Review: Hysek Kilada 41mm Tourbillon
It’s a funny old game, watchmaking. Never mind hankering after the outdated technology that is the mechanical movement, the most desirable feature of this collection of wheels and springs is one that was built for a device that has been obsolete for the better part of a century. I’m talking about the tourbillon of course, and it’s one of watchmaking’s most desirable mechanisms—and also one of the most unobtainable. Or is it?
This is the Hysek Kilada Tourbillon, and it costs new £80,000. That’s a Mercedes-Benz C63, a Patek Philippe 5227G Calatrava and a fortnight in New York—combined. As the name suggests, it houses in prominent display a device that was overkill in 1801 when it was first invented, let alone over two centuries later.
The tourbillon is the very embodiment of seminal watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet’s pursuit of perfection, the refinement of refinement itself, the challenge of achieving what was thought to be unachievable. It’s about as relevant to real life as the Bugatti Chiron’s 1,500bhp. Here’s why:
When Thomas Mudge invented the Swiss lever escapement some forty-odd years before Breguet’s tourbillon, it was a pivotal step forward. It was more accurate, more efficient more compact—and by a sizeable margin. It was and still is the way watch movements are made, an advancement on par with the decision to put tyres on wheels.
But it wasn’t perfect, as no machine could ever be, and refinement was inevitable. Self-winding, shock protection, the balance spring overcoil—all incremental tweaks that improved the original design in a significant and cost-effective manner. A movement could, at this point, happily tick within five seconds a day, a perfectly respectable level of accuracy for a portable clock.
Not according to Breguet, however. His reasoning? Gravity. Gravity, he surmised, affected the balance wheel—a component so light you couldn’t feel it if you were holding it—when it hung in the vertical position typical for a pocket watch. He was right, no doubt about that, but to such a small margin that it was in no real sense worth dealing with.
Regardless, Breguet decided that it warranted taking the entire escapement—that’s the balance wheel, escape wheel and pallet, the parts that regulate the timekeeping—mounting it in a separate cage and spinning it around while still maintaining a positive drive from the mainspring—all to save fractions of a second per day.
The tourbillon makes even less sense in a wristwatch, which moves against gravity in all sorts of positions rather spending most of its time hanging like a pocket watch, but nevertheless it continues, like the mechanical movement itself, to survive.
And I expect most tourbillon owners would be unable to tell what effect it was having on their day-to-day timekeeping, if any—but really, that’s irrelevant. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that mechanical watchmaking in its entirety is as obsolete as the horse and carriage.
Yet, here is a tourbillon on the dial of this Hysek Kilada Tourbillon, a niche model limited to just nine examples of a niche watch from a niche watchmaker operating in a niche industry. By all accounts, it shouldn’t exist, but it does, and not only that, but with a secondary price of less than £18,000, it’s also one of the cheapest Swiss tourbillons you’ll find.
To explain why it’s possible to buy a tourbillon watch in the 21st Century is an exercise in futility, warranting little more than a teenage, ‘because it’s cool.’ But that’s the crux of it—it’s just cool. All those tiny parts, so expertly crafted and balanced, rotating slowly around in a complex ballet with margins finer than a human hair—it’s undeniably appealing.
Okay, so the aesthetics aren’t going to be universally enjoyed with the Kilada Tourbillon in particular, but the craftsmanship is: there’s a micro rotor that spears through the case to its twin on the other side; an iridescent sapphire dial that with some persuasion reveals an array of decorative stripes, matched by iridescent apertures in the sides of the case; and a centre wheel bridge shaped and finished to a level that would make even Patek Philippe jealous.
But, like the 8-litre, quad turbocharged W16 in the Chiron, it’s the tourbillon that’s the main attraction here. You don’t buy a Chiron for the billet aluminium switches, leather stitched headlining and swooping interior light bar—it’s the beating heart that sells it. All that engineering for no other reason than the challenge of it—it’s excessive, but all the better for it.
So, it’s not cheap, and thanks to TAG Heuer’s Carrera Heuer-02T it’s not the cheapest either, but as far as entry points to tourbillon ownership go, there’s little else that will give you the same high-end execution as a Kilada Tourbillon for the money. For less than a quarter of the original price, and for less than that Patek Philippe 5227G mentioned earlier on its own, if you’ve just got to have a tourbillon, you’ll be hard-pressed to do better than this.
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