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Review: Horage Tourbillon 1

Ever thought to yourself, “If I were to start a watch brand, I’d make the best watch for a really good price and it would have tourbillons and everything.” Yeah, me too. How’s yours coming along? I gave up on my idea after a quarter-minute and played Dark Souls instead. Not Horage, though. They were just about crazy enough to go through with it.

On the Horage website—by the way, I would say “Horridge” like porridge—on April the 9th, 2019, a post was made on the blog. It was quite simply titled, “Mission Tourbillon”. Never have two words carried such enormous weight and expectation, and for Horage, it wouldn’t just be a year-and-a-half of ups and downs, back-breaking work and heart-wrenching disappointment, it would mark the culmination of over a decade since the founders decided they’d had enough and were going to make their own watch. This is the story of the Horage Tourbillon 1.

Horage, or at the least the people who founded it, Andreas Felsl and Tzuyu Huang, found themselves in 2008 at the helm of a business that developed components for other watch manufacturers. Feeling very much always the bridesmaid and never the bride, the husband and wife duo—who, by the way, were very successful in their operation since ETA had reduced supply two years before—took a massive gamble: they were going to stop developing parts for other people to do it for themselves instead.

We’ve seen this mentality before, in the 1930s, from one Jacques-David LeCoultre. Sick of being the man behind great watchmakers like Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, he set about making watches with his own name on them instead. Really, his business was one of engineering and material science, a company with the know-how to produce high-quality components—and the same was true of Horage. Both were just one risky idea away from being the name on the dial—or failure.

Step one was to build an automatic movement, a new one, from the ground up. Given the monumental challenge of the task, it would be called K1. It was a long journey and an enormous investment, and it wouldn’t be enough to make a generic, forgettable movement. K1 wasn’t the goal: it was the proof-of-concept for something much, much bigger.

A silicon escapement, for example, engineered just across the border in Germany. Modular construction to be easily adaptable for a power reserve indicator, date, big date, small second and centre second. In-house gear profiling simulation for high accuracy that can be chronometer certified. Industrial know-how to make the processes behind the K1 as efficient as possible, speeding up production and reducing cost. From self-aligning parts to the prohibition of hidden oiling points, the K1 demonstrated that high quality movement production could be extremely lean.

But the K1 was just the beginning, because what Horage has done for itself, it wants to share with others, offering a state-of-the-art movement development consultation to aid other watchmakers to become free of the restrictions of third part manufacturers and make their own. This arm of Horage, THE+, promised speed, efficiency and affordability for watchmakers looking to make their own movements, and no better was this promise put to the test than with this, the Horage Tourbillon 1.

On that blog post of April 9th, 2019, Horage had no idea what it was getting itself into. The Horage Tourbillon, which started off as an April Fool’s joke that sort of bit them on the butt in a good way, was intended as a flagship watch with a movement built by friends down the road at La Joux Perret. Then CEO at La Joux Perret, Florien Serex, had been instrumental in the knowledge Horage procured in its journey to the K1—and had also been head of ETA during the integration of the co-axial escapement at Omega—and he agreed to work on a tourbillon project at La Joux Perret with Horage.

But, midway into the project in March of 2020, Florien left La Joux Perret, and his replacement did not want to continue. By this point, Horage had amassed a number of pre-orders that it would have to fulfil by the end of the year—and then, for good measure, the world went into lockdown. What Horage did next was ridiculous.

In the face of such incredible adversity, I would imagine most would crumble. Give back the deposits, take the pain, go out of business, get it over with. Not Horage. No, what they did next was to double down on a losing hand: they decided they would produce the tourbillon themselves. Seven months, from scratch, to make a tourbillon. It is the very definition of insanity.

The first piece of good news was that Florien Serex, who had previously left La Joux Peret, was on board. He joined Project Manager Silvan Deustchmann and Head of Engineering Jonas Nydegger, and together they not only sought to make a tourbillon but engineer one even better than the one La Joux Perret had proposed. Horage went all in and put the house on it, too.

The key was the knowledge that had been learnt from the K1 and the follow-up micro-rotor K2. The mainspring barrel was lifted straight from the K2, improving the proposed 60-hour power reserve to twice that for a full five days; the balance wheel and hairspring were identical too; and the silicon escapement was built on the same principles with a few modifications to fit the tighter space of the tourbillon cage.

The understanding of these components allowed Horage to greatly reduce development and testing time. These parts were already built to pass chronometer certification, and so that carved a clearer path ahead with less unknowns.

But still that wasn’t good enough for Horage. To reduce the thickness of the tourbillon cage to just 3.9mm and improve its usability, Horage implemented a ball bearing system at the rear in place of a traditional pivot, spreading the load, lowering the centre of gravity and improving shock resistance. Parts of the cage were manufactured in titanium to bring the weight down to less than a third of a gram for a whopping 55% improved efficiency. The silicon pallet fork was redesigned to a 90-degree configuration to bring the centre of mass inward. Even the teeth profiling was heavily tested and revised to eek the maximum potential from the mainspring.

And not only that, all but two of the 101 parts of the Tourbillon 1 calibre, the German silicon escape wheel and pallet fork, are manufactured in Switzerland; that’s over 98% Swiss Made, well over the legal threshold of 60% to qualify. Without La Joux Perret to rely on, the best Swiss supplier for each part was sourced one by one to bring Horage’s design for the Tourbillon 1 to life, like friends Armin Strom just down the road. And by some incredible miracle, the first prototype of the new, independent Tourbillon 1 arrived and was assembled at Horage by the original deadline.

Whilst customer orders didn’t quite make the finish line in that time, the very first production Tourbillon was completed in March of 2021, a mere twelve months after the project was looking like it was finished. That’s the design, development and testing of thirty-five pre-assembly steps, twenty-three sub-assemblies, and 101 parts to make one of the most complicated and prestigious mechanisms in all of watchmaking. And that’s not the most incredible part—the Horage Tourbillon 1 costs just a hair over $8,000. That’s less than a Rolex Submariner.

What you get is a 39mm case, 11.8mm tall, in your choice of 904L steel or gold—the gold costs more, obviously—with 100m of water resistance and a 120-hour tourbillon with a silicon escapement you can wear every day. Given the control Horage has, patrons can customise everything from the case finish to the movement colour, and even spend a little extra to have the watch chronometer certified too if they choose. There are a whopping 160 different configurations for the Tourbillon 1.

Horage doesn’t like to use the term “disrupt” and neither do I. If anything, what Horage has done here is take watchmaking back to basics by using modern technology and industrial processes to bring a Swiss Made complication as incredible as a tourbillon to the public for a price that’s shockingly reasonable. And not only that, but take what it’s learnt and offer it to other watchmakers as well. So next time you can’t be bothered to do something because it seems tough, think of Horage—because anything is possible.