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Developed around 1795 and patented by the French-Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet on June 26, 1801, a tourbillon aims to counter the effects of gravity by mounting the escapement and balance wheel in a rotating cage, to negate the effect of gravity when the timepiece (thus the escapement) is stuck in a certain position. By continuously rotating the entire balance wheel/escapement assembly at a slow rate (typically about one revolution per minute), the tourbillon averages out positional errors.
Originally an attempt to improve accuracy, tourbillons are still included in some expensive modern watches as a novelty and demonstration of watchmaking virtuosity. The mechanism is usually exposed on the watch’s face to show it off.