The history of the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture, which celebrates its 180th anniversary this year, is inextricably linked to the history of a place: the Vallée de Joux. It was in this cold and, at the time, inhospitable place, situated at an altitude of over 1,000 metres and populated by bears and wolves, that a certain Pierre LeCoultre settled in 1559. He was a Huguenot refugee who had fled from religious persecution. It was in these glacial lands that he set up a small community that spawned descendants. His son built a temple in 1612 that marked the birth of the village of Le Sentier.
Almost two centuries later, in 1803, one of his direct descendants, Antoine LeCoultre, was born. His family ran a small forge and, working alongside his father, the young Antoine discovered a passion for metallurgy, inventing new alloys, perfecting the vibrating blades of music boxes and having a go at producing razor blades. The young man had ideas of progress and tried to reconcile his experience with the burgeoning growth in scientific knowledge. And so he turned to the most noble expression of metallurgy and mechanical art: watchmaking.
1833 is the key date. Antoine LeCoultre had just invented a revolutionary machine that could cut pinions for watchmakers. He therefore decided to open his first workshop, naturally in the village founded by his ancestor, Le Sentier. Methodically, scientifically, he learned the main watchmaking skills. In order to produce a watch movement rationally, he invented a number of machines, including the Millionomètre in 1844: the first instrument in history capable of measuring the micron. This was a giant leap in the field of precision and, in 1866, the workshop became the first watchmaking manufacture in the Vallée de Joux. For the first time, all the skills that had hitherto been spread across hundreds of small producers based at home were brought together under the same roof.
Knowledge, trade secrets and techniques were swapped and people fed off each other’s ideas, which helped to bring about the first partially mechanised procedures for producing complicated movements. When he died in 1881, his son Elie took over the reins of what was henceforth known as “La Grande Maison” (“The Big House”), where some 500 people worked. From 1860 to 1900, the Manufacture created over 350 different calibres! Half of them included complications: 99 different repeaters, of which 66 were minute-repeaters, 128 chronographs, 33 calibres that combined a chronograph and a repeater. And from the 1890s, the Manufacture started manufacturing its own grand complications, comprising three major horological complications: perpetual calendar, chronograph and minute repeater.
An acceleration in innovation at the start of the 21st century
Today, the Grande Maison, still located in the same place, employs over 1,000 people, masters 180 different watchmaking skills and over 20 different advanced technologies. The list of its accomplishments is much too long to feature here. Having become Jaeger-LeCoultre at the turn of the 20th century, following a meeting between the Parisian naval watchmaker Edmond Jaeger and the grandson of the founder, Jacques-David LeCoultre, it added further to its pioneering and avant-garde pieces: the world’s thinnest watch, fitted with the LeCoultre 145 calibre (1.38mm thick), the Duoplan watch (1925), the calibre 101, the smallest mechanical movement ever produced (1929), the Atmos perpetual pendulum (1931), the Reverso, which needs no introduction (1931), the Memovox self-winding watch with alarm (1956), the first self-winding divers’ watch with alarm, the Memovox Deep Sea (1959), the Master Control line, which is submitted to 1,000 hours of the most rigorous tests (1992)...
This uninterrupted flow of horological milestones has even accelerated since the start of the 21st century: to this day, over 75 new calibres have been produced since the year 2000 and over 80 new patents registered: grand complications, tourbillons, minute-repeaters, chronographs, perpetual calendars, 15 days power reserve, the first lubricant-free calibre etc. Ultra-complicated watches, high jewellery creations, so many different references from the great watchmaking of the 21st century, such as the Atmos Mystérieuse (2003), Gyrotourbillon 1 (2004), Reverso grande complication à triptyque (2006), Master Compressor Extreme Lab 1 (2007), Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 (2008), Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie (2009), Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication (2010), Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau (2011), Duomètre Sphérotourbillon (2012).
With the year 2013 marking 180 years since the start of this incredible saga and the incessant quest for watchmaking excellence, it was only natural for the brand to produce a special “Tribute to Antoine LeCoultre” jubilee collection.
