When the talk started about the Geophysic 1958 model being not a one (or rather two) off but part of a new collection, people wondered a bit. The 1958 was a successful and well-received homage/ reissue for Jaeger-LeCoultre that could have sold out several times over, but to turn it into an entire collection? Would it dilute the original meaning? Would new models just, somehow, seem a bit ‘wrong’?
A quick recap.
In 1958 Jaeger-LeCoultre commemorated the International Geophysical Year by creating a robust utilitarian watch that was protected against magnetic fields (600 gauss), shock and water resistant, as well as extremely accurate. Fitted with Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 478b, the Geophysic chronometer was presented to the commanders of the Nautilus and Skate, the first atomic submarines to go under the North Pole, with a gold Geophysic chronometer specially engraved for the occasion. Only 1,290 of these were made, and it remains a highly desirable and sought after piece.
Watches & Wonders 2015 showed that there was no need to be overly concerned, although obviously any future models will again be subject to as much scrutiny as these new pieces have been already. Note that Jaeger-LeCoultre have already made these available in their boutiques and dealers, to coincide with their official launch.
First up is one of the most talked-about watches in Hong Kong, the True Second, which I keep on absent-mindedly calling it the ‘dead second’, but I am working on this, I promise. This watch has been buzzing around the online and offline watch worlds already. For those who wanted the Geophysic 1958 but didn’t mange to get it, this is not a bad alternative at all. If I dare say so, I prefer this to the Geophysic 1958.
Whilst the True Second and the more complicated Universal Time may appear at first glance to be pieces that could be at home in another collection line, with their movements they fit here, because of their emphasis on functionality but within the context of movement and precision being key. Precision was criticial to the original Geophysic and is the heart of these new models, through the use of a ‘true second’.
As mentioned, the original Geophysic was launched in 1958 to coincide with the International Geophysical Year, so it was always intended as a functional precision instrument with endurance and accuracy as key. This has again been reiterated with the True Second.
Available in either stainless steel or pink gold (the former is my pick), it has but the time and date. The seconds hand is what it’s all about, with the traditional smooth seconds hand of the mechanical watch swapped for the one second tick change that is common to true/ dead beat seconds watches (called as such because of the ‘dead’ space between seconds) and more familiarly seen in quartz watches. Dead/ true beat watches are something of an anomaly in mechanical watches, more commonly seen amongst smaller brands such as Arnold & Son, Habring2 and De Bethune. It is a sign of watch geekery for Jaeger-LeCoultre to have done this. A sign of watch geekery that has made people quite excited.
So, what’s it all about?
It’s about the Calibres 770/ 772, the movement at the base of the True Seconds and Universal Time respectively. Developed in-house to meet the historical expectations of its predecessor as mentioned above – precision, reliability and an automatic movement, both new movements contain the ‘true’ or ‘dead’ beat seconds. There are two gear trains : one for the escapement and one that releases every second for the dead beat – a second hair spring that releases every second.
The roots of this new movement are in the Gyrolab balance of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Compressor Extreme Lab 1, which had been produced to show off what they can do. Six patents and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 988C that is able to run for years without any wear or deterioration, purportedly even at -40°C.
What had been most discussed at the time of the Extreme Lab 1’s production was the lubrication-free escapement, which people wondered whether was going to make its way into other watches. The balance that looks like two arcs (or the Jaeger-LeCoultre logo) was apparently serendipity rather than by design, although it has been turned into as such. With less friction leading to better oscillation and no oil, they’re now calling the descendent the ‘Gyrolab balance’, and is in these watches.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s head watchmaker does a final check
But it’s not just about the technical aspects, it’s also about the dial, particularly for the True Seconds, which is a classic clean design.
Hour markers are silvered grained, appliqued, and the Super-LumiNova-filled baton hands are polished and faceted, something that features in other Jaeger-LeCoultre dress watches. In contrast, the sober dial is matte, giving it a very understated appearance. This watch is really not for show, it hides its achievements in a very conservative guise.
Finishing wise there is satin-brushed finishing for the side of the case, and polished finishing for the bezel and lugs. A really nice touch is the lumed hour marker dots around the chapter ring between the dial and the bezel, which adds a bit of visual interest as much as night time functionality.
Another precision point to note apart from the movement is that when the crown is pulled out you can set the hour hand independent of the minute hand, with the date adjusting as necessary. Good for travellers. Good for those who like exactitude.
The Universal Time shares the same basic movement (both with a 40-hour power reserve) and case design, but despite the added world time complication (making it Calibre 772, with a thickness of 7.13mm versus the 770’s 6.57mm height), the watch’s height is minimally larger, at 11.84mm as compared to 11.8mm for the True Second. The Universal Time case, however, is 1.5mm larger than the True Seconds, with 39.6mm for the True Second and 41.6mm for the Universal Time.
The elegant blue planisphere of the world (stamped, translucent lacquer, with the continents brushed for a matte finish) uses radiating lines indicating time zones, with Greenwich Mean Time indicated via a red dashed line. The line with an asterisk next to a city (and there are twenty-four cities in total) is a quick easy-to-read way of indicating winter and summer time. In fact you don’t have to re-synchronise cities, the earth and cities do not move. Once you set the world timer, that’s it. The time zones are always the same, all that changes is your reference time zone (the ring between the planisphere and the cities). Night is indicated by the dark blue half.
Comparison with the Memovox International
These new additions to the Geophysic Collection have already been much discussed in the last few days for their design and the ‘true seconds’ movement. Functional and yet with technical skill at their heart, they are available now, and are interesting and good looking ‘watchy’ watches that will no doubt have broad appeal.
[Horologium attended Watches & Wonders 2015 by invitation of Richemont Australia]