Celebrating 180 years and 180 watchmaking skills, Jaeger-LeCoultre has surpassed all expectations with the creation of the Hybris Artistica Collection. An extraordinary display of virtuosity expressed in 12 unique timepieces. Nick Rice visits the Manufact
“Each timepiece has it’s own particular charm and complication. You really need to get your hands on them, so I was delighted to hear that was exactly the plan.”
The Jura mountain chain is a fascinating place. Stretching along 360 kilometres in a vast arc that carves into France and Switzerland, the place has an innate sense of calm and quiet. Ideal conditions for close, attentive and ultra focussed work, as is required for exceptional watchmaking. I’ve visited this area many times and it always raises a smile that such a peaceful place in the mountains has been sending out resounding cultural ripples for centuries.
My destination on this trip is the Vallée de Joux, the world-renowned stronghold of Swiss watchmaking. Plaza Watch has the privilege of visiting the Manufacture of Jaeger-LeCoultre – which is celebrating its 180th anniversary. In synchronous fashion, the Manufacture houses 180 watchmaking skills, plus 20 advanced technologies that all unite together to form a JaegerLeCoultre timepiece.
Delicate craft is evident from the moment we arrive, as before we even enter the hallowed inner realm we first pass a bank of Jaeger-LeCoultre beehives. Apiculture might not be as intricate as creating a world-class watch, but it’s immediately indicative of the dedication required to create a perfect product.
The main reception area is light and spacious with an impressive watch movement-inspired sculpture swirling overhead. Looking down from the wall is a portrait of Antoine LeCoultre, who created his first workshop in his room at the family farmhouse back in 1833.
I’m sure he would approve of the stunning space that houses the on-going evolution of his industrious passion.
This is where some of the world’s finest watches are conceived and constructed. Around 1,200 calibres have been developed and produced here over the past 180 years.
And now a small group of watch experts are here to behold the new Jaeger-LeCoultre Hybris Artistica Collection. Twelve watches that take refined watchmaking to new heights… a statement by the brand, declaring with consummate class, just how advanced the manufacture is and showcasing the extent of their aesthetic achievements.
We are escorted to a special room at the very top of the building that has been especially created to commemorate the 180th anniversary, and in which is displayed the Hybris Artistica Collection. Named the Maison d’Antoine in tribute to Antoine LeCoultre, the space has immediate impact. Huge plates of glass showcase the mountains outside and natural light floods in, bathing all the luxurious textures and materials in its glow.
The furniture is beautifully curated – a masterclass in elegance, which is of course what JaegerLeCoultre does best. I notice a classical Atmos Clock – an iconic timepiece and a landmark accomplishment that harnesses the laws of physics. Powered exclusively by changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure, the Atmos can run for centuries without any external or human intervention. Jaeger-LeCoultre have been producing the Atmos 1 & 2 clocks since the late 1930s and these horological wonders have graced the desks and mantelpieces of countless Presidents and noteworthy persons ever since.
Lining the perimeter of the 200m2 space is the Hybris Artistica collection. Gleaming from within glass presentation cases, each watch is a triumph of design, aesthetics and ultimately, ultra-technical watchmaking. There is a natural tendency to try and identify a favourite from the 12 pieces, but it’s not easy… each timepiece has it’s own particular charm and complication. You really need to get your hands on them, so I was delighted to hear that was exactly the plan. Heading to a spacious classroom and workshop, the rest of the visit was to be spent
appraising the Hybris Artistica collection with the benefit of a magnifying glass and instant answers to all the questions that these wonderful watches provoke.
It would be easy to write a short book about these creations, but in the space available, I have selected the three in the collection that spoke to me the most.
The first is the Master Gyrotourbillon 1. A version of this watch was launched ten years ago but this new incarnation is sublime. The skeltonized aventurine plate in a mesmerising shade of blue is incredibly delicate and powerfully evokes the stained glass cathedral windows that inspired the design. In stark contrast to the glistening blue is the hypnotic tourbillon at 6 o’ clock. Not only is this, in my opinion, the most unique looking watch, it is also one of the most complicated, with a bi-axial tourbillon, a perpetual calendar, an 8-day power reserve and equation of time all contained in its beguiling frame.
My second choice has to be the Grand Reverso Tourbillon Squelette. I’m a sucker for an icon and this is a masterful enhancement of a stone cold classic. The two interchangeable sides of the watch are fashioned in sapphire and reveal both sides of the movement beating away at the heart of the watch. The hand engraving on the bridges is flawlessly executed to a hundredth of a millimetre, and watching the uncoiling of the mainspring at 12 o'clock and the motion of the tourbillon at 6 o'clock can become easily addictive. An absolute gem.
Finally, it has to be the other icon – the Atmos Marquetry. In this sumptuous cabinet clock Jaeger-LeCoultre has married science with artistry superbly, taking the Atmos technology and housing it within Indian rosewood and chestnut. This perfectly polished wood throws into relief the grand feu enamel dials on the month, hours, minutes and moonphase. When folding out the panels we’re graced with hand made marquetry recreations of Czech artist Alphonse Mucha's allegorical paintings of Spring and Autumn. It is in suitably fine surroundings in the Maison d’Antoine.
Soon however, all of the collection will begin a 12-month global tour before they are made available for purchase.
After which they will return to the Manufacture for the final treatments and then… be snapped up by some seriously lucky customers.
“When they get back they will go through a 1000 hour control and there'll be a lot of things to do, but after that they will go on sale,” says International Creative and Marketing Director, Stéphane Belmont.
Acknowledging how these creations are a fascinating venture in haute horlogerie, Belmont elaborates saying, “All of these watches were created apart from the regular process of making watches. All of the watches were unique – the approach was different from all the other watches we create. We couldn't use the regular processes so we formed a dedicated team to work on the collection. It was a task force to make these watches become a reality. We said it doesn't matter how long it takes… we want to make these watches. Make the dream become real.”
Responding to the question of what prompted the collection, the catalyst that set them off on this journey, Belmont explains, “In terms of design and aesthetics, it is that which made us think about more opportunities to express what we can do. To explore how we can play with design and change the construction of the case and enhance the watchmaking content.”
In this sense, the Hybris Artistica Collection is a platform for exploring new innovations. Belmont firmly agrees with this summation, saying, “That's exactly the purpose of these watches. Going back to the Gyrotourbillon 1, it was thanks to the trend of big watches that we managed to set free the creativity of our watchmakers. They always thought that it would be impossible to create a three- dimensional tourbillon, because it wouldn't fit in the case of a Jaeger-LeCoultre watch. But when we told them ‘look now there are much bigger watches’, 44mm to 46mm, and all of a sudden they started to imagine things that wouldn't normally have been suitable. It was 43mm for the Gyrotourbillon 1. For us that was a huge watch, but in comparison to the trend it was not; it is still a very wearable watch”.
The Hybris Artistica collection allowed the expert employees at Jaeger-LeCoultre to experiment and explore, and being free to create is a vital element for producing such remarkable and unique timepieces.
The collection was created by a relatively small team of experts, but as Belmont is quick to point out, “Of course the Hybris Artistica task force is all the 1000 people at Jaeger-LeCoultre, but the central individuals were around ten people. But they relied upon all the others. Alone they wouldn't have achieved this, although they were the driving force behind the collection. I still don't think they fully realise what they've done”.
The true importance will grow with the passage of time. What Jaeger-LeCoultre has achieved with these superlative creations needs to be properly digested by the watchmaking world and connoisseurs of haute horlogerie.
Let’s just be thankful they did it.
G rande S q u e l ette
M aster G rande T raditi Gyrotourbillon
A tm o s M ar q u eterie