Interview: Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Catherine Rénier on galactic watchmaking

Jaeger-LeCoultre attempts to go where no watchmaker has gone before, capturing celestial phenomena in exceedingly intricate complications with the utmost precision and artistry. #legend speaks with CEO Catherine Rénier about the Stellar Odyssey

Catherine Rénier. Photo: JLC

From hand-held models of the universe rendered on a flat surface to the three-dimensional mechanical mobiles known as tellurions (also written “tellurium”) that were developed to illustrate the relative positions and movements of the Earth and moon in relation to the sun, mankind has invented an array of instruments to reproduce the celestial cycles and enhance our understanding of astronomical phenomena. As far back as the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, who developed the first sundials, mankind has also strived to measure the passage of time as the sun moves across the sky and creates the transition from darkness to light.

“The history of time measurement began with the fascination with our sky and our solar system. In the beginning, the movements of the planets and stars were used to measure the passing of time; later, these measurements governed the way that clock and watch mechanisms were structured; and now, talented watchmakers of the current generation are reinterpreting astronomical phenomena, capturing them in the form of intricate complications to be worn on the wrist,” explains Catherine Rénier, CEO of pioneering Swiss watchmaking brand Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Indeed, ever since Antoine LeCoultre established his watchmaking business in 1833, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s horloger-inventors have mastered all forms of astronomical complication, from simple moon phase displays to highly complex perpetual calendars and sky charts, even combining them with other functions to create Grandes Complications. In 2022, La Grande Maison is honouring this deep expertise and noble legacy with an array of new celestial watches under the theme Stellar Odyssey.

The sky over the Vallée de Joux at night. Photo: JLC

“At Jaeger-LeCoultre, we are proud to have a fully integrated manufacture under one group located in the Vallée de Joux since 1873. Our creative imagination and spirit of the invention, initiated by A Antoine LeCoultre, has been the driving force behind the watchmaking invention that has allowed us to master three significant territories: precision, sound and celestial,” Rénier says. “Our watchmakers are fascinated by the captivating complexities and beauty of the celestial night sky in the Vallée de Joux. This has led to the creation of extraordinary celestial complications that have mastered the measures of solar, lunar and sidereal time.”

First introduced at this year’s Watches and Wonders in Geneva, the Stellar Odyssey harnesses not only the brand’s exceptional technical inventiveness – which includes more than 430 patents and 1,300 different calibres – but also its mastery of decorative crafts from enamelling to engraving. It features two Atmos clocks, including the most complex Atmos ever created, and a range of wristwatches, many powered by entirely new complications.

Also see: Watches and Wonders 2022: Jaeger-LeCoultre reaches for the sky

The Atmos Hybris Mechanica Calibre 590 is just one example of how celestial tools like the tellurion continue to inspire modern-day watchmakers. “The new calibre 590, which was entirely conceived, designed and constructed within the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture, reproduces with precision the rotation of the Earth on its own axis and the orbits of the moon around the Earth and the Earth around the sun,” Rénier explains. “Its mechanism is so close to the true cycle of the moon that it creates only one day of error, every 577 years.”

The Master Grande Tradition Calibre 948, meanwhile, can be traced back to the establishment of the Greenwich Observatory in London as the prime meridian (longitude 0°) or standard of time reckoning around the world. “This is a true expression of our technical expertise,” Rénier says. “It simulates the rotation of Earth on its axis and depicts to perfection the map of the Earth to indicate the right time in the 24 time zones.”

Assembling the groundbreaking Rendez-Vous Star

But perhaps the most groundbreaking – and certainly most romantic – aspect of the Stellar Odyssey is an entirely new complication for the feminine Rendez-Vous collection. “When we decided to create this watch, we wanted to create a moment,” Rénier says, referring to the recreation of the rare and random occurrence of a shooting star. “When we spoke with the watchmakers they said, ‘It’s impossible; we always have a regular cycle in the watch.’ But after a week or so, they came back to us and said, ‘We have an idea – to link the stars to the movement of the hand.’ So that’s how it became random because the movement is totally random all day long.”

The Rendez-Vous Star and Dazzling Star, as well as the entire Stellar Odyssey collection, perfectly embody the unique spirit of Jaeger-LeCoultre and its ability to innovate and introduce new products every year. “To create a mechanism that expresses an unpredictable phenomenon is a fascinating challenge as it appears to defy the laws of watchmaking, which is a world where we are used to everything being precisely calibrated and measured,” Rénier says. “Looking to the future, you will see more high complications, you will see more one-of-a-kind innovation, you will see a lot of artistic interpretation like we have this year. Innovation is definitely part of our DNA and this will continue.”

Also see: Jaeger-LeCoultre: Nicholas Hoult stars in short film The Turning Point

In this Story: #watches & #jewellery