For Jaeger-LeCoultre, 2019 has been the year of 'The Art of Precision'. "Obviously it's connected to the precision of the watches in terms of timekeeping," says CEO Catherine Rénier. "But it's also the precision of creation. So, the hands of an artist create the decoration and each component encapsulates the precision of its maker and its assembly. It's about all of the know-how and the expertise that goes into a watch both technically and aesthetically."
Precise components are nothing new to Jaeger-LeCoultre - Antoine LeCoultre invented a machine to produce tiny watch pinions that he exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851, and he went on to develop the diminutive Calibre 101, weighing barely a gram, in 1929. Decorative techniques were also perfected many moons ago, with goldsmithing, enamelling and gem-setting all being skills embedded in the heart of the manufacture.
While all Jaeger-LeCoultre watches demonstrate the 'Art of Precision', it is arguably most obvious in the brand's complicated women's timepieces. Here, more than in any other sector, the disciplines of métiers d'art and fine watchmaking come together in a startlingly visible way.
The reason for the birth of the manufacturer 186 years ago was to unite watchmaking and decorative skills under one roof. No other house at the time was thinking about putting artisans together, but Jaeger-LeCoultre believed it would lead to improved efficiency and creativity. Today there are more than 180 in-house skills that produce watches like the ones pictured here.
From bare metal to finished movement, case and dial, everything is generated within the maison, before moving to the métiers d'art workshops where the spirit of the watch is brought to life - each piece with a different inspiration. A common theme at Jaeger is the Vallée de Joux, depicted through miniature painting, enamelling and engraving. "We are always pushing the boundaries," says Rénier. "The techniques we use are traditional, but we bring another level of complexity. There is always a new challenge in terms of innovation."
Even in large pieces like the Gyrotourbillon, there is an elegance and an understated sophistication. The same signatures are also present in the women's Rendez-Vous collection, although there is obviously the limiting factor of size and what technical aspects can fit into the case. For this reason, the ladies' complicated pieces will usually be on the larger side with the colours or themes being more feminine.
"From the beginning of Jaeger-LeCoultre, we have always thought equally about men's and women's watches," Rénier says. "There may have been a time in the early 2000s where feminine innovation was not as strong - although we still had both very high-end jewellery watches and Reversos for ladies - but then in 2012 we launched the Rendez-Vous, which is now the second best-selling family and a true signature of the brand."
The magic all begins in JLC's lab, where designers, constructors and developers brainstorm. From the start it's about teamwork, what Rénier refers to as, "a hub of watchmaking that involves innovation, knowledge and emotion. You can feel the passion that has gone into making it happen, and you can understand it is not one person but a collective that has mastered the technical difficulties of such a timepiece."
Earlier this year, to coincide with the Royal Academy of Arts' Summer Exhibition, Jaeger-LeCoultre showcased some of the contemporary pieces that best represent its philosophy with some masterpieces exhibited together for the first - and possibly final - time. Among the watches was a selection that combines grand complications with the finest jewellery techniques.
The ultimate in haute joaillerie meets haute horlogerie, the Hybris Artistica Mysterieuse features a 39mm white-gold case surrounded by leaves of gold and snow-set diamonds. The mother-of-pearl dial is encircled by gold and diamond ivy leaves. With no hands, the hours are indicated by an orbital flying tourbillon, its carriage taking the form of a five-pointed star, while a ruby travelling around the dial edge shows the minutes.
A limited series of eight watches, the self-winding Rendez-Vous Sonatina has a 38.2mm pink-gold case set with 186 diamonds, and a mother-of-pearl dial with hand guilloché and miniature painting - each a unique creation. A final romantic touch is a special alarm: a single melodious strike.
An example of Jaeger-LeCoultre's mastery of the sky, the moon and the stars, the Rendez-Vous Celestial has a 37.5mm pink-gold case, a bezel set with baguette-cut sapphires and lugs studded with brilliant-cut diamonds. The enamelled dial features a lapis lazuli disc with a hand-painted astral chart dotted with brilliant-cut diamonds. Powered by a self-winding calibre, the celestial map, viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, rotates, while a gold star can be moved via a second crown to mark the time of a rendezvous.
The 36mm pink-gold Rendez-Vous Moon Serenity houses a self-winding movement visible through an exhibition caseback. From the front, a blue satin-brushed dial provides a backdrop for a mother-of-pearl moonphase indicator, accurate for 972 years, set against a painted star chart. Sixty-two brilliant-cut diamonds are nestled in the bezel. The Rendez-Vous' golden star can be positioned as a reminder of an upcoming appointment.
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