Fraudulent claims notwithstanding, no one has yet succeeded in creating a genuine perpetual-motion machine, and the promise of a limitless, nonpolluting energy source remains just that: a promise. But 75 years ago, Swiss engineer Jean-Léon Reutter did invent a clever device that bends the laws of physics in its favor. That this device is designed to power a clock makes it no less remarkable or significant.
Reutter’s invention eliminates the need for batteries, electricity, or routine rewinding. Instead, it fuels the clock by exploiting changes in temperature. The fluctuations do not have to be severe; a change as slight as a single degree can power the clock for roughly two days. No machine comes closer to running on air.
While timepieces that use Reutter’s device are not perpetual-motion machines, they are sometimes described as quasiperpetual. The only thing truly perpetual about these clocks is their following. John F. Kennedy, Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, and Charlie Chaplin were among those captivated by them.
Jaeger-LeCoultre has a long, distinguished history of producing these spellbinding timepieces. Indeed, the clocks owned by the aforementioned distinguished gentlemen were all made by the Swiss company. To honor the 75th anniversary of the invention, Jaeger-LeCoultre has created a commemorative version of its Atmos clock, the Atmos Mystérieuse. The timepiece, which stands 14 inches tall by 9.7 inches wide by 7.6 inches deep, took a dozen people nine months to complete. Two overlapping dials track the hours (above) and the minutes (below). The minutes dial frames the geartrains and other visible parts, but the mechanism that powers the clock’s hands and other indicators is hidden from view—Jaeger-LeCoultre is not about to reveal its secrets. Suffice it to say that the master craftspeople created an entirely new motor system that is concealed in the clock’s onyx base. The power is transmitted through glass cylinders inside the four crystal columns.
The unique timepiece is decorated with the richness it deserves, employing more than 24 pounds of 18-karat gold and 51.5 carats of diamonds; its column caps, as well as its base, are made of onyx and accented with diamonds; its dial is solid silver; its columns are made of rock crystal; and its cloche is Baccarat crystal.
After a few centuries have passed, the Atmos Mystérieuse will need rewinding, but the fascination and wonderment it generates are infinite.
Contact: Jaeger-LeCoultre, 212.308.2525, www.jaeger-lecoultre.com
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