Running on Gas

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s latest collaboration with industrial designer Marc Newson is a Baccarat crystal-enclosed Atmos Clock.

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos is one of those horological classics that virtually every collector is not only aware of, but wants to own. It’s a unique clock that finds itself in rare company. Only Louis Cartier’s Mystery Clock matches the Atmos in celebrity among collectible table clocks crafted by the great watchmakers.

The new Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos by Marc Newson
The new Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos 568 by Marc Newson

It’s curious how little the Atmos has changed since it was invented by Jean-Léon Reutter, an engineer in Switzerland, in 1928. Of course, its casing and decorations have seen countless reinterpretations over the years, always remaining relevant design-wise, but the ultra-efficient in-house manufactured mechanism that derives power from minute changes in ambient temperature has remained substantially the same. It still tracks the time via a super-slow, one-beat-per-minute escapement, lending the table clock a quiet calm and contemplative stateliness.

Inside the Atmos mechanism, there is an enclosure filled with a proprietary mixture of gasses. When the ambient temperature of the clock’s environment changes, the gasses expand and contract, powering the timekeeping mechanism. To illustrate the efficiency of the Atmos, a temperature fluctuation as small as a single degree provides two days of running time.

Marc Newson

Marc Newson
Marc Newson

In 2008, Marc Newson, one of the world’s most famous industrial designers, first collaborated with Jaeger-LeCoultre on an Atmos clock. This first clock, the Ref. 561, brought the simplicity and purity that characterizes Newson’s designs to life within a Baccarat crystal canopy.

The masterpiece was followed by the Atmos 566, which introduced a mechanically powered astrological chart and equation of time to the mix. Newson revisited the Ref. 561 in 2013 for his highly publicized Project (RED) Auction with Apple design chief Jony Ive, bringing widespread attention to Atmos that reached well beyond the world of watch collectors and contemporary design buffs.

“I was thrilled to have been asked to design an Atmos, because it is a timepiece that I have loved since I first saw one when I was in my early teens,” says Newson. “An Atmos for me is a complex and magical object; it seemingly runs on perpetual motion, or the closest thing to it, and it needs a constant environment to function in. It is as if it is a living thing—you have the feeling that it can sense your presence—which I find strangely comforting.”

The making of the Atmos 568 by Marc Newson
The making of the Atmos 568 by Marc Newson

This year, Newson and JLC present another chapter in their partnership, an Atmos sheathed once again in a Baccarat glass canopy. The design is very much in the vein of the prior two Newson Atmos clocks, but there are some new and noteworthy features here as well.

Most obviously, the Atmos 568 has a tripod base supporting the Newson-designed glass enclosure. We’re treated to a 360-degree view of the movement and the dial, which shows its features via a series of concentric rings. These features include—in addition to the hours and the minutes—the month and the phase of the moon.

The entire mechanism is magnified within its glass enclosure, exposing the fine finishing found throughout the mechanism, including the redesigned balance wheel at its base, with its alternating brushed and polished surfaces.

Whereas previous iterations have been limited editions, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos 568 by Marc Newson will be limited only by the manufacture’s capacity to handcraft the mechanism and by Baccarat’s ability to supply the crystal clock cases. It will sell for a retail price of $28,000. —Jonathan Bues