Reducing a movement’s components to Lilliputian proportions is nothing new in watchmaking, but Jaeger-LeCoultre’s famous 101 is so tiny its parts look like particles of dust to the naked eye.
First conceived in 1929, the caliber, which was constructed specifically for high-jewelry timepieces, made headlines as the smallest mechanical movement in the world at just 14 mm long and less than 5 mm wide—a record it still holds to this day. It is also one the world’s oldest movement’s in continuous production since its creation and was put on the global spotlight in 1953 when the president of France gifted a 101 to Queen Elizabeth II, who wore the timepiece during her coronation. Due to the minute construction of the caliber, which requires some 30 hours of work, only a few dozen can be made per year. From concept to creation, each new version of the 101 takes almost a year and a half. The last new 101s to appear on the market debuted two years ago with the Reine and the Feuille on a linear bracelet. Now the brand has come out with a dynamic bangle style and a more rounded-looking “Snowflake” bracelet for those that couldn’t get their hands on one of the roughly 36 pieces produced of the 2018 models.
The Snowflake 101 takes its cues from the bell-shaped flowers that grow in the thin layer of snow in the Vallée de Joux, home to many of Switzerland’s greatest watchmaking houses. The motif was created with 904 diamonds, including 204 pear-shaped diamonds and 700 brilliant-cut diamonds totaling 20.9 carats. “It takes over 100 hours to set the full bracelet and no less than 30 hours to make the 101 movement,” said Jaeger-Le Coultre CEO Catherine Renier in a Zoom conference. “Both require a lot of patience and, of course, a lot of expertise and an excellent eye and precision in the hands.”
If you have ever visited a watchmaking manufacture or tried your hand at assembling a movement, you will know that is a big understatement. Just putting a screw in a regular-sized movement requires extraordinary skill, but working with components that are almost invisible without a loupe is quite a feat. To give you an idea of just how difficult calibers of this size are to create, the watchmaker that made the smallest chiming watch in the world for Audemars Piguet once wrote to the brand that his eyes were ruined from making the miniaturized invention and that he would not “make anymore, for any price.”
But in this case, the gem-setting takes longer than the movement. In this piece, it was done with a linear technique that involves tiny beads of gold that are pulled up from the surface of the metal, then secured over each stone in a griffe design that maximizes the amount of light that passes through each gem for extra brilliance.
The new bangle version of the 101 offers more design in a dynamic shape inspired by the Art Deco era, in which the watch was born. Set with 996 brilliant-cut diamonds, totaling 19.7 carats, it combines a griffe setting of 144 diamonds with a grain setting of 852 diamonds for a more multi-dimensional aesthetic. An added bonus is that it opens with a simple twist of the two sides, so that it forgoes the need for a clasp, which no matter how well-secured and well-made always comes with the risk of coming undone, especially if worn frequently over time.
Both are set in pink gold with diamonds selected from IF to VVS quality and have been carefully designed for both comfort and lightness.
“It is a unique historical tribute to the caliber that remains differentiated from the rest of the existing mechanical calibers,” said Renier. “When you pick this piece you also choose it for the heritage and the story behind the creation of that caliber and how it’s mapped out the relationship between women and jewelry watches throughout the century. I believe the ladies interested in this piece are highly educated in jewelry and appreciate history and craftsmanship in watchmaking.”
In the world of high-jewelry watches, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s 101 is one of, if not the most, elegant and understated example. And it is just small enough for everyday wear, should you care for it to spend more time on your wrist than in the safe.