For its entire history, Jaeger-LeCoultre has been an intriguing mix of a classical watch manufacture with an enduring commitment to innovation. Never content with the status quo, Jaeger-LeCoultre has always been intent on pushing the boundaries of high watchmaking, whether this is manifested in its movements, design or materials.
This fall, Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced its latest innovations contained in two new watches, whose case and dial designs are inspired by a timepiece first introduced in 1958 from which they take their name—the Geophysic True Second and the Geophysic Universal Time. Both watches feature the new True Second complication and the Gyrolab, a new non-circular balance wheel. Despite their outward appearances of elegant simplicity, under the dials of these pieces lie a great deal of complicated mechanics.
The Origins of the Geophysic
For the International Geophysical Year in 1958, a global scientific project marked by a resumption of scientific exchange between the East and West following the death of Joseph Stalin, Jaeger-LeCoultre developed a watch to symbolize precision and reliability that was specifically designed to accompany scientists and explorers. One of the greatest achievements of that year was the first submarine expedition below the ice at the North Pole, and the new Jaeger-LeCoultre was on board.
This was no small feat, for the submarine or the timepiece, as the submarine would be out of communication for quite some time in extremely dangerous conditions. Moreover, the watch would need to withstand extremes of pressure, temperature and, most notably, magnetism, which has always been the bane of accurate timekeeping.
On August 1, 1958, the USS Nautilus (the first nuclear-powered submarine) successfully completed the three-day secret mission to go from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific completely under the polar ice sheet. The Geophysic from Jaeger-LeCoultre was on board, helping to time and navigate, due to its precision and durability.
The model, made with a hand-wound caliber adapted from military models, became part of the Jaeger-LeCoultre collection and a symbol of the company’s expertise in timekeeping while keeping to its classical heritage. It would later be outfitted with an automatic-winding movement.
To commemorate this historic timepiece, Jaeger-LeCoultre last year released a tribute to the era with the Geophysic 1958. This year, the brand has expanded the Geophysic collection with the release of two models featuring the brand-new True Second complication.
The True Second
Take a look at the mechanical watch on your wrist. The sweeping second hand moves in rather imprecise gradations, making it difficult to track the seconds precisely, as the second hand does not simply tick once per second.
Until the True Second—with this new complication, the second jumps forward one true second for every tick. This sounds simple, but it was actually quite complicated to realize.
“In some pocket watches from the 19th century, we saw the true seconds function, but they used a second gear train and a second barrel just to accomplish the true second,” says Stéphane Belmont, creative director of Jaeger-LeCoultre. “The True Second function is an effort to be more precise. You can really count the seconds, which is something you cannot do with the traditional second display.
“The True Second makes our traditional watchmaking more impactful and more exclusive,” he continues. “We are well known for making interesting high-watchmaking timepieces. We have the very distinctive Reverso, but in round watches, it is harder to stand out. With the True Second, we put some additional complications into a simple-looking watch. This is an understated watch with a lot of character, and at the same time it’s a way to demonstrate our watchmaking prowess, which can appeal to people who are not looking to show off, but still have something unique. To be able to offer high watchmaking for a very reasonable price is something that Jaeger-LeCoultre is quite good at.”
The new calibre 770 was designed and built specifically for the Geophysic collection, not based on anything else in Jaeger-LeCoultre’s impressive stable of movements, in order to integrate the True Second complication. To accomplish the True Second, an additional gear train was added solely for the seconds hand, placed as close as possible to the center of the watch to ensure the precise second-by-second ticking.
Included in this new movement is the Gyrolab balance wheel, which is non-circular to increase precision (with less air resistance so it can oscillate more freely). This new balance wheel, which looks a little like a circle in parentheses (o), was introduced in the Extreme Lab concept watch from eight years ago, and Jaeger-LeCoultre is including it here in the new Geophysic line for the very first time commercially.
The elegant 39.5mm case, available in either stainless steel or 18K pink gold, and the understated dial, which hints at history but is modern at the same time, belie the high watchmaking powering the watch with the True Second movement. In addition, the Geophysic True Second features an oscillating weight crafted from a single block of solid gold shaped into an anchor motif, which is the Jaeger-LeCoultre logo.
The Geophysic Universal Time
The second addition to the Geophysic Collection is the Universal Time, which also employs the True Second movement and the Gyrolab balance.
The stainless steel or 18K pink gold case is a generous 41.6mm and the dial features a blue-lacquer world map, allowing for easy reading of all 24 time zones at a glance. The city disk is fixed, so the wearer quickly knows where New York, London, Hong Kong and Honolulu are, and once the universal time has been set, there is no need to adjust it while traveling. All you have to worry about is setting the local time, and then you know what time it is anywhere in the world.
The Tradition of Innovation Continues
Jaeger-LeCoultre is perfectly prepared to continue to push high watchmaking forward. “We have created movements and we are used to tackling every challenge,” explains Belmont. “We are always open to trying new things and we never think something is impossible. We will always find a solution. It’s about understanding what the marketis today, what could be the market of the future, and to know quite well the history of watchmaking so we can capitalize on everything that has been done over the last centuries, and to reinterpret. We make tiny twists to make it more interesting, more relevant, or at a price that couldn’t be done before.”
The new Geophysic timepieces are just two examples of this innovation at work, with much more on the way.
Jaeger-LeCoultre and Filmmaking
Introducing a new watch is a bit like the introduction of a new movie, and the production of a film is very similar to the production of a watch, with specialists involved every step of the way.
“How we produce watches and how films are produced is quite similar, with the artisans and the technicians, and precision, sensibility, involvement and passion are values that we share,” says Daniel Riedo, president, Jaeger-LeCoultre. “At the beginning, we were more involved in putting the watches on the wrists of actors at the film festival, and now our involvement in the film world is more about communication and a different way to show the brand, to go outside our own circle of people, outside of connoisseurs.”
Jaeger-LeCoultre is involved with the Venice Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, the San Sebastian International Film Festival, the Los Angeles Film Festival, the 2014 Shanghai International Film Festival and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Filmmaker in Residence program.
“Being involved with the film festivals is a way to be in tune with what is going on today in terms of artistic creation,” says Stéphane Belmont, Creative Director, Jaeger-LeCoultre. “If you want to be attractive for clients, being a part of film festivals is a way to be in contact with all the artistry there. You have people who are artists and are quite connected to the technical side of their jobs, so it’s a way of enhancing the artistic community and seeing what is new and innovative in that world.”
—Keith W. Strandberg