"Yes, this is an anniversary year, but every year is important for us. The important thing is that the 180th anniversary enables us to explain Jaeger-LeCoultre to people who may not know about it. Long before other companies started to make their own movements, Jaeger-LeCoultre was already making complications and minute repeater movements for other brands." Stéphane Belmont, Marketing & Technical Director at Jaeger-LeCoultre, is naturally proud of the brand's achievements. Today, the manufacture has 40 different crafts under one roof. It has created 1,242 in-house calibres, and 400 original inventions. "Whenever someone asks me about a watch, and says, how long did it take to develop it, I always answer, '180 years'."
There are rumours of a project with Aston Martin, who also celebrating an anniversary, but this will arrive later, in about April. It will be a meaningful collaboration. "We don't create watches that are useless. Our watches are always practical and reliable instruments, just like instruments for cars. The anniversary with Aston Martin will help communicate this idea."
At SIHH in January 2013, Jaeger-LeCoultre presented some important new pieces, above all the so-called Jubilee Collection, a trio of watches that could be considered a tribute to 19th-century watchmaking. The Master Ultra Thin 41is a very beautiful dress watch for men, that celebrates the meeting between Jacques-David Le Coultre and Edmond Jaeger in 1903. Jacques-David initially dedicated his time to developing a very thin calibre, creating the Calibre 145, just 1.38 millimetres thick. This year's model is a masterpiece of the minimalism that is pure Jaeger-LeCoultre, with sunburst dial, dauphine hands and delicate hour-indices. The Master Ultra Thin 41 is thicker, but for a good reason: it has an automatic movement. Interestingly, the maison were not worried about setting new thinness records. (Shown below in the rose gold version, and then the stainless steel version).
"We wanted it to be a reliable and precise watch, water-resistant, and we didn't want to compromise on that just for thinness records. So we worked on the case. Our concept was a simple, pure watch based on the pocket watch design of a hundred years ago. The designers worked on the movement and the case, and they found a lot of solutions. They got rid of the middle part of the case, it consists of just the back and the bezel, nothing in between. The guy who suggested this did so in the middle of the project, so we had to start from scratch! The watch is structurally interesting. The case components are not stable separately, you can bend them. Once the whole watch is assembled, it is rigid and tough. We had to create a new crystal – flat in the centre, domed at the edges – in a shape that has never been done before. Actually we received the crystal just two days before the fair!"
The Master Grand Tradition Tourbillon Cylindrique à Quantième Perpétuel Jubilee may well be a record breaker, not least for the longest name in watchmaking history? This limited edition – 180 pieces, of course – combines a beautiful tourbillon with a cylindrical balance spring, together with a perpetual calendar, that keeps track of the leap years so that it will only need adjusting in 2100. Stéphane explained, "This goes back to the history of the Gregorian calendar, in which the leap years are not regular. The leap years ensure that we don't end up celebrating Christmas at 40 degrees! But this calendar requires a small adjustment every 100 years. We considered adding the additional mechanism that would miss out the leap year every century, but we decided that the extra thickness involved in adding a wheel that turned once every 100 years was not justified. That's what we ask ourselves every time we consider making a watch more complicated. So every 100 years, you have to make that adjustment!" Visually, the watch is a dazzling tribute to the different dimensions of time: the flying tourbillon, which seems to be suspended in mid-air, marks off infinitesimal moments, while the beautifully-balanced dial keeps track of days, date, months and years with Jaeger-LeCoultre's legendary clarity. (Below, Master Grand Tradition Tourbillon Cylindrique à Quantième Perpétuel Jubilee, front and back).
The third Jubilee watch is the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3. This incredible watch has a two-axis tourbillon in a spherical cage, with no bridge, so that it seems to be floating in the movement. The movement required two years for its development, and one of the unbelievable features is a spherical balance wheel inside a spherical hairspring. The watch has a chronograph with a digital minutes counter. The time is shown on an offset dial, and there is a day-night indicator disc. The gyrotourbillon alone has 75 components, the chronograph 400. A brilliant piece of watchmaking.
There is much, much more new for 2013. "The Rendez-Vous watch is a new interpretation of an old idea. In the 1990s we had a round watch for women called Hollywood, with a small dial in the centre, and a round bezel set with one diamond , and you could move it by turning the bezel. We found it interesting to keep the idea of Rendez-vous, and so we added the star motif." This watch, with an automatic movement visible through the sapphire caseback, is an example of the great attention paid to women's watches by Jaeger-LeCoultre. Below, the Rendez-Vous watch.
The Deep Sea Vintage Chronograph was also interesting for its use of a new material. "Cermat is a combination of ceramic and aluminium. We are always looking at the new materials developed in other industries. What we like about Cermat is that it makes the watch is very light, but also very strong."
There is no doubt that Jaeger-LeCoultre's commitment to research and development pays dividends for collectors. "Of course, people buy a Jaeger-LeCoultre watch because they like it, and if you are lucky enough, it will increase in price. Over recent years, we have seen how the prices of antique Jaeger-LeCoultre watches has increased, with pieces such as the Polaris, Reverso and the Deep Sea reaching prices much higher than the original purchase price. Watches sold 10 years ago at 2,000 CHF are now selling for 40,000 CHF."
We asked Stéphane Belmont whether different watches were more successful on different markets.
"All our products are successful worldwide. But in Asia, instead of the stainless steel Master Control, they tend to buy the pink gold version, perhaps with some small diamonds set on the bezel. In Europe we sell more Reversos, while in Asia, they prefer the round watches. For ladies it's different, the Reverso Duetto is a worldwide success. Of course, we sell more gold versions in Asia, but that's the same pattern as for men's watches. Regarding technical watches such as the Deep Sea or the Master Compressor, these are selling quite well across the globe.
"Women are becoming more interested in fine watches, and this is partly due to the watches made by fashion brands. They love our men's ultra-thin model, at 42 mm diameter. Women can wear 39 mm or 42 mm watches, they are much more flexible than men. They love the 80th anniversary edition of the Reverso, the one with the black dial."
And what about the boutique experience, retail and e-commerce? "We are now designing larger boutiques so that we can display not only the complete range of watches, but also the art and the metiers. People buying watches want to know about them, they want to grow with the brand. The fundamental thing is the human touch: no machine, no computer can answer the important questions. People come with particular questions, and we have to provide particular answers. Sometimes the reverse happens: people buy a watch without knowing what it has. I remember talking to a customer who had just bought a Reverso Gyrotourbillon, and I explained a lot of things about the watch, how there is an additional hairspring on the power reserve so that you have always the right indication, and all the details that make the watch really special, and he was really pleased about it, to find that he had bought a watch with so much inside!"