This collection offers three watches featuring exceptional characteristics highlighting three fundamental fields of expertise cultivated by the Manufacture: absolute innovation in the field of grand complications, with the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 Jubilee watch; perfect execution dedicated to serving performance, with the Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Cylindrique à Quantième Perpétuel Jubilee; and pure performance under the most demanding constraints, with the Master Ultra Thin Jubilee, the thinnest mechanical manually-wound watch in the Jaeger-LeCoultre collection.
The third Grande Complication model to be equipped with a Gyrotourbillon movement, the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 Jubilee watch boasts two world-first achievements: a new balance-spring that is no longer “only” cylindrical, but spherical; and the first time that a Grande Complication model is equipped with an instant digital-display chronograph controlled by a single pusher!
The cylindrical balance-spring in the Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 watch was already a major feat both in technical terms and because of the workmanship it involves. However, the new and unprecedented spherical balance-spring used in the Gyrotourbillon 3 movement is a genuine achievement.
- MASTER GRANDE TRADITION GYROTOURBILLON 3 JUBILEE
- All indications and functions of the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 Jubilee are harmoniously and legibly accommodated inside a case that is just 15.5mm thick and 43.5mm in diameter. Directly inspired by the grand historical tradition of pocket watches from the Manufacture, this case made from extra-white 950 platinum (950o/oo platinum and 50o/oo ruthenium) clearly belongs to the Master Control line, but has been rethought in all its details so as to endow it with an even higher degree of aesthetic refinement. Its bezel has been slimmed down and its curves are accentuated. Its sides are satin-brushed and its bezel and lugs are polished. The same decorative care has been lavished on making its movement. Inspired by a movement made by Jacques-David LeCoultre in 1898, this new Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 176 (21,600 vibrations per hour, 50-hour power reserve) is made from nickel silver. Its bridges and mainplate are hand-hammered – a long and accurate process calling for expertise and dexterity and conducted in harmony with the highest traditional watchmaking criteria.
It is an unprecedented technical accomplishment that required over two years of development. And when one considers that two full days are required to make a single spherical balance-spring, that gives a better idea of the extreme difficulty of the task that calls for unique expertise exclusively developed by the Manufacture. Crafting it involves progressive coiling of the spring around a metal sphere that will give it the required shape. Yet the whole difficulty then lies in removing the cylindrical balance-spring from the sphere without touching or spoiling the shape of the coils themselves… Equipped with two terminal curves ensuring perfectly concentric and regular “breathing”, it guarantees exceptional performance, comparable to that of the cylindrical balance-spring, while also putting on a spectacular show. Blued to accentuate its beauty, it is fixed to the centre of a 14-carat gold balance-wheel that is also given the same hue by means of a very special treatment. Gold is first PVD-coated with a thin (less than 5-micron) layer of iron that is then oxidised in a kiln to create its remarkable colour.
The blued balance-spring and balance-wheel enliven the double spherical carriage of the Gyrotourbillon 3 movement. The two carriages are made from a new type of aluminium. While the great advantage of aluminium lies in its extreme lightness and the performance of a tourbillon is directly influenced by the lightness of its carriage, it is also a metal that only dimly reflects light in darkened surroundings. To eliminate this flaw, a new procedure has been developed using a PVD treatment to coat the aluminium with a very fine layer of palladium, followed by a galvanic treatment that adds a layer of rhodium – resulting in unprecedented brilliance.
The appealing visual effect is further accentuated by the transparent context within which it is positioned. In the absence of a bridge, this flying Gyrotourbillon 3 movement creates the impression of being suspended in mid-air and of rotating in an apparently weightless state.
