Beautiful Contrasts: Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2
Mixing the new with the old, the modern with the classic, begets some very interesting and sometimes surprising combinations. Picture yourself walking through a sleepy village in the middle of the French countryside. Stone farm houses and centuries-old vineyards dot the landscape, providing a sense of history and an overwhelming feeling of calm. Upon reaching a 350-year-old church, you decide to wander inside and soak in the charm of the rural sanctuary.
Much to your surprise, the interior is decorated in stark post-modern with clean, angular lines, completely whitewashed architecture, and décor that would be more fitting in a contemporary mansion overlooking the palm-lined streets of Beverly Hills. The amount of color, chrome, and lack of anything older than 30 years is a bit jarring after the tranquil meander around the ancient town.
Yet the juxtaposition feels cohesive, and the contrast delights your senses and allows each object the space to shine where it all might otherwise fade into the background.
This is an example of something found all around the world; the old with the new and the contrast between the two. It’s like taking a brand-new VTEC motor and dropping it into a 1951 Citroën 2CV, thereby mixing the most charming and rationally designed car in history with the reliability of one of the most popular engines in modern automotive history. It’s a sure win!
There will always be purists who say that the classic and the modern should be kept separate for the integrity of each, but there are those among us (thank goodness) who disagree – thereby bringing two almost disparate ideas together for entirely new and awesomazing creations.
One such creation – deemed so by yours truly at any rate – is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2. This is a timepiece that I have drooled over for years, and I wanted to take the time to give it a good onceover for everyone who might enjoy it when the past and the future unite.
The obviousness of my past/present parallel should be apparent, but if not consider this: the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso was originally designed and patented in 1931. More than eight decades ago, a man by the name of René-Alfred Chauvot designed a wristwatch case that would continue to be made until the present day, with no major changes to function or design since.
Seriously. Today’s Reverso is dang near identical (for those of us not steeped in obsession-level details) to the original one made 84 years ago. I think that is practically the definition of a classic.
So this timepiece represents the old, the historic, and the purely classic. The next step is to add in the modern, the current, and the now.
To fans and followers of Jaeger-LeCoultre, it comes as no surprise that the brand is one of the top watchmakers in the business today, constantly pushing the limits of modern horology. This is instantly visible within the Duomètre, Master, and Hybris Mechanica collections even at first glance. The engineering and mechanical feats that go into Jaeger-LeCoultre’s watches are rivaled only by the best in the industry.
When the Reverso case comes together with current horological technology, something incredible happens. And when the current technology happens to be a so-called gyrotourbillon with a cylindrical hairspring, that something is even more fantastimazing.
It all starts with the ginormous dual-axis spherical tourbillon located at six o’clock. And if you didn’t notice that, where’s your head at!?
The spherical tourbillon is an incredible set of little cages, the outer made of aluminum and the inner made of aluminum with some titanium. The process by which the exterior cage is fabricated is very impressive and something that Jaeger-LeCoultre is happy to discuss and showcase.
The cage starts off as a rod of aluminum (while there is no official mention of the type, I am guessing 7075 aluminum as it is more rigid and far stronger than the ubiquitous 6061 “standard” aerospace aluminum) that is loaded into a five-axis machining center (please see Focus On Technology: Multi-Axis Machining – A Primer).
The aluminum rod is turned and bored on a lathe-style five-axis machining center to create the rough shape of the cage, prior to drilling all the features and holes for screws and pivots. The holes are then drilled before a milling head moves in to pocket out the remaining material for skeletonization. The final operation is to finish turning down the base (where one of the pivots is located) and to perform the cut-off, where the finished cage is separated from the original rod. At this point the cage is ready for tapping, reaming (for pivot jewels), and to have the final shape finished by hand with very fine files and burnishers.
The inner cage is less suitable for this style of machine and is most likely machined on a VMC (vertical machining center), though I could be wrong. Similar steps are probably taken, however, to obtain the general shape, drill the critical holes, and then machine away any excess material to achieve the final net shape. Once the tourbillon cages are entirely finished and assembled with all 100 or so parts, the assembly weighs (thanks to the aluminum and titanium) a whoppingly svelte one-third of a gram.
To put it into perspective: an average-sized paperclip weighs about one gram. So for that many parts to weigh just 33 percent of that . . . in the immortal words of Vizzini from The Princess Bride, it is “inconceivable!”
Okay, not exactly inconceivable, but downright impressive to be sure. But wait, there’s more!
Inside the outer cage that rotates once a minute and inside the inner cage that rotates every 18.75 seconds is the gold balance wheel oscillating at 4 Hz, faster than the 3 Hz of the original Gyrotourbillon. Helping that oscillation stay steady and consistent is a technical element that was likely a first for its time in a wristwatch: a cylindrical hairspring like those found in extremely accurate marine chronometers.
No, seriously, magic
Once you start to investigate them, hairsprings become a form of black magic as micro adjustments to shape, anchor point, and terminal curve location can produce dramatically different actions for the balance and for the timing rate of the watch.
To better control these aspects, different hairspring shapes have been invented over the centuries, the most consistent being the cylindrical hairspring invented by John Arnold in 1782. It was also notoriously difficult to produce accurately. Making it small enough to fit into a modern-day wristwatch is even more difficult.
The process begins with a strip of steel, probably Nivarox that is – you guessed it – the width and thickness of a hairspring. That strip of material is then carefully pinned and wound around a mandrel in the shape of a cylinder, possibly with miniature grooves cut into it to aid precise spacing for the hairspring material.
It is then carefully pinned on the other end, excess material cut off, and then placed in a heat treating oven to be brought to a very specific temperature for a very specific period of time with the aim of making a material with the exact springiness needed for a hairspring.
