Amidst the sound of birds chattering and water splashing comes the sound of soft chimes, sounding repeatedly – almost as though someone was soulfully playing percussion, while wandering through tranquil surroundings. But it’s not a musical instrument we can hear – it’s acoustic watches. Catherine Rénier, CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre, is playing us a video via zoom-interview that was created during the Watches & Wonders new products presentation 2020.
The video is primarily dedicated to the new Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication – one of the most exciting innovations presented by Jaeger-LeCoultre this year, which was created in celebration of the 150th anniversary of its first minute repeater. With over 200 different such acoustic watch movements in the company’s history, JLC is able to draw upon a wealth of watchmaking skills and know-how. Jaeger-LeCoultre is a brand that has set a benchmark in the field of acoustic watches, which remains widely unrivalled to this day.
Last year, the maison presented the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel, a highly complex striking mechanism watch. Now, the journey is continuing, inspired by the sounds of nature – whether the sigh of the wind whistling through the forest, or the murmur of the mountain streams that have surrounded the manufacture for 187 years in the Vallée de Joux.
For Catherine Rénier, remaining in the past is not enough – rather, she believes, one should always maintain the ability to be innovative. This belief is what has driven the company for the last 187 years, and is a belief that is certainly evident in this year’s products. Nevertheless, a look back into the past is equally important – particularly right now, as the current crisis helps us all to consider our actions from the very start. This philosophy applies to what the individuals behind Jaeger-LeCoultre have built up with passion and effort ever since its foundation in 1833, and it is what will now benefit the maison in these difficult times: the development of a self-sufficient manufacture, the pursuit of perfection, the unflagging spirit of innovation and, in the meantime, impeccable customer service – both online and offline.
In the past, Jaeger-LeCoultre has educated itself in how to stay on the road to success, even in difficult times. The Swiss Jura region used to be difficult to access and was plagued by long winters, forcing the horology house to adapt. Likewise, in the quartz crisis of the 1970s, they needed to know how to look after themselves. “There’s a beautiful saying,” says Rénier. “Dance in the rain. In other words, we have to be able to face our problems, and the best way to do that is with a positive attitude.”
The Sound Maker
With over 1200 different in-house calibres and more than 400 patents, Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of the most innovative and also efficient manufactures in the world. For this reason, it’s no wonder that the demands placed on the maison are high – not only from the boss herself, but also from customers. In the last 15 months alone, three new minute repeaters have been launched. “We’ve been very busy”, says Rénier.
This year’s highlight is the calibre 945, which runs in the new Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication. The pre-existing caliber has been further developed and now combines the manufacture’s expertise in sound mechanisms to improve the acoustic quality by another nuance. To achieve this, JLC’s patented crystal chime gong was soldered directly onto the sapphire crystal, serving as an amplifier. Of course, the Trébuchet hammers are also an integral part of this mechanical sound system – together with the square cross-section gongs, they ensure more regular, powerful beats. A silent regulator eliminates all background noise.
The new minute repeater with a sidereal time calendar is the ultimate symbol of Jaeger-LeCoultre and its location. It encapsulates the sounds from the forests and mountains that inspired watchmakers to create their watches with complex striking mechanisms as early as 1870, as well as the purity of the sky in the Swiss Jura, which even then encouraged astrologers to study the starry sky.
For Rénier, the timepiece also symbolises the quest for excellence and innovation. It embodies the complexity of miniaturisation, which is something that constantly presents watchmakers with new challenges. “Over the last 150 years, watches have become smaller and smaller, from church bells to table clocks, and pocket watches to wristwatches – but the mechanics have become increasingly complex and extensive – without compromising on quality”.
The typical JLC Grand Tradition case was handmade, taking about 40 hours of work. The bezel alone consists of over 80 components. The dial has a 3D optic to convey the vastness of the galaxy, in which an orbiting tourbillon hovers around the dial in exactly 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds per sidereal day. Eight copies of this exclusive version in pink gold (Ref. Q5262460) are available for 405,000 euros.
When Jaeger-LeCoultre launched the Master Control collection in 1992, inspired by classic round watches from the 1950s, the aim was to show the extent to which movements had improved in terms of precision and reliability in the meantime. They therefore presented the “1000 Hours Control” certificate, which involved a thorough examination of the fully assembled and functioning watch (i.e. not just the movement). It is still one of the strictest test procedures in the watch industry today.
For the new Master Control collection (Date, Calendar, Chronograph Calendar, Geographic), Catherine Rénier wanted to send a strong signal. And she has: the caliber 759 of the Master Control Chronograph Calendar (Ref. 4138420) has been extensively reworked and equipped with a silicon escapement, a new spring barrel and many other power-saving features. For the first time, a model from the core line (hence not limited) offers a power reserve of 70 hours.
From the very beginning, the Master Control collection was characterised by the date and the triple calendar complication. For the first time, Jaeger-LeCoultre has now combined a chronograph, triple calendar display and moon phase. “Whereas we indulge in a little nostalgia with the minute repeaters, the Master Control models are all about functions more suited to everyday use. Men in action, embodying a classic but modern look,” is how Rénier describes the line.
This also shows in the Master Control Memovox models. The updated caliber 956 of the Master Control Memovox Timer (Ref. 410848J) enables the time function to set the alarm according to how many hours will pass to trigger the alarm (like a countdown). Or, one can also opt to simply set the alarm function the traditional way. For the first time, the movement with its acoustic mechanism is visible through an open sapphire caseback. With a newly developed peripheral gong, the watch is 15 percent thinner than before. The case diameter is just 40 mm and thus more comfortable to wear. It is limited to 250 pieces and is priced at 16,100 euros.
Finally, what can all Polaris fans look forward to? After all, the 2019 model in blue is sold out. “We are working on a new model that we will present soon”, Rénier says assuringly.
We can also be assured by the fact that Jaeger-LeCoultre seems to have come through the last few months reasonably well. This is due in no small part to the fact that the manufacture, thanks to its strong in-house expertise, is able to operate largely independently of external suppliers. Even if only limited, development, production and assembly can continue. And even if standard trade has not been accessible for a long time, JLC has long since been online to offer its customers the best possible service. For Rénier, online is no longer just a service after the crisis, but an indispensable way to stay in contact with customers.
Minute repeaters are entertaining to watch via a video conference or online, but at the end of the day, the true magic of their musical sounds from the Vallée de Joux can never be transported digitally – some things must be experienced in person.