In Conversation with Product Design Director Lionel Favre on design, and the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel.
An echoing sentiment of conservatism was fairly evident after days spent at the SIHH this year. Most of the brands unveiled novelties with wider appeal, instead of excessively bold or complicated pieces.
Grand Maison Jaeger-LeCoultre, however, were among the few who played the contrarian card in Geneva. Although it introduced crowd-pleasers like the Master Ultra Thin Moon Enamel, these were balanced out with a single technical masterpiece: the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel.
The watch’s name is quite a mouthful to pronounce, but it succinctly introduces the various eponymous complications. For a start, there is the multi-axial Gyrotourbillon which houses a cage within a cage to spin the balance wheel on two axes simultaneously, within precision. The concept has remained unchanged (this being the fifth multi-axis tourbillon from Jaeger-LeCoultre) but the brand has shrunk the Gyrotourbillon here by around 15 per cent to fit it within the watch’s 43mm case. A miniaturisation feat to be celebrated.
The Westminster minute repeater is the second highlight, and comes with a twist. Typically, the full four-bar melody is played only on the full hour, whether by Big Ben, or in a grande sonnerie watch. Here however, the four hammers and gongs will play the Westminster Chimes when there are no quarters. Activating the minute repeater at 11:09, for instance, will make it chime 11 low notes, the full Westminster Chimes, then nine high notes. The window for admiring the full melody is thus lengthened by 14 minutes every hour.
And there is the perpetual calendar that needs no introduction, though it is worth noting that the date here can be adjusted both forward and backward for user convenience.
Complications aside, the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel also sports a constant force mechanism, specifically a remontoir d’egalité whose spring “discharges” once a minute. This has the effect of making the minute hand a jumping one, to add yet another layer of technical complexity to what is already a complicated timepiece.
We share the following conversation we had with Lionel Favre, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Product Design Director at SIHH 2019. Favre was Head of Design at Chopard for 12 years, and then Roger Dubius for another 7 years before joining the brand. Notably, he comes from a family of jeweller-craftsmen, and was trained as a jeweller himself.
Curatedition: On the topic of design, which do you value more. An icon reworked, or a complete novelty?
Favre: I want to say that the shape of the watch is not the most important. What is most important for us is the harmony, the equilibrium between all the elements. The Reverso is a square watch with perfect harmony. I think you can have creativity in the same base shape. Even if we designed only round watches, we can make something totally different from another.
Curatedition: Can you share your favourite from the 2019 collection?
Favre: The Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel – the mesmerising movement is one of my favourites.
Curatedition: Please do share the inspiration for its design.
Favre: The design inspiration started from the movement. The fact that the movement is so beautiful with the 3D effect, we are able to play with the finishing to show the light and shadow effects on the dial.
Curatedition: Working from the movement first, and then defining the case. Is that always the case, is it specific to this particular watch?
Favre: The design also extend to the movement. The first prototype of the movement was not the same movement that you see today. It evolved as we attempted many compositions with the parts that we needed to integrate, the last one is the most beautiful.
Curatedition: “Need” is always the strongest motivation for creation. I come back to the Reverso because it was created with a function in mind, there was a purpose for it. Do you envisage, in the near future, a need that you will be attempting to address when designing a watch?
Favre: I agree that it would be interesting to abort new creation and think about the “need” instead. We do have some ideas about some needs to discuss about, but at the same time we need to be careful as some needs are not compelling enough. It must be really relevant.
Product design is like sculpting. You start by making a rough sketch with a pencil , then you refine it, chip away what you don’t need, add what you do. When designing a new watch, it is all about finding the right proportions. The sum of details has to create the right balance. You have to be uncompromising on each and every detail.Lionel Favre, Jaeger-LeCoultre Product Design Director
Images courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre, artwork by Curatedition.