At the SIHH 2012, the Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre presents three new timepieces in its Master Control line, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It was indeed in 1992 that the Grande Maison in the Vallée de Joux introduced this classically inspired line named after a merciless set of tests, the 1000 Hours Control, introduced that same year in order to guarantee the reliability, the sturdiness and the precision of its timepieces, even in the most extreme conditions.
Since 1833, watchmaking inventiveness has had a firm home base in the Vallée de Joux. That was the year the brilliant young Antoine Lecoultre founded his own establishment in Le Sentier, dedicated to the production of horological components. He had just developed a revolutionary machine designed to cut pinions, a key element of watch mechanisms. It represented a decisive breakthrough that paved the way for movement standardisation and series production. This first venture off the beaten track set an invaluable precedent, and remains an enduring source of inspiration for the founders’ successors. Antoine LeCoultre did not take the success with which his first efforts were rewarded as an encouragement to rest on his laurels – quite the contrary. He extended production to encompass other timepiece components and constantly sought out new means of enhancing production quality. Barely ten years went by before he developed the millionometer, the first instrument capable of making micron-accurate measurements corresponding to one millionth of a metre. The invention was to have a considerable impact in that, as well as ensuring greatly improved precision, it also served to incorporate within pocket-watches certain horological complications that previous generations could only dream of. The new accomplishments generated great enthusiasm and the Vallée de Joux, the cradle of Fine Watchmaking, soon earned the nickname of the “Valley of Complications” – a title that has remained unchallenged ever since.
The 1000 Hours Control, 20 years ahead of its time
The inventions and improvements made by the Manufacture involve all aspects of watchmaking in order to raise the beauty, reliability and performances of its timepieces to new heights. Exactly two decades ago, in order to test the quality and sturdiness of its horological creations right down to the smallest details and in the most improbable conditions, Jaeger-LeCoultre instated a rigorous testing procedure, the 1000 Hours Control. Each watch in the new line unveiled that year was authorised to leave the workshops of the Manufacture only if accompanied by a certificate signed by the master- watchmaker responsible for this procedure. The document duly certifies that the watch has valiantly surmounted the daunting trials stipulated by this six-week test programme.
The models in the Master Control line reflect this demand for reliability in their very name. First introduced in 1992, this new generation of watches featured a design distinguished by the refinement of pure classical lines inspired by the grand tradition of 19th century pocket-watches, as well as by the legendary Memovox models and the Futurematic – the first entirely automatic watch with no winding crown. Nonetheless, their ability to withstand the most extreme conditions already stemmed from avant- garde technology. In an era when automatic timepieces generally set the frequency of their balances at 21,600 vibrations per hour, corresponding to 3 Hertz, Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 899/1 was distinguished by its high frequency of 4 Hertz, meaning 28,800 vibrations per hour – a characteristic that put it several steps ahead of other contemporary watch movements.
Who other than Jaeger-LeCoultre would have dreamed of being so ruthless with shiny new watches fresh off the production line' Just when it seemed they were ready to be slipped into precious presentation boxes and dispatched with all due care to their future owners, they found themselves instead in immaculate white lab rooms. These were the domain of the implacable Master Inspector, who presided over the smooth implementation of tests stretching over a full six-week period. At Jaeger-LeCoultre, timepieces are tested only once they are fully completed, just prior to departure from the Manufacture, and thus in their final form. Any discrepancy or any weakness detected during this month and a half is enough to ensure their instant return to the watchmaking workshops. The Master Inspector is inflexible in the exercise of his mission, as his own reputation – and even more importantly, that of the brand itself – depend on this unfailingly rigorous approach. Once received, each watch is thus subjected to a variety of tests: the cyclotest machine sets it into rotations punctuated by interruptions of various lengths, while other devices test its behaviour at various temperatures or verify its rating accuracy in six positions. Six weeks later, the Master Inspector finally gives the go-ahead by placing his signature on the certificate attesting to the fact that it possesses all the qualities required to become a loyal and greatly appreciated companion, day after day and year after year.
A new face for the Master Control’s 20th anniversary
While values remain, their mode of expression changes subtly with time. Twenty years after its presentation and building on unflagging success, the Master Control reasserts its minimalist credo in a refined new interpretation. This creation, which continues to meet the strictest demands, now appears in a slightly smaller 39 millimetre diameter enabling it to adjust easily to all wrist sizes. It houses Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 899, which incorporates the latest developments to emerge from the company laboratories in the fields of resistance and robustness. Its face is even slimmer, the bezel is sleeker than ever and the delicately curving lugs extend harmoniously towards the strap. Sharing the same aspiration to purity, the functions also meet the same criteria of usefulness and are expressed on the sunburst silver-toned dial by Dauphine hands indicating the hours and minutes, along with a baton-type seconds hand. The applied hour-markers continue to make way for Roman numerals at three of the dial’s four cardinal points (6, 9 and 12 o’clock), while the date window appears at 3 o’clock in the location traditionally symbolising sunrise. In its steel or pink gold versions, the Master Control embodies elegance raised to authentic excellence in order to illustrate a mechanical perfection and an aesthetic refinement that will only be enhanced by the passing of time.