Who Still Builds a Fantastic Handmade Luxury Watch?March 31, 2017
Do watchmakers really take a hands-on approach in today’s world of automation and mass production? Yes! One in particular takes it to the extreme and continues the time-honored craft of building a fantastic handmade luxury watch: Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Nestled in the Jura mountains of northwestern Switzerland, there’s a sprawling manufacturing facility that houses all the various artisans and workshops of Jaeger-LeCoultre. But this facility didn’t spring up overnight. The story starts long ago in 1833 when Antoine LeCoultre, an inventor and son of a blacksmith, established a watch-making “atelier” in his barn. LeCoultre was nearly obsessed with the art and science of measuring time and began creating timepieces with extremely high levels of accuracy.
In 1903, the Paris-based watch-maker Edmond Jaeger challenged Swiss manufacturers to develop the ultra-thin movements he had invented. The grandson of Antoine LeCoultre, Jacques David, who was in charge of production at LeCoultre & Cie, accepted the challenge. The result of this new relationship between Jaeger and LeCoultre was the thinnest pocket watch in the world. Naturally, at this time, all of the work done to create and assemble the pocket watch was completed by hand. Fast-forward to today and the legendary craftsmanship and precision that went into that pocket watch continue at Jaeger-LeCoultre. Hands-on is the mantra and that means everything from design and manufacture to decorating and assembly.
With a pencil, a blank sheet of paper, and the Jaeger‑LeCoultre philosophy of hands-on, the designers have all they need to bring life to the faces of watches destined to become legends. It all starts with a sketch to outline an idea, display a function, or visualize a new concept. The designers are always attentive to current tastes but keep an eye turned towards the future while remaining true to longstanding traditions. It is this fusion of eras – this chemistry between past, present, and future – that characterizes the design of a Jaeger‑LeCoultre watch.
You’ve no doubt heard it, but probably have not heard of it. The pallet is the tiny piece that makes the familiar “tick-tock” sound. Jaeger‑LeCoultre was one of the first manufacturers to produce and assemble its own watch pallets, and remains one of the last still to do so today. It requires meticulous detail and high precision to produce the critical part, especially when fitting small rubies into tight notches – by hand. In fact, twenty-two different operations are needed in order to produce, decorate, and assemble just one pallet.
Decorating and Jewelling Parts
With the unique shapes of each of the movement’s parts, they are strikingly artistic in their own right. That’s not quite enough for a Jaeger-LeCoultre watch, though. After machining, the components are all hand- decorated like works of art. Swirls, sunbursts, and other textures are meticulously hand carved into each part – even those that get covered by other components.
In another workshop, the last complex and delicate operation to decorate the components takes place – the jewelling, or hand setting of rubies. The rubies are more than just “bling” added to the components. They actually perform several functions: positioning the gear trains on the plates and the bridges; reducing friction; prolonging the piece’s lifetime; and serving as oil reservoirs for lubrication. That’s form and function working in harmony.
These timepieces are especially complex and require dexterity, attention to detail, and a lot of patience to hand assemble. The calibre, in particular, needs extra attention as it is the organ which brings the watch to life. In the workshop where it is assembled, watchmakers use virtuoso-like gestures and skills to create their masterpieces. When the assembly is complete, the watchmaker succeeds in awakening the inert material.
When It’s All Said and Done
When the finished product is ready to reveal to the customer, it is truly a work of art. The hands-on approach comes shining through in the shear elegance of the timepiece.
Just look at the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 in white gold. This is a manual wind watch and offers unique views, both front and back, of its inner workings. You can easily see the so-called “flying” Gyrotourbillon®, which is the heart of the movement, at the six o’clock position. It’s difficult not to marvel at the intricacy of the details and the watch seems to beg you to engage and interact with it.
If you’re searching for an elegant, handmade luxury watch that is sure to turn heads, generate conversations, and reflect your appreciation for craftsmanship, look no further than Jaeger-LeCoultre. Stop by our Charlotte store and one of our timepiece experts can help you select the perfect watch to match your taste and personality.