JAEGER-LECOULTRE INTERNATIONAL MARKETING AND TECHNICAL DIRECTOR
When did Jaeger-LeCoultre’s history with astronomy begin?
Jaeger-LeCoultre started to make perpetual calendars back in the nineteenth century. Those watches were produced in very limited quantities for people who understood the notion of astronomy. People chose to buy these because, in addition to the time, the complications were fascinating.
In recent years people have become more aware of the origins of time via calendars, moon phases etc., without realizing all the origins of watchmaking and astronomy.
Can you offer a few examples of calendars from Jaeger-LeCoultre history?
We did a lot of perpetual calendar pocket watches in the nineteenth century, and many Reverso examples in the 1940s. More recently in the Hybris Mechanica pieces we’ve created high complications with perpetual calendars. But maybe the calendar function was not right in front. The Gyrotourbillon for instance was the highlight of those pieces, and people didn’t realize that it was also a perpetual calendar. In the Hybris Mechanica à Grande Sonnerie, the perpetual calendar was a secondary complication after the sonnerie.
In all these, we had a perpetual calendar where the calendar was instan- taneous, where the dates would change instantly at midnight, and where you had retrograde displays. Regular calendars change within a few hours where the instant examples are much more complicated.
What makes astronomical complications inherently interesting?
We think it’s fascinating, not only in terms of complicated mechanisms, but to understand that the whole universe has been reproduced in a small way inside these watches. Imagine that the immensity of the universe is placed in a very small space of the watch. That leads to the fascination that the watchmakers understood the astronomers and recreated the universe in the watch.
If you understand the natural cycles of the moon and the earth it helps you understand the differences among the moon phases in watches. There are those that will be accurate for just two and a half years. That means it’s an approximation of the moon’s cycle of twenty-nine-and-a-half days, whereas the moon’s cycle is subtler than that. In a good perpetual calendar, you have a variation of one deviation, and anytime you want to increase its accuracy, it requires a lot of skills and watchmaking knowledge.
How is that knowledge displayed in the new Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Grand Complication?
In our Master Grande Tradition Grand Complication, instead of displaying the calendars on tiny counters we have recreated the sky and the sun so you can really see how celestial mechanics works.
The disc is turning at twenty-three hours, fifty-six minutes and four seconds, which is the exact speed of the earth’s rotation. Around the sky, you see the tiny sun, which represents the twenty-four hours, the solar day. There’s a line opposite the tourbillon that shows the sidereal time, which astronomers use.
These both connect the notion of the year, so the 360 degrees around the entire dial represents the year. The sun here will make one full turn in one year. So the sun indicates the twenty-four hours and the months. It’s a more realistic method showing how our calendar actually functions. The tourbillon, which incidentally offers precision onto the whole watch, displaying sidereal time, is a nice watchmaking fascination.
Think about it: The tourbillon is beating one-eighth per second while the sun will make a full rotation in a year, so it gives you the infinitely fast combined with the infinitely slow. And, there is also a minute repeater in the watch that will chime the time on request. The gong directly touches the crystal, and the trebuchet hammers, which allows that much more energy to reach the hammers. It ensures that the repeater is easily heard.
What is special about its dial?
If you look at its dial, you see all the constellations visible from the earth are represented. The dial is galvanic blue in a sun ray pattern, in fact the blue, which reminds you of the sky, will enhance the sunray finishing.
The dial on the 2015 Master Calendar (on this issue’s cover) is also a special dial. Can you explain why?
On the Master Calendar we display the moon phase within a meteorite dial. The meteorite we use had been formed along with out solar system four billion years ago and was between Jupiter and Mars. It fell to the earth 800,000 years ago, melted and exploded, leaving debris.
Glaciers then pushed those stones across the continents, eventually ending in what we now call Sweden. Meteorite hunters discovered the first piece of this meteorite in 1906. They still look at the same location for pieces.
With this watch, you have a piece of eternity. And it makes every watch unique because for each dial there is a different slice with its own pattern. The steel case is resistant, to protect it again for the coming centuries.