Jaeger-LeCoultre Heritage Gallery -
“180 skills to invent the Duomètre Sphérotourbillon”
The Watch Quote™ - April 19th, 2012
Within such a precise and demanding field as watchmaking, the evolution of techniques and principles sometimes takes the form of major inventions and spectacular revolutions. But mutations or improvements of existing and sometimes very ancient systems may also emerge in a more continuous and discreet manner over time and by dint of countless hours that watchmakers spend at their workbench. While Antoine LeCoultre began his activity surrounded by a mere handful of artisans, no less than 180 skills are now required to develop and produce Jaeger-LeCoultre watches.
Visiting the beating heart of time and passion
As soon as they enter the exhibition, visitors discover a fascinating stage-setting portraying a complete mock-up of the Manufacture, testifying to almost 180 years of continuous development on a single site and the unique integration of all skills under one roof. They will then be able to view the complete list of these skills presented in three main groups: artistic crafts, case-making, and movement development. This presentation principle provides a better grasp of the variety of techniques concentrated within this exceptional place, and gives an idea of the range of competencies required in the field of Fine Watchmaking.
While the building is modern, light and functional, entirely in step with modern times, the spirit remains the same as that which prevailed in 1833, when Antoine LeCoultre set up his first watchmaking workshop; and as that which pervaded the first Manufacture built in the Vallée de Joux in 1866. From 1888 onwards, as the company pursued its development, extension became an obvious necessity. In 2010, a complete new building was harmoniously integrated with the original constructions, offering an architectural expression of the process of successively integrating various watchmaking techniques.
In another nod to history, so as to enable visitors to immerse themselves for a brief moment into the life of a 19th century watchmaking, a reconstituted workshop features two workbenches carrying various tools from that period. The worktops are naturally positioned near windows so as to enable the artisans to benefit from a maximum of natural daylight. Each of the workbenches features a “quinquet” the traditional petrol lamp used by watchmakers before the advent of electricity. Placed between two windows, a milling-cutter cabinet regroups hundreds of small antique cutters formerly used to cut and optimise certain parts of LeCoultre calibres. A portrait of the Manufacture’s founder appears to be keeping benevolent watch over the premises, his gaze encompassing almost 180 years of continuous horological history and continuous development.
Four displays for four major 19th century watchmaking inventions
While Antoine LeCoultre and his successors within the Manufacture played a pioneering role by revolutionising existing principles, they also nurtured the step-by-step advancement of the watch industry by a steady stream of inventions, constantly pushing the frontiers of precision standards.
The millionometer – 1844
In 1844, Antoine LeCoultre created watch parts so small that no existing instrument could detect their potential imperfections! This situation called for the invention of a measuring instrument capable of dealing with the infinitely small and of verifying the precision of a pinion to the nearest micron: one thousandth of a millimetre. It was thus neither an engineer nor a physician who first measured the micron, but instead a Swiss watchmaker. The fact that he did so in the first half of the 19th century provides further proof of the pioneering and inventive spirit of Antoine LeCoultre.
The founder of the Manufacture named his revolutionary invention – the most accurate in the world and the most important of the era – the millionometer. This device that charted new territory in the field of precision and the interchangeability of components remained the benchmark for over half a century, since it guaranteed peerless quality in the production of high- end watch movements.
Crown winding system – 1847
In the mid-19th century, winding a pocket-watch still involved a key. The latter were often mislaid, and unfortunately also sometimes damaged the dial during winding. Antoine LeCoultre solved the problem in 1847 by inventing the first reliable system serving both to wind the watch and to set it to time without an external key, but instead via a crown integrated within the case. This totally innovative crown winding system was not patented, since the patent-filing principle was not yet established at the time. Its qualities soon led to its immediate adoption by most pocket-watch producers in Switzerland, France and England.
Silent governor for minute repeater watches – 1891
Of all horological complications, the minute repeater is both one of the most spectacular and the most difficult to develop. A strike governor (also sometimes referred to as a regulator) is required to ensure that the sound of the repeater mechanism chimes regularly and not too fast. At the end of the 19th century, the regulators on minute repeater watches were often very noisy and emitted a clearly audible buzzing sound.
Between 1891 and 1904, three silent governor patents were registered by LeCoultre & Cie. The classic oscillating system was replaced by a device combining centrifugal force and friction effects. LeCoultre’s invention featured one of the repeater mechanism elements rotating at high speed. When the barrel was fully wound, generating high centrifugal force, tiny fly-vanes rubbed around the rim and slowed down the system. As the barrel was progressively let down, the centrifugal force and the friction of the fly-vanes were also reduced, thereby ensuring regular and silent operation. This invention was so revolutionary that is still used to this day.
