As a brand with 1,262 different movements and more than 400 watchmaking patents under its belt, it would seem that Jaeger-LeCoultre has little left to prove. And yet, the caliber 945 in the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication still goes the extra mile.
It is not just a tourbillon, it’s an orbital flying tourbillon that circles the periphery of the dial once a day in addition to rotating on its axis every 60 seconds, and it is not just a minute repeater but a cathedral chime that uses crystal gongs instead of steel; and instead of conventional, one-piece hammers, it uses articulated hammers—catapult-style—that delivers an 80 percent bigger bang. To top it off, Jaeger throws in a star chart plotting the constellations in the northern hemisphere as seen from the 46th parallel, the latitude of its headquarters in the Vallée de Joux.
“There is an entry-level price of 187 years to be able to master this type of watchmaking,” says Catherine Renier, the CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre, which was founded in 1833. “We have for many years had a permanent research and development team at the manufacture, with dozens of people working on inventions and prototypes all the time. That has always been part of the company’s culture. Antoine LeCoultre [founder] was an inventor. I don’t think he was the type to sit behind the bench and repeat the same movement or the same design over and over. He was always creating something, whether it was music boxes or complicated movements, and always looking to improve the performance of his watches.”
Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of only a handful of brands uniquely capable of putting together a combination of complications like those in the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication. The company has produced more than 200 minute repeater calibers alone, including 100 made before the year 1900. The benchmark for its patented crystal gongs came in 2005 when it started making them out of synthetic sapphire crystal, which it says produces a greater vibrational mass and a fuller sound than steel. The gongs are soldered directly to the dial crystal rather than the case side, because the crystal amplifies the sound. Four years later, in 2009, Jaeger added its patented Trebuchet hammers to the ensemble, which is like adding an extra speaker. The hammers are articulated with hinges, which makes them function something like Medieval catapults, with the result that they strike the gongs with a much greater force than conventional hammers.
Jaeger first combined its new-generation minute repeaters with an astronomical display in the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication of 2010, a watch that also introduced the orbital flying tourbillon. Last year it brought the complications together again in the Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste. An orbital flying tourbillon is a rarity, and here it is part of a complication that also incorporates sidereal time, or time according to the stars. The orbital tourbillon makes a complete turn around the periphery of the dial once every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds, compared to the average 24-hour day of civil time.
The constellation display on the new Grande Complication is more refined than the 2019 version. The key decorative feature of last year’s was the application of Super-LumiNova to the constellations. This year, they are more intricate and precise with their names—Orion, Great Bear, Hydrus and so forth—spelled out on a “celestial vault” at the center of the dial. It is surrounded by this year’s key decorative feature, a latticed dome that serves as a stylized, 3D representation of a constellation, comprised of golden beads connected by laser-welded arms.
The Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication is 45 mm wide and 16.05 mm thick. It contains the manual wound caliber 945 with a 40-hour power reserve. There are two versions of eight pieces each, one in 18-karat rose gold and the other in 18-karat white gold, with 44 baguette diamonds totaling 3.76 carats set into the bezel. They are priced in euros, at €340,000 (approximately $383,073) in rose gold and €420,000 ($473,208) in white gold.