Recently, the watch industry has given encouraging signs that the world is slowly moving towards a post-COVID “new normal”. We’re not there yet, but face-to-face events such as the Geneva Watch Days, which run from August 30 to September 3, suggest that we are getting closer and closer.
The Sound Maker exhibition, organized by Jaeger-LeCoultre in New York from September 21 to October 5, 2021, was a similar time for watch fans to celebrate the end of the quarantine and take up the horological events in person, which they definitely prefer.
When I learned about the JLC event, I quickly decided to attend. It took me a fraction of a second longer to decide that I also wanted to pay to participate in the accompanying Atelier d’Antoine, a ‘one-and-a-half-hour workshop to find out why watches tick’ “And how time can be expressed”. Sound and timing are related in several ways; the most important of these links is the ringing of bells by clocks and clock towers.
On the wrist, the closest analogue is the recurring complication. Ever since I got seriously interested in watchmaking, I have had a fascination with this feature. It was on my mind at the last show I attended in New York in the summer of 2017, when Patek Philippe shared a number of amazing timepieces at their big show, including two examples of worldtimers. with minute repeaters specially produced in honor of the event.
I remember standing next to the display case with the guide as she described these rooms, then asking, “Can I hear what this looks like?” Unfortunately, that did not happen. But you won’t know if you don’t ask.
This may explain my enthusiasm for the Jaeger-LeCoultre event, which I hoped would allow me to experience the rehearsals more directly while increasing my understanding of this rare complication. I am happy to report that this is the case.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Sound Maker exhibition
The exhibit took place in New York’s Meatpacking District in a new development called Gansevoort Row. The cobbled streets of this neighborhood are becoming somewhat of a second hub for watch retailers in Manhattan: Audemars Piguet, for example, will soon be opening an AP House in Gansevoort Row while a brand new Rolex-Tudor boutique is just around the corner. a few blocks away.
The main exhibition, free to the public, takes place chronologically. The experience begins with displays containing several historically significant pocket watches from the Jaeger-LeCoultre collection, reminding visitors of the brand’s vast experience in sound timepieces; its first minute repeater was introduced in 1870. Subsequently, JLC manufactured over 200 sound calibers, including alarms.
Equally impressive is that Jaeger-LeCoultre combined the technically difficult repeater function with equally advanced horological complications, proposing in 1880 a jaquemarts pocket watch with automatons that seem to ring a bell while the watch strikes the hour.
The miracles of the Jaeger-LeCoultre carillon
More than a century later, in 2019, Jaeger-LeCoultre presented the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel wristwatch (Reference 5253420). A white-dialed example was on display at the Sound Maker exhibit with the Gyrotourbillon spinning and hypnotically rotating along its five axes.
It’s not every day that a watch enthusiast gets the chance to see this kind of complicated wristwatch, especially when presented alongside a perpetual calendar with jumping date and minute repeater. ringtone that plays the Big Ben melody (known as the Westminster chime). This timepiece at the top of fine watchmaking sold for € 800,000 when it was presented at SIHH in 2019 in a limited edition of 18 watches.
Close to the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel was another rare opportunity: one of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s watchmakers at a stylized bench with a caliber 942. Launched about six years ago, the movement is automatic with a reserve of 40 hour walk and repeat complication timer. Its chime is created by crystal gongs welded to the sapphire crystal.
On most models, such as that of the Master Grande Tradition with Minute Repeater (Reference Q5092520), the action of the hammers is necessarily carried out behind a dial. During the show, however, JLC brought in a “display” version of the movement with a see-through dial.
The caliber was secured in a movement holder, and participants held the mechanism after the watchmaker activated the repeat function. Combined with the opportunity to discuss the caliber with an experienced watchmaker, there really is no more “hands-on” chance to learn more about repeats.
Next to the movement and watch displays was an extremely convincing installation by Swiss artist Zimoun titled “Sound Sculpture”, which rested on the floor in a rectangular shape reminiscent of the Reverso Jaeger-LeCoultre.
The base of the work is made of MDF panels, under which 1944 motors spin a piece of wire. A center of thin metal discs from the JLC factory is connected to the wire. They are placed at an angle so that when they rotate there is a feeling of ripple in both the light and the surface of the artwork. The edge of the discs also produces a pleasant, muffled sound similar to the friction of fabric.
Atelier d’Antoine’s workshop
Adjacent to Zimoun’s installation was a room in which the Atelier d’Antoine’s workshop took place. Named after the founder of Jaeger-LeCoultre, Antoine LeCoultre, the workshop was moderated by Stéphane Belmont, director of brand heritage at JLC and Marcelo Buarque, director of sales for the brand in the United States, who explained that this was the first time that the workshop had been offered outside of Switzerland.
A small group of six participants – including myself – participated in a discussion about sound and timing. We have learned that in a Swiss lever escapement, the “tick” in “tick” is actually three distinct sounds, starting with the pulse pin impacting the pallet fork. This, in turn, “unlocks” the escape wheel, producing the second sound.
The third sound is the paddle which “blocks” the escape wheel and prevents it from continuing to turn. Considering that for most watches the second hand moves eight times per second, and these three sounds occur in a fraction of a fraction of a second, it is no wonder that we only hear one only tick!
Workshop participants had further opportunities to learn sound and timing with an enlarged model of a repeater, which we were able to “tune” by lengthening or shortening an enlarged gong. A similar model allowed us to activate a large repeater and have a more detailed view of how the hammers create the chime.
One of my favorite exercises was placing our watches on the sensor of a One Of Accuracy2 device. A connected iPad allowed us to hear the amplified sound of our watches and to read a display indicating the precision and frequency of the movement. It was fascinating and fun to hear the differences between an Omega chronometer, my off-brand diver with a Japanese movement, a vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre pocket watch and other wristwatches of the participants.
We also learned about JLC’s significant innovations in repeat complications such as the trebuchet hammer (which hits a gong more effectively than a conventional hammer), an automatic mid-stroke rotor and helical gongs, which save space while producing a high quality tone.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Sound Maker exhibition and Atelier d’Antoine’s workshop are examples of events organized periodically by watch brands to simultaneously celebrate heritage while transmitting knowledge to the community at large. There is a long tradition of such itinerant “diplomacy” in the watch industry, a tradition which has been severely interrupted by the global pandemic.
Jaeger-LeCoultre deserves praise as one of the first in the industry to resume in-person outreach to collectors and the public, an outreach that works extremely well.
For more information, please visit www.jaeger-lecoultre.com/us/en/chronicles/the-sound-maker-nyc.
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