In­spired Achieve­ment

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

Plaza Watch International - - Inspired Achievement - WORDS NICK RICE

“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 R evers o Tour­bil­lon

M aster G rande T ra­diti Gy­ro­tour­bil­lon on

A tm o s M ar q u eterie

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