Diamond Twister

With so many pavé pieces from which to choose, it was hard to settle on a single model from Richard Mille. Those familiar with the brand know that the bulk of the production is skeletonised and, for the most part, housed in the modified tonneau case that has become the brand’s signature look, and Mille is one maison that’s not shy of tourbillons. But this version, with the funky name of Diamond Twister, earns a place because of the sheer artistry of the settings on so little a canvas.

At 47mm long, it’s a huge watch by any standard, but it is most certainly one for the ladies. Its look is clearly feminine, if such a designation can be stated in this politically correct age of ours, but I would not argue with anyone who wishes to regard it as unisex. This is a manually wound tourbillon showing hours, minutes and seconds, with the diamonds – Mille doesn’t publish the number they’ve used – set into the thin rays that form the “twister”.

It’s an amazing thing to behold, and I’m sure that the 30 examples being produced won’t satisfy all those who adhere to the notion that diamonds are a girl’s (or guy’s) best friend. At around $900,000 or so, friendship doesn’t come cheap – but you’ll have a friend for life.

RM51-02 Tourbillon Diamond Twister

Roger Dubuis
Excalibur Star of Infinity Skeleton Tourbillon

As a platform, the star-shaped bridge arrangement has been serving Roger Dubuis nicely, whatever the new-age guff about it being borrowed from nature and its heavenly constellations. What’s important is that it is adaptable, creating a host of models, including this, the Excalibur Star of Infinity, a fully skeletonised double flying tourbillon with the signature star segment pointing to the locations of what would be 1, 3, 9 and 11 o’clock indices. This is said to enhance clarity – important when there’s no dial (though most people automatically register the time when the see the hands’ positions – markers or not).

Again, we see what gem setters can do even when most of the terrain has been removed. Looking like a spider’s web, the hand-wound Poinçon de Genève-certified calibre RD01SQ Skeleton Double Flying Tourbillon positions the twin Celtic cross-shaped tourbillon carriages at 4.30 and 7.30, with each rotating once per minute; the watch shows only hours and minutes.

Measuring 45mm in diameter, the white-gold case has room for 312 baguette-cut diamonds in total, comprised of 34 baguettes in the star shape, 246 baguettes on the case and 32 baguettes on the buckle, for a total of 14.93 carats. As is the maison’s tradition, only 28 will be made, and, should you feel the urge to get wet, this beauty is water-resistant to 30m.

Excalibur Star of Infinity Skeleton Tourbillon

Vacheron Constantin
Malte Tourbillon High Jewellery

Were I to be reborn as a slim-hipped, moustachio’d, oily roué named Raoul or Serge, kept by some dowager in Cap Ferrat, and with no conscience but utterly impeccable taste, this is the watch I’d have her buy for me before I ditched her for the next heiress. It is simply gorgeous, and I’m not even partial to tonneau cases, let alone gems. But this… my goodness, I adore Vacheron, even when it’s catering to magpies. And no, I’m not saying it’s only suitable wear for pimps and gigolos, but bear with me.

First of all, it houses Vacheron’s Geneva-hallmarked manual-wind Calibre 2795. In this application, it shows hours and minutes, while the tourbillon carriage doubles as the seconds indication. Power reserve is 45 hours and the movement is a thing of beauty, especially that Maltese Cross-shaped tourbillon cage. Oh, mama!

Then there are the stones, which I must admit are more than dazzling, arrayed as they are in arcs across the dial, with graduated baguettes. It is mouth-wateringly beautiful, and intellectually satisfying, too, for those who care about how it’s done. Vacheron doesn’t give us a breakdown, but the gem tally is 1170 diamonds weighing around 47.8 carats, embedded into a white-gold case that measures 38mm x 48.24mm, as well as the bracelet. Maybe I could change my name by deed poll to Porfirio or Marcello.

Malte Tourbillon High Jewellery

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