The wealth of watches presented by Jaeger-LeCoultre this year at SIHH almost defies belief. One model after another, with many technical innovations, and a whole series of fine jewellery watches in the Hybris Artistica collection. But it was the Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon that really caught my attention, and not just for the ultra-long name that seems to be a speciality at JLC. It combines a minute repeater with a tourbillon, and it is justifiably described as ultra-thin, at 7.9 millimetres, half the thickness of a normal grand complication watch.
The design team evidently decided what the watch should do, and then set about thinking how to achieve it. Eight patents later, they achieved it. One of the features of the watch is the oscillating weight, which is not the usual semicircular weight on the back of the movement, visible through the caseback, but a peripheral weight that revolves around the rest of the mechanism, and can be glimpsed through narrow openings on the front of the dial. This adds interest to this side of the watch. It also helps make the movement thinner.
The tourbillon was designed to be as visible as possible, and so it has a flying balance-wheel, with balance spring fixed above. It is described as “flying” because the top bridge has been removed. The spiral spring is in a new type of blued gold, with specially-designed terminal S-curves. Another design objective for the regulator was to make it as quiet as possible, in order not to detract from the sound of the repeater.
The gongs and the hammers can be seen through the transparent caseback, and for this part of the movement, the team had to deal with what is always a problem: how to make the sound loud enough to be heard outside the case. They achieved this with patented trebuchet hammers, that strike two crystal gongs, which are in turn fixed to the sapphire crystal, helping transmit the sound from inside to out. The designers also introduced a system that solves a little problem typical of repeater watches, which strike hours, quarters and minutes when a slider button is pressed. When the time is, say, seven minutes past ten, the gong strikes ten for the hours, then there is a long pause because there are no quarters, and then it strikes seven for the minutes. This ultra thin minute repeater eliminates the pause when there are no quarters. You don’t think it’s important? Well, no-one else had thought of it.
There is more. Jaeger-LeCoultre make supremely elegant watches, above all in the Master collection, and the idea of a sliding lever on the left-hand side of the watch to activate the repeater evidently struck the designers as a bit too obtrusive. So there is a system in two stages, a discreet locking system at 8 o’clock. Pressing this brings out the pusher for the minute repeater at 10 o’clock, and this pusher has to be pushed for just 2 millimetres to activate the striking mechanism. After operating the repeater mechanism, the pusher returns to its recessed position, leaving the watch with its pristine beauty.
The design of the case is a reinterpretation of a Jaeger-LeCoultre pocket watch dating to 1907. It is made in white gold, chosen for its excellent acoustic qualities. It is a 41-millimetre diameter watch, with a black alligator leather strap. The Calibre 362 movement has a 45-hour power reserve. The watch, Reference 131 35 20, is a 75-piece limited series. Price about €294,000.
Truly extraordinary. Jaeger-LeCoultre celebrated their 180th anniversary last year (2013), and they are proud to say that at their factory, “le grande maison,” there are 180 skills working under one roof. “Only the impossible matters” is another JLC slogan. The difference, when compared with many other brands, is that with Jaeger-LeCoultre you can really believe it.
Read more at www.jaeger-lecoultre.com