Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Incredible Chiming Machines: The Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon And The Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie
In 2009, Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced a wristwatch so complicated in its premise and execution that it made my jaw drop. Having only just picked my jaw back up off the floor, the brand did it to me again. I tell you, the floor doesn’t taste that good…but I am nonetheless happy to keep licking it if it means this incredible brand continues to bring out such masterpieces.
The Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie
The Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie, which I’m hoping you knew was the first timepiece I was talking about, contains more than 1,400 components, required five years in development and warranted 13 patents. Among all of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s chiming masterpieces, the Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie plays the longest melody a grande sonnerie has ever chimed: all 24 notes of the Westminster Chimes, just like London’s Big Ben (whose sequence is played in four variations, one at each quarter hour).
Earlier this year, the Le Sentier-based brand introduced the Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon (Hybris Mechanica 11), the second of my jaw droppers, which utilizes eight patents, six of which were registered just for this watch. And while this timepiece may seem a lot less complicated due to its much more elegant size (its case is only half the height), rest assured that, because of its razor-thin size, it is not.
Face to Face: The Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie and Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon
The Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie boasts a movement 37 mm in diameter, stuffed chock full of technology and complications, including a perpetual calendar with retrograde indications, a jump hour and a flying tourbillon. Ingenious movement architecture – the movement is only 10.42 mm high – ensures that the watch remains svelte and eminently wearable. The white gold case itself measures a contemporary 44 mm.
The Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon’s Caliber 362 contains less than half the number of components (as well as less than half the functions!) and measures 33.3 x 4.8 mm. In contrast to the Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie’s manually wound movement, the Master’s Caliber 362 is automatic, utilizing a peripheral rotor to maintain the tenuous height.
I don’t need to tell you – as the name of the watch already did – that it is thin, very, very thin. Even according to movement height standards and without any added complications. It is sheer incredible that, at this size, this watch contains a minute repeater of all things.
Both of these timepieces contain flying tourbillons, though in different places and of different design. The Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie’s one-minute flying tourbillon is of traditional flying design and discretely placed on the flip side of the watch. It is visible through the sapphire crystal case back.
The whirlwind found within the Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon, though, is a different story. Placed at 6 o’clock and on display through a dial cutaway, it houses a new high-performance, blued balance spring – which is actually visible thanks to its patented flying balance wheel.
When you peer into its shallow depths, you will note that this new spring is not of typical Breguet-style with a terminal curve, but rather an S-shaped spring. This, according to Jaeger-LeCoultre master watchmaker Christian Laurent, has the same advantages as the overcoil, but takes up less room in terms of height.
Wristwatches with striking complications are among the hardest to manufacture in the world of horology. And even if a watchmaker does manage to make one, he or she is still likely to have trouble getting the sound just right: volume, timbre, speed, and extraneous noise are all real concerns.
Jaeger-LeCoultre has spent a lot of energy, research, time, and development on chiming systems. So it comes as no surprise to learn that this brand’s version of the minute repeater is different from others.
The Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie is a loud repeater, which is at least partially due to a patented item: the gong support is welded to the watch’s sapphire crystal – an element first seen in 2007’s Master Minute Repeater. This ensures that sound is always carried in the same way by “spreading” the sound, regardless of whether the watch is on the wrist or not.
This patented element is also present in the Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon: Jaeger-LeCoultre calls it the crystal gong as it utilizes a crystal/foil layering technique that sees the gongs attached to a layer of metallic foil coating the crystal. The crystal is then pressed into the (heated) white gold case, a technique the technicians at the manufacture have found to yield the best acoustics.
The gongs themselves are crafted in a special alloy, manufactured in one monoblock piece, and are square as opposed to round. This shape ensures that the hammer hits the center of the flat surface every time and also makes the chime last longer. Additionally, it is nearly impossible to hear the actual sound of the mechanism so that the listener concentrates solely on the sonorous notes produced by the hammers striking the gongs.
The sound of striking pieces is tested in Jaeger-LeCoultre’s grande complication workshop, where a special box and computer program especially developed within the company helps evaluate the sound quality of their gongs. The program tests intensity, length, and richness of sound and also ensures that the notes intended are actually being struck correctly.
Additionally, the watchmakers have developed an “acoustic bench” they use to compare and research the timbre of striking movements from many of the other brands. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s declared goal is to be better than what they consider to already be the best in class, and some of the benchmarks include a volume of at least 60 decibels and thorough water resistance (naturally two contradictory elements!).
The two hammers that hit the gongs inside the case of the Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon are also not your average garden variety hammer. In fact, these are hammers that were first seen in the Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie. Jaeger-LeCoultre has christened them trébuchet hammers (yes, named after the medieval catapult), thanks to their jointed design, which allows sort of a double flick that promotes resonance and ensures optimal energy transmission to the gongs. It also amplifies the sound diffusion thanks to a stronger, cleaner strike.
While almost all other repeaters, including the Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie, are activated by a slide on the side of the case, the Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon is equipped with a patented, retractable button at 10 o’clock to activate the function. The second button located at 8 o’clock on the case is the locking system; pushing it first brings out the repeater button.
As much as I was wowed by the Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie’s ingenious complication when it came out, I was that much more wowed by the understated grace and elegance of the Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon when I first saw it at the SIHH earlier this year.
I particularly like the frosted finish of the dial with two very special elements: the musical note at 8 o’clock that signifies the exact spot where the gong is welded to the crystal and the cutaways circumnavigating the dial are continually changing as the platinum peripheral rotor moves along its 36 ceramic ball bearings underneath it.
Simply majestic in all ways
Naturally, both movements are more than finely finished, so I won’t go into that in detail. Suffice it to say that approximately 100 watchmakers and technicians are involved just in the fine finishing alone of the Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie. That’s almost one-tenth of the company’s workforce!
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s long history includes an awful lot of minute repeaters and sonneries. But these are two modern examples that truly speak to me.
For more information, please visit www.jaeger-lecoultre.com/CH/en/watches/master-ultra-thin-minute-repeater-flying-tourbillon and/or www.jaeger-lecoultre.com/CH/en/watches/hybris-mechanica-a-grande-sonnerie.
Quick Facts Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon (Hybris Mechanica 11)
Case: 41 x 7.9 mm, 18-karat white gold (JLC’s new extra-white gold)
Movement: automatic Caliber 362, measuring 33.3 x 4.8 mm, with peripheral rotor and one-minute flying tourbillon
Functions: hours, minutes; minute repeater with silent-time lapse reduction function
Limitation: 75 pieces
Price: CHF 361,500 / $401,600 / € 294,000
Quick Facts Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie (Hybris Mechanica à Grande Sonnerie)
Case: 44 x 15 mm, 18-karat white gold
Movement: manually wound Caliber 182, dual wing system incorporating two gear trains (one for the movement itself and the other for the strike train) with one-minute flying tourbillon (on back) measuring 37 x 10.42 mm
Functions: jump hours, minutes; perpetual calendar with retrograde days, months, date and leap year; grand sonnerie, petite sonnerie, silence function, minute repeater; power reserve display