International Watch Review

Jaeger-LeCoultre's New Watch Offers a Timeless Vision of the Future

The watchmaking house's new Polaris collection pays tribute to a history of technical innovation and aesthetics while also looking forward.
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In early 2018, Jaeger-LeCoultre launched its new Polaris collection, which is part of the house's recent tradition of honoring its most famous historic watches. Following reissues of the Reverso and the Geophysic, it was time for 1968's Memovox Polaris watch, then celebrating its 50th anniversary, to be in the spotlight.

The heritage of Jaeger-LeCoultre probably embodies the history of Swiss watchmaking more than any other house. In the 16th century, fleeing religious persecution, Protestants found refuge in the heart of the Vallée de Joux. After arriving in this protected place in 1559, Pierre LeCoultre, whose son was one of the founders of the Trail, helped to construct the site's first church. In 1833, Antoine LeCoultre, an inventor, technology pioneer, and self-taught watchmaker from the family's 10th generation, opened his first workshop at Le Sentier.

Recognized for their obsession with precision, the company's reputation soared. Though neither a mathematician nor a physicist, Antoine, a self-taught watchmaker, was first to measure the micron. In 1844, he also invented the millimeter. His fame developed alongside his inventions. In particular, he imagined a machine capable of cutting gables with unprecedented accuracy and regularity, and in 1847, he developed the rocking winder, a keyless training system.

Excellence of Technique

In 1866, while watchmaking was still structured in a network of small home workshops, Antoine LeCoultre and his son Elie created the Joux Valley's first integrated factory, putting the tools and know-how of watch manufacturing under one roof. By 1888, the factory also called "The Big House" employed some 500 people, and it had already developed more than 350 calibers. However, Antoine and Elie could never have imagined how their company would later develop. In 1903, LeCoultre began collaborating with Parisian designer and watchmaker Edmond Jaeger after deciding to pursue ultra-thin calibers. With this success, the brand became one of the best manufacturers in this field, and in 1937, Jaeger and LeCoultre formalized their association by uniting their names as one brand. Today, the company has over 1,200 employees, 419 patents, and more than 1,200 calibers, 75 of which were developed in the 21st century.

Jaeger LeCoultre's simultaneous attention to aesthetic and technique explains its spectacular growth. Its technical excellence stems not only from repeated innovations but also from the development of skills in specialized production areas. For example, the brand is one of few to manufacture and assemble its own pallet levers internally. It takes a minimum of 31 separate operations to assemble these miniature components, which measure only a few millimeters long.

Many innovations punctuated the 20th century. In 1928 Jaeger-LeCoultre invented the Atmos clock, powered by changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure to eliminate the need for reassembly. A year later, the Duoplan movement's already revolutionary architecture was miniaturized to create the world's smallest caliber with manual winding, the caliber 101. Designed today for the Haute Joaillerie watches of the house, this caliber is also used by other jewelers, such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.

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The Extraordinary Series of Gyrotourbillons

Throughout its history, Jaeger-LeCoultre has distinguished itself in the manufacture of tourbillons. In 1946, Jacques-David LeCoultre developed the Caliber 170, featuring a tourbillon and certified by the Neuchâtel Observatory. In 1993, the tourbillon reappeared in a limited edition pink gold Reverso, then ten years later in the Reverso Platinum No. 2. Recognized for its expertise, Jaeger-LeCoultre has also produced tourbillons for other well-known watch brands.

In 2004, the Gyrotourbillon series launched with the caliber 177 Gyrotourbillon 1, composed of two cages rotating at different speeds on several axes. The second version arrived in 2009 with the Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2, equipped with a spiral cylindrical. Based on a 1728 invention by British watchmaker John Arnold, his system creates a perfectly concentric balance offering greater precision than a flat hairspring.

Still further in performance, the Gyrotourbillon 3 used a spherical hairspring to achieve even greater isochronism. In addition, in the absence of an upper deck, the internal carriage supports the balance and the spring, as well as the exhaust, which makes it a flying gyrotourbillon. The Reverso, with its tilting box, was born in 1931 to serve British officers who wanted a watch, able to resist the shocks of a polo match.

Over the past decade, many other technical innovations have emerged in addition to the series of Gyrotourbillons. The 2009 Grand Reverso Duodate's hand-wound 986 caliber, 4.15 millimeter gauge works on two sides with different time zones and includes mechanisms for a date, small second, and day-night displays. Equipped with the Jaeger-LeCoultre torque limiter, it offers a more sophisticated way than most hand-wound watches to avoid over-winding. 

Leaving aside technical innovations, the Reverso serves to showcase the tremendous know-how of Jaeger-LeCoultre's "Métiers d'Art" workshops. Throughout its history, the brand has always associated aesthetic with technical prowess.

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Rare Crafts Workshop

The "Métiers d'Art" workshops are dedicated to practices including enameling, engraving, jewelry, crimping, and skeleton work, which require precision to the hundredth of a millimeter. Jaeger-LeCoultre's signature combination of artistry and watchmaking mastery reaches its peak with the Hybris Mechanica collection, a series of unique pieces launched in 2014 and updated each year. Thus, the new Polaris collection has not just a single model, but five: an automatic watch indicating only the time, a date and time watch, a chronograph, a chronograph World timer, and a tribute to the edition from 1968, the Memovox Polaris.

Far from faithfully copying the original, the collection subtly combines a vintage look with a timeless spirit in an uncompromising tribute. The original collection's codes were reproduced and transcribed in a contemporary style to extract all the power. The details add a real elegance to the watch's robust and sporty look, surpassing and supplanting the timepiece's original, utilitarian role.

The 1968 version's figures and indexes have become classical Arabic numerals and trapezoidal indexes, with the logo under the number 12. The new dials comprise three concentric circles with different finishes: the outer hour and minute circles are matte, while an opaline finish enhances the rotating inner bezel. The dial's elements are large, covered with Super-LumiNova for low-light visibility. On some models, the vanilla-colored Super-Luminova references the tritium used on the 1968 Memovox Polaris. The new Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris is available in its historical black version, as well as in blue. Its engraved background gives the watch an even more luxurious touch.

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The New Pillars of Jaeger-LeCoultre

For this collection, Jaeger-LeCoultre created a case with sporty yet elegant proportions, including slender horns, a finely rounded bezel, and the effects of materials between brushed and polished surfaces. Two models have a closed and engraved bottom, while the other three have sapphire crystal on the back to transparently display the movement. A cut rotor bearing the JLC logo crosses beautifully decorated decks.

The leather bracelets are interchangeable, which means the wearer can go from dark or light brown calf leather to an aged finish to an elegant alligator strap. Additionally, the metal bracelet with three links offers a more athletic alternative. Designed specifically for the Polaris, its polished and brushed surfaces echo the case's finish.

The large crowns, true signatures of the 1968 watch, remain present but have a new design for better ergonomics. The automatic transmission adopted the crowns of the first Polaris models: one to adjust the time and another to rotate the inner bezel. The chronograph pushers also feature new designs for better grip, while the inner bezel serves as a tachometer to measure speed over a fixed distance.

Designed to become the new pillar of Jaeger-LeCoultre, the Polaris collection has found the right balance between sport and elegance, modernity and timelessness. While paying tribute to an iconic past model and the house's history, the line also looks to the future. Stéphane Belmont, Jaeger-LeCoultre's Director of Heritage, summed up the essence of the house: "No one can copy Swiss watchmaking at the highest level, because it indicates more where you are than what you do."

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