Secure instant-counter chronograph – 1892
In the last years of the 19th century, watchmakers displayed impressive creativity in creating complicated watches, and especially chronographs. As far as minute counters are concerned, there are three types of device: a dragging or running type, on which the hand moves steadily forward; semi-instantaneous, with slow transitions at each passing minute; or instantaneous. In the latter case, the hand jumps immediately from one minute to the next, thereby enhancing the readability of the chronograph function. But this efficiency required a sophisticated device that is extremely sensitive to impacts and jolting. From 1892 onwards, Lecoultre & Cie registered various patents relating to securing the operation of instant counters.
Within its temporary exhibition, the Manufacture is displaying a watch dating from 1910 and featuring a secure instant counter also comprising two other patented inventions: a silent governor and a device serving to combine a double complication within a single calibre (secure chronograph and a minute repeater).
The Duomètre Sphérotourbillon, the first tourbillon watch adjustable in watchmaking history to the nearest second
Until recently, even the impressive wealth of ingenuity of the finest watchmakers could not counteract the laws of physics. While the movements they created proved satisfactory according to a specific focus on technical performance, precision or aesthetics, a choice had to be made between one or other of these three parameters.
And then one day, in the workshops of the Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre, the Dual-Wing concept was born: two separate and independent mechansims united within a single case. One was responsible for driving the hour indication, and the other with powering an additional function. The use of this Dual-Wing function enabled the Jaeger-LeCoultre watchmakers to develop the Duomètre Sphérotourbillon the first precision-adjustable tourbillon.
It is in fact the combined intervention of 40 professions and 180 skills that culminate in achieving the perfectly smooth operation of a high-end watch movement such as that of the Duomètre Sphérotourbillon. In the process of making it, each component benefits from the entire range of competencies cultivated within the Manufacture. Each part, however small, is the object of a manufacturing sequence listing all the steps involved. The sum total of the interventions that are indispensable in making the Sphérotourbillon is a staggering 3,331 operations!
95% of these 3,331 operations are entirely performed by hand and require accurate vision and skilled gestures. Moreover, each stage is accompanied by a substantial number of tests, since the slightest defect could jeopardise the smooth running of the watch. The number would in fact be even higher if one were also to count the research and development phases that sometimes last several years before the production process actually begins.
Three remarkable ancestors of the Duomètre line
The Duomètre Sphérotourbillon introduced in 2012 represents a worthy heir to all the watches born within the Manufacture since 1833. It has in particular drawn inspiration from the history of chronometry, or precision timing, a field in which Jaeger-LeCoultre has distinguished itself right from its founding.
Chronometer with double going train – 1881
When the specialists at the Besançon Observatory were called upon to certify this chronometer in 1881, they duly noted that the watch was indeed equipped with a two going trains, each equipped with its own barrel and enabling the presence of both a minute repeater and a “deadbeat” seconds device (an extremely rare complication consisting in an independent jumping seconds hand). The spirit of the Dual-Wing concept was thus already present in this exceptional 19th century chronometer, but 130 more years would be necessary to bring it to full maturity.
Torpedo chronometer – 1895
In the latter years of the 19th century, there was only one means for the commander of a ship to check its position at high sea: by comparing “true” time, meaning the position of the sun in the sky, with the time at the ship’s point of departure. However, this rule meant having an ultra- accurate watch, a role played by the legendary marine chronometers. No timepiece of that era could compete with these exceptional horological instruments, such as the chronometer which in 1895 equipped the American torpedo boat USS Cushing torpedo boat. Its remarkable precision was ensured by a LeCoultre calibre assembled and adjusted by Edmond Jaeger.
Within the category of marine chronometers, models intended for torpedo boats were in a league of their own. Whereas many ships were still sail-powered, the steam-powered torpedo boats were subject to vibrations so powerful that classic chronometers would simply not survive such a trial. Torpedo chronometers thus not only had to display their legendary precision, but also to prove themselves extremely resistant. In 2012, the Duomètre Sphérotourbillon pays tribute through its impressive precision to its forerunner dating back to 1895...
Onboard chronometer – 1952
The advent of the 20th century did not alter the timekeeping tradition of the Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre. And the amazing technological breakthroughs of the post-war period did not diminish the need for ultra-precise timekeeping instruments aboard battleships. Shortly after World War II, the French Navy choose to use the Jaeger-LeCoultre onboard chronometers, such as the Calibre 162 model with its legendary reliability – a reliability that inspired the conception of the Duomètre Sphérotourbillon.
Almost 180 years of invention through Jaeger-LeCoultre patents
In almost 180 years of existence, around 400 patents have been registered, eloquently testifying to the role played by Jaeger-LeCoultre in the grand history of watchmaking.
The exhibition of numerous patents is a reminder of this creativity and this inventiveness. The display mode chosen, featuring historical documents lined up along a wall, is reminiscent of the course of time, leading us second by second, minute by minute and hour by hour from the past and on towards the future.