Glashütte Original: Hands-On with the new Senator Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920
We got an exclusive view on the watch which celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the Flying Tourbillon: the Glashütte Original Senator Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920, limited to 25 pieces
A bit earlier in the year I ended my article on the Senator Chronometer Limited Edition 2020 with the words ‘more like this please!’ – and it seems the Glashütte resident Gods of watchmaking have somehow agreed and presented us the Senator Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920, a 25-piece limited edition*:
The watch celebrates veritable milestone: One hundred years ago, a Saxon watchmaker named Alfred Helwig (1886 – 1974), technical instructor at the famous German Watchmaking School Glashütte (he trained more than 800 apprentice watchmakers!) and inventor of the Flying Tourbillon, where the cage was only anchored on one, bottom, side, appearing to by ‘flying’ on the movement bridges.
(Alfred Helwig teaching at the Glashütte Watchmaking School (left) and a working model of his flying tourbillon he created in 1927 (right). Images @ Glashütte Original/Deutsches Uhrenmuseum)
Helwig’s idea certainly had an impact on the industry, and today there are almost countless flying tourbillon around. Glashütte Original fully embraced the construction principle as well with their tourbillons (with the initial help of AHCI watchmaker Paul Gerber), and named their watchmaking school after the famous former teacher.
Thus, memorising Alfred Helwig with a flying tourbillon watch is a very apropos way to pay homage to an eminent watchmaker, but Glashütte Original did a lot more.
First, there is a splendid but subtle flamboyance to the watch: the classical 40mm rose gold round case with onion crown, the solid gold dial, subsequently silver-plated by friction, the long baton hands with the polished centre, the heat-blued seconds hand, and the simple word ‘Tourbillon’ in the subseconds dial – essentially the only hint that this piece offers indeed more than meets the eye.
Further, if we look at the back, a lot of beauty awaits us as well: The Cal. 54-01 manual winding movement, autonomous for about 100h, with excellent Glashütte-style decoration:
The movement is constructed in the way marine chronometer movements were done, using two movement plates joined by pillars to accommodate the geartrains.
(Cal. 54-01, partly assembled: note the three pillars and the flying tourbillon cage. Image @ Glashütte Original)
This was difficult to shoot given circumstances, but below image gives you a hint.
You also find all the typical Glashütte touches like the Glashütte three-quarter plate with Glashütte stripes, sunburst brushing on the ratchet wheels, and golden chatons secured with heat-blued screws, and of course the white sapphire on the tourbillon.
You might wonder what this cavity in the top plate at 1 o’clock above the tourbillon is for – it has no technical reason, it’s just for the admirer to be able to spot the second screwed chaton beneath the tourbillon cage!
The Glashütte Original Senator Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920 is a surprising watch: the details come in a very restrained package and speak of a lot of thought and attention.
It is a connoisseur’s watch for sure, its best appreciated with knowledge on the German watchmaking tradition and watchmaking handicraft. It does not immediately ‘catch’ the eyes of the collectors, and this in my book is a good thing!
There is one thought though each time when I get such a magnificent watch in my hands, I wonder what would be possible if a manufacturer like Glashütte Original, with all their capability and competence, would focus their attention more on ‘excellence’ like this one (and the Chronometer, perhaps) on the one hand, and perhaps the Spezialist sports watches on the other: this would free up (constructing, watchmaking and also marketing) resources which can then be devoted to create really outstanding pieces in their respective categories, and still would secure sufficient volume to get the infrastructure running efficiently…
Let me repeat: more like this please!
*) We are fully aware that the images presented do not comply to our usual standards. However, given the rarity of the watch combined with its interesting features we decided to show them still, particularly since no press watches or prototypes exist. We had the rare chance to shoot a customer piece where it was not possible to remove the transparent stickers.