An extraordinary asset, time is inelastic, perishable, and free. It is also irreplaceable and without substitute. Buying, borrowing, or otherwise creating more of this elusive asset is simply not an option. Its value, therefore, remains priceless.
Man has been keeping track of time since the Neolithic era. Solar calendars and sundials gave way to water clocks, mainsprings, and complications as the industry transformed from rough estimate to sophisticated chronology. The quest for increased precision led to instruments of modern timekeeping focused on smaller, more functional, and more complex wearable timepieces. One watchmaker, Jaeger-LeCoultre, is responsible for the creation of 1,262 different calibres at last report and has contributed countless patents advancing its craft. The Manufacture, beginning with its earliest days, initiated a beautiful dance between technology and art that continues unmatched to this day by any other in the field of fine watchmaking.
Finding a Home
Pierre LeCoultre left France for Geneva in the 1500s to escape the persecution of Protestants. He arrived upon the shores of Lak de Joux in pursuit of his own plot of land, finding peace and inspiration tucked into this valley in the Jura Mountains. Settling there with a few others, the community grew into the handsome and serene village of Le Sentier.
By 1833 the LeCoultre family was well established, and Switzerland was quickly becoming the Silicon Valley of watchmaking. Serving as home to the industry’s most accomplished craftsmen, most houses performed singular tasks and worked out of different locations. That year, Antoine LeCoultre and his brother Ulysee established a watchmaking workshop Taking the craft to its next level, LeCoultre invented the millionometer in 1844. The device enabled fine watchmakers to take measurements accurate to the micron, one thousandth of a millimetre, establishing the metric system as the industry standard. That improvement was quickly followed in 1847 by the first reliably built keyless winding mechanism, dispensing with the need for a winding key.
The Watchmaker’s Watchmaker
In 1866, Antoine and his son, Elie, elected to bring all of the elements of watchmaking under one roof. By 1888, the LeCoultre Manufactory had 500 employees completing 40 watches each day, earning it the name “Grande Maison of the Valée de Joux.” The Manufactory provided Patek Philippe with movements and complications and began producing major complications that included three functions.
LeCoultre’s fine workmanship, pursuit of excellence, and extraordinary creative vision led to the collaboration and eventual partnership with Parisian horologist to the French Navy Edmund Jaeger. In Challenging Antoine’s grandson Jacques-David LeCoutre to execute an extremely thin watch design, the bond between Jaeger and the LeCoutres formed a solid partnership in 1925 that continued to produce extraordinary pieces, like the dual-wing Duoplan, the tiny movement of the Caliber 101, and in 1928, the Atmos, an atmospheric clock driven by temperature fluctuation.
Epic Creations with Divine Complications
If there is a watch that most represents Jaeger-LeCoultre, it would have to be the Reverso, so named for the Latin “I turn around.” The concept for the Reverso, which flips its face to protect more delicate works, came from engineer René Alfred Chauvot as a way for British officers to save their timepieces when engaged in a polo match.
First presented in 1931 it predates the official partnership between Jaeger and LeCoultre but surely engaged a collaborative effort. Allowing for incredible customizations on the flip side, this popular model has seen continuous production since its inception. A legendary design, the Reverso was an instant Art Deco hit, continuing its popularity with modern revisions such as the threefaced Reverso Grande Complication À Triptyque presented in 2006 and the Reverso Ultra Thin presented in 2011
Just before the Reverso, the Duoplan was developed to dovetail miniaturization with precision. Since reducing the size of such components often produced unreliable results, the JCL version was built on two levels, which allowed the large size balances to function without fault.
Extraordinary timepieces continued to come out of this serene house beside Lak du Joux. In the 1950s, the Memovox delivered the first automatic alarm wristwatch. Translating to “Voice of Remembrance,” the Memovox enjoyed worldwide acclaim quickly followed by the Memovox Automatic and the Memovox Deep Sea dive watch, both with alarms that provided important reminders.
The Gyrotourbillon: It’s Grande The extraordinary three-dimensional, multi-axis rotating escapement which came out in 2004 defies gravity. Keeping a most exact note of time in any position, in any conditions, any place around the globe, it is the ultimate in timepiece accuracy. Additionally, it is mesmerizing to watch as it moves about in its transparent house, inviting curious stares that marvel at its extraordinary size and perfection.
Passing the Test
Jaeger-LeCoultre gives its timepieces a final test before deemed worthy of the brand. Each model is given a 1,000 Hour Control certification test in addition to production tests, movement tests both before and after casing, and other tests for specific models that require waterproof, robust, shock and magnetic resistant performance. Only then can a watch become a Jaeger-LeCoultre ready for just the right wrist.
Emphasis on Accuracy: Power Reserve
Understanding the transfer of energy in a mechanical watch, it stands to reason that as the mainspring unwinds it loses torque, reducing the power to the escapement. That may cause a watch to reflect inaccurate timekeeping as its mechanism slows with decreasing torque.
If a watch is designed with a power reserve complication, the wearer can see where the mechanics of the watch stand with regard to mainspring torque. It is not quite as simple as attaching a lever to the mainspring and revealing it on the dial.
Basically, the power indicator starts with the rachet wheel where gears connect to the power reserve hand. Winding the crown to power the mainspring, the rachet wheel moves the gear train that is connected to the power reserve indicator hand. A catch is attached to engage and disengage the power reserve indicator hand as the rachet wheel turns during winding or stops when the mainspring is fully wound.
As the mainspring continues to unwind over time, the rachet wheel turns and moves the gear train attached to the power reserve indicator, thus reporting the amount of power remaining in the mainspring through a set of differential gears.
With the advent of automatic watches, it might seem redundant to have a power indicator complication on board. It is advisable, with all mechanical watches, even automatics, to fully wind them on a daily basis for peak performance and accuracy.
The Heart and Soul of Time
Deep inhale. Long, slow exhale. Mesmerizing with each rise, relaxing with each fall. Watching a beloved as they lie in repose is peaceful and reassuring.
Similarly, watching a fine timepiece as its movements inhale deeply— tick, then exhale with a hush—tock, offering a kind of poised reassurance and inner peace that is gratifying. Almost alive. Almost human. Absolutely a work of art.
There is an elegant beauty in even the most simply designed timepiece as it marks the minutes throughout the day. Reliable. Familiar. Useful. But take an elegant watch like the Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre Sphérotourbillon and observe it as the seconds float by. The difference is spectacular. A wondrous sight, with complications that seem magical, lyrical, and astonishing in their combination of form and function, the tourbillon almost sings with joy as it marks the passage of the seconds.
This delightful, gravity-defying confection of a watch is the culmination of more than a century of fine Swiss craftsmanship and expertise. Proudly putting its most incredible works on display, the Duomètre Sphérotourbillon quietly and tastefully shows every movement, every jewel, and every fine detail in reserved fashion.
Handsome in its understated appearance, confident its abilities, this is a watch for someone who appreciates time. Someone knows its value. Someone who uses it wisely. For, like a great love, there can be no substitute. There will never be another like it, and to make it yours, you must be worthy.