|Hiren Kumar Bose visits the Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre and watches the making of a modern classic, the Master Compressor|
As the car comes to a halt having arrived from the plains of Geneva and stops in front of the humblelooking two-storied atelier, one is unable to miss the fluttering flags-Swiss, Indian, the US and the local one belonging to Canton de Vaud-stroked by the cool breeze of the Alps on a bright sunny day of April.
We are guests at Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Manufacture, located in the scenic Vallee de Joux in the village of Le Sentier. Ushered into the glass-lined office, situated at an altitude of 1000m, in the heart of the Jura mountains, we are greeted with “Bon Jour Monsieur” and offered coffee and biscuits in a room where history was made: for in 1833, Antoine LeCoultre, a self-taught watchmaker, a brilliant inventor trained in his father’s forge here, founded a little workshop and 11 years later created the first instrument capable of measuring components to the nearest thousandth of a millimetre-the Millionometer. It was followed with the keyless watch and a highly complicated pocket watch featuring the LeCoultre RMSCQ caliber with minute repeater, chronograph and perpetual calendar. However, the turning point came in 1903 when Parisian Edmond Jaeger challenged the Swiss to manufacture some ultra-thin calibers of his own invention. Jacques-David LeCoultre, grandson of the founder, set about this with great enthusiasm. Out of the duo’s friendship was born the beautiful collections of ultra-thin pocket watches followed by other exceptional creations which culminated in the Jaeger-LeCoultre brand. For instance in 1907, LeCoultre Calibre 145 became the slimmest in the world- only 1.38mm thick!
Every single Jaeger-LeCoultre watch houses its own movement, entirely invented, developed and produced within the Jaeger-LeCoultre factory. Presently it manufactures over 40 different mechanical calibers, ranging from the smallest in diameter to the ultra thin, including the 8-day movement, the tourbillon, the perpetual calendar, the large date models and the one that drives the Atmos Mysterieuse clock.
“No watch leaves the manufacture without undergoing the 1000-hour test process except the watches fitted with Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 101,” informs Simone Prevalet, the Jaeger-LeCoultre spokesperson who resides on the French side and drives each day for 30 minutes through world’s best view to reach the Manufacture.
Jaeger-LeCoultre brings together forty professions under one roof. Most workers come from five families, all residents of Valle de Joux, namely Meylan, Golay, Piguet, Audemars, Rochat-a tradition that has spanned generations. Over 900 people work here wearing white cotton overhauls at the centrally-heated factory protected from the icy cold temperatures between December to March, which can be as low as minus 30 degrees Celcius. Snow can be witnessed even during the months between May and September,” informs Simone as she chaperones us through the factory which overlooks Mont Blanc. At Jaeger-LeCoultre, like other Swiss watchmakers, each creation is fashioned according to the traditional rules of fine watch making in addition to advanced technologies. The spirit prevailing within the Manufacture eliminates all forms of compartmentalization. Technicians, watch makers and designers work together to give shape to each new watch, in the process breathing into it a little of his/her soul. Considering a watch to a ‘live’ object, the watchmakers are willing to share a secret: the rhythm of its mechanism is likely to forever retain the memory of those who brought it to life!