The second feature of this Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 Jubilee watch is its instantaneous digital-display chronograph – a first in the field of Grande Complication models. The minutes are displayed in a broad aperture (4.5 x 3mm) on two instant-jump discs: one for the units and the other for the tens. The aperture appears inside a subdial at 9 o’clock indicating the chronograph seconds. Above it, one can clearly see the integrated column-wheel chronograph governing the chronograph function. Its activation and the starting, stopping and resetting of the digital chronograph functions are all controlled via a single push-piece at 2 o’clock. Meanwhile, a day/night indicator at 3 o’clock orbits inside a circular 24-hour graduated scale. On the upper level, above the Gyrotourbillon 3 movement, two blued hands indicate the hours and minutes on an opaline dial.
In 1889, at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, Jaeger-LeCoultre (known at the time as the Manufacture LeCoultre) was awarded a gold medal. It rewarded the company “for the use of cutting-edge equipment and the impeccable production of its complicated calibres, chronographs and repeaters”. A reproduction of this finely engraved gold medal appears on the oscillating weight of the new Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Cylindrique à Quantième Perpétuel Jubilee. It thereby serves as a vivid reminder of the pioneering role played by the Manufacture, as well as symbolically reaffirming the extraordinary continuity of this innovative spirit that has been its driving force throughout its 180 years of watchmaking history. This new watch is the perfect epitome of this proud heritage. Directly inspired by the splendid pocket-watches made by the Manufacture in the late 19th century, it now appears in a new 42mm diameter, 13.1mm thick case made of extra-white 950 platinum.
- MASTER GRANDE TRADITION TOURBILLON CYLINDRIQUE A QUANTIEME PERPETUEL JUBILEE
The slimmer bezel provides an optimally broad scope for its extremely classic grained silver-toned dial: a slender traditional minute circle, baton-shaped hour-markers, a date subdial at 9 o’clock, month and year subdial at 12 o’clock, and a day subdial surrounding the moon phase at 3 o’clock. All these indications are clearly and easily readable above the tourbillon visible at 6 o’clock. The latter is a flying tourbillon, meaning without any upper bridge, a feature that endows it with exceptional transparency and depth. This transparency enables an unobstructed view of the extraordinary beating of the rare cylindrical balance-spring at its heart. Nonetheless, however refined and subtle, this is merely the visual expression of a greater technical reality.
Thanks to its perfectly isochronous development ensured by its two terminal curves, this cylindrical balance-spring, which involves an extremely complex production process, ensures the high-precision rating of the new automatic Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 985 equipping this Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Cylindrique à Quantième Perpétuel Jubilee. Despite its technically innovative nature, the classic and beautifully balanced appearance of this timepiece makes it look as if it has quite simply always existed.
In 1907, Jaeger-LeCoultre developed LeCoultre Calibre 145. At just 1.38mm thick, it is still the thinnest mechanism ever made by the Manufacture. Although produced right through to the 1960s, this movement was manufactured in a total run of only 400 – eloquently illustrating the complexity of the task it represents.
- MASTER ULTRA THIN JUBILEE & CALIBRE 849
To mark the brand’s 180th anniversary, it was entirely natural for Jaeger-LeCoultre to celebrate in a special way its pioneering role in the field of ultra-thin watches and movements. As thin as a knife-blade, the water-resistant case of the Master Ultra Thin Jubilee watch is just 4.05mm thick and 39mm in diameter. Inside it beats manually-wound Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 849. Composed of 123 parts and measuring 1.85mm thick, the latter is equipped with a bridge-free barrel and an extremely small escapement. It is thus one of the world’s thinnest movements and above all, beating at 21,600 vibrations per hour, it has consistently demonstrated exceptional rating qualities and excellent reliability since 1994. Its assembly, adjustment and extremely fine rating also call for particular care.
This exceptional movement is given a new showcase in the Master Ultra Thin Jubilee watch made of extra-white 950 platinum. Radiating absolute stylistic purity, the watch features an immaculate grained silver-toned dial bearing slender and elegant baton-shaped hour-markers swept over by two slim baton-shaped hands. Beneath the Jaeger-LeCoultre signature, the transferred date “1833” offers a discreet reminder of the founding date of the Manufacture.
Source: Europa Star August - September 2013 Magazine Issue