The tiny mandrel and hairspring is then cooled in a very specific way to make sure the hardness and temper of the material is locked once cooled. If all of this goes correctly, and the tiny spring is removed from the mandrel without being destroyed, the hairspring can then be cut to appropriate length and the end curves formed by truly skilled human hands wielding tiny tweezers constantly checking under a microscope against a template to ensure maximum accuracy.
Needless to say, there are very few people who are even qualified to do this . . . but one of them works for Jaeger-LeCoultre.
After the voodoo is over
Now the entire spherical tourbillon assembly is finished, and the rest of the watch comes into play. The cage, mounted at 45 degrees from vertical in the movement, meshes with a conical pinion to the rest of the gear train. That gear train, as should follow, is fairly incredible in its own right. When viewed from the rear of the case, it is easy to see that the gear train consists of a power reserve indicator mechanism offset from the massive single spring barrel.
The mainspring features an anti-overwind/anti-low power mechanism that satisfies my watch-nerdiness as much as an interesting and unique click system.
The anti-overwind/anti-low power mechanism works like this: mounted to the center of the mainspring is a toothed gear with a stop arm attached directly on top. Turning around that center gear is a larger openworked gold gear with a miniature bridge attached. That bridge supports a jewel-mounted gear with its own stop arm attached.
As the mainspring winds, the bridge-supported gear meshes with the center gear; the supported gear rolls around the center. As it makes its rotation, the stop arm slowly traces an arc on its journey.
As the mainspring reaches its fully wound state, the stop arm of the rolling gear and the stop arm of the central gear meet and interfere, eliminating rotation of the system and preventing over-winding. Pretty clever, no? Well, on the return trip the process takes place in reverse. And after a certain period of time, the stop arms come into contact again, this time preventing the mainspring from unwinding any further.
The purpose for this is to eliminate the possibility that the mainspring will not provide enough power to the gear train and the rate will begin to change as inadequate power delivery affects the amplitude of the balance.
It might be a strong word, but genius seems appropriate. When a single mechanism can provide two different functions, it is an example of efficient and smart engineering. Finishing out the gear train on the dial side is a 24-hour wheel located at 9 o’clock with a permanently fixed indicator on a movement plate beneath.
The offset hours and minutes are halfway up the dial directly above the Gyrotourbillon, mirroring the large cutout for the amazing cages below.
Beside the ol’ standards like chamfered and polished edges, brushed surfaces, and selected areas of perlage, decorations to the movement include a very handsome form of guilloche called clous de Paris. This is basically a diamond knurling pattern cut on a flat surface, and it is very, dare I say, sexy.
But, really, the best part of the assembly is what is holding it all together: an imposing version of the super classic Reverso case. This contrast of a more than eighty-year-old design mixed with the most modern in movement production techniques is what makes this watch a winner from the get-go.
It isn’t something many would have expected to see, especially since the Reverso is such a timeless classic by this point; anything too cutting edge or advanced might seem out of place. But it wasn’t, and it still isn’t. It is by far the most wondiferous example of a Reverso that has been made, which is saying something since there have been many incredible examples over the years.
I have wanted a Reverso as the ultimate refined dress casual watch (yes, I made that category), and when I saw this version I couldn’t help but fall in love. Granted, my love for watches started with a multi-axis tourbillon so it should come as no surprise that when one is expertly placed inside another of my favorite watches, a love affair soon begins.
I could discuss the finer points of this watch, the movement, and all the things about it I love for hours, but I will leave you with a parting thought. When attempting to create something new in a long-loved platform, the best way to ensure success is to create beauty together, highlighting the differences instead of hiding them.
This is what the Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 did. Jaeger-LeCoultre knew that the movement and the case style seemed an odd match, and so they put everything they could into both so that, when they came together, it could only be love. And I hope you love it too.
If not, break it down with me anyway!
- Wowza Factor * 9.967 Just shy of a perfect score, but why? It’s actually because Jaeger-LeCoultre created a mystery with this watch. In the press release the brand spoke of a secret screw that has a mystery function. I like secrets, but only when I’m in on the secret! I want to know: JLC, what does that screw do, which one is it, what, why, where, how!?!?
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 130 » 1,274.86m/s2 Oh yeah, that is almost twice the G force that would kill most everybody, and this watch is doing a number on me! Oh, have mercy . . .
- M.G.R. * 71.85 Almost a perfect score again considering this movement is truly geekworthy. If I knew what that mystery screw did, though, it would be a perfect score!
- Added-Functionitis * Moderate Power reserve: check. 24-hour indication: check. Now if only the double axis tourbillon could count, this thing would be a killer! But I still suggest extra-strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for the multi-axis swelling!
- Ouch Outline * 12.25 – Crashing a soapbox car into a pile of hay bales at 30 mph! I recently took part in the Red Bull Soapbox Race here in Atlanta, and while I did not smash into the hay bales, my friend did, as did many other racers, and, boy, did it look painful. Yet, I would gladly take that drive to get this baby on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * About 3 seconds. Seriously, if you don’t fall in love in the first, oh, I don’t know, ten seconds, you might need to get your eyes checked. Or you may be dead. If you are alive and have good eyesight, you’ll probably be booking the honeymoon suite in Tahoe right now!
- Awesome Total * 745 Add together the number of parts in the movement (371), the number of parts in the case (50), the numbers of examples in the two limited editions (2 x 75), and finally the caliber number (Caliber 174) and we land on a serious contender of an awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.jaeger-lecoultre.com/reverso-gyrotourbillon-2.
Case: 36 x 55 x 15.8 mm, platinum or pink gold
Movement: manually wound Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 174 with double-axis tourbillon and cylindrical balance spring
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; 24-hour indication, power reserve
Limitation: 75 in platinum and 75 in pink gold