Last year, I spent an evening in the garden of the Orangerie in Versailles watching the Béjart Ballet Lausanne, a partner of haute horlogerie brand Jaquet Droz. I have long been an ardent admirer of this prestigious watch company, based on the outskirts of La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland.
I confess that prior to attending the event, I did not quite understand the association between the timepieces and the ballet company. However, within moments of seeing the rhythmic motion of limbs move in time to “the Bolero,” everything became abundantly clear.
The ballet acts as a perfect metaphor for the motion of hour, minute, and second hands. Each step taken is considered, deliberate, and accurately executed. Each motion of a hand, imparted with meaning, conveys an emotion. The similarities between ballet and watches became obvious to see adjacent to the Palace of Versailles.
Jaquet Droz creates timepieces that positively brim with elegance and grace. The figure eight, composed of two entwined subdials, has become a signature of the brand. I have no doubt this design element appeals to superstitious Chinese clientèle who have long been familiar with the name of Jaquet Droz. Indeed, in the 18th century, brand namesake Pierre Jaquet-Droz exported pocketwatches to China, supplying members of the Imperial Court including Qianlong, the fifth emperor of the Qing dynasty.
Today, Jaquet Droz continues to make sublime pocketwatches, elaborately decorated by skilled artisans. However, the company also makes a collection of timepieces that evince a similar mien but proffer the convenience of wrist wear.
The charm of Jaquet Droz
The collection of models on one hand is diverse. The Grande Seconde SW Steel exhibits neoteric styling. Conversely, I also admire the functionality and ease of interpretation of The Twelve Cities Ivory Enamel, which proves a useful tool for the intrepid explorer with a notable quotient of flair.
Until recently, my favorite Jaquet Droz watch was the Grande Seconde Quantième. I first saw this timepiece when it was launched at Baselworld 2014 and it immediately ensnared my heart. Part of the charm of this model is the ivory-toned dial, a hue that features widely within the Jaquet Droz collection. It exhibits a vintage persona, as if slightly aged. Moreover, the lower subdial is stepped with the seconds display sitting higher than the adjacent date display.
Each indication on the dial is clean, succinct, and simple to interpret. However, this Jaquet Droz model does not merely fulfill the primary need of conveying information, but also proffers a cornucopia of comeliness. My adoration for this watch is immense, and it remains on the bucket list of watches I must own before shedding this mortal coil. However, there is now another Jaquet Droz watch that has caught my gaze and encourages me to swear words of undying love.
The dial design
The surface of the dial is flat, absent of depth. Ordinarily, I wax lyrical about those watches that exploit depths to eye-catching effect but, in this instance, I find that the flat surface delivers an appealing innocence, symbolically representing an honest temperament where all thoughts are freely shown. At first, the dial appears seemingly ingénue-like, with a clear complexion and free of wrinkles, but on closer inspection subtle graining can be seen, the result of grand feu enamelling.
An upper subdial employs lancine-shaped hands to convey the hours and minutes. The hours are imparted with Roman numerals, save for 5, 6, and 7 o’clock, where Jaquet Droz has used Arabic numerals. This deviation from the norm is a welcome twist, which bestows interest and has been part of the Jaquet Droz design language for some time.
The lower subdial is larger in scale and features a retrograde date. A lithe golden hand, tipped in red, follows a clockwise path until it reaches the last day of the month, again depicted in red. Once the last day of the month has expired (assuming the month consists of 31 days), the hand jumps back, counterclockwise to the first integer on the scale. However, this is not an annual or perpetual calendar, so in the months with fewer than 31 days the wearer will need to make a manual adjustment.
As the name infers, this watch is equipped with a grand seconds display, with an oversized hand, slender in profile, traversing the whole of the dial perimeter. This is no ordinary seconds hand, though, shuffling four times per second. This is deadbeat seconds, where the hand advances in whole, precise, one-second steps. To observe the central deadbeat seconds hand advance is hypnotic. It is reminiscent of a dancer at the barre, battement frappé with toes pointed, striking out the beat in full with meticulous gestures.
Gracing the perimeter of the dial is a subtle chapter ring and the words “Numerus Clausus” and the individual piece number from a limited series of 88. These limited series have become a maison specialty and grant a welcome degree of exclusivity.
The 18k rose gold case shares the same 43-mm diameter as the Grande Seconde Quantiéme but is slightly thicker, measuring 13.79 mm in height. However, despite the increase in size, this watch remains incredibly comfortable to wear.
All surfaces of the case are highly polished but at no stage does the watch appear outré. The case construction is complex, with a fusion of straight and curved surfaces coming together in handsome union.
I especially like the crown design. This may sound like a piffling detail, but it is the minutiae that enhance the ownership proposition. The crown is stylish, but never eschews functionality, proving simple to operate and delivering satisfying tactility with each twist of its form.
The self-winding Jaquet Droz 2695SMR features an openworked 18k rose gold oscillating mass. The frequency of the balance is 21,600 vph (3Hz), the movement contains 34 jewels and the power reserve is 40 hours, courtesy of a sole spring barrel.
My affection for this timepiece is augmented by the movement’s finishing. Everything is delightful wherever you choose to look. Jaquet Droz has chosen to decorate the bridges with côtes de Genève rayonnantes, which provide a pleasing departure from conventional Geneva stripes, which are more commonly seen. The anglage is beautiful and the jewels sit adjacent polished sinks. This timepiece is a magnificent exemple of haute horlogerie.
While the size of Jaquet Droz’s modern production facilities appears modest when compared with some companies who occupy this elevated world of high-end watchmaking, the company benefits from being part of the watch-industry giant, Swatch Group. This relationship confers enormous benefits.
Firstly, the movements are made at a special facility owned by its sister company, Blancpain. The movements are not Blancpain calibers but Jaquet Droz’s own unique calibers, created within a dedicated area of the manufacture. This provides both individuality and economies of scale, both coveted attributes in the world of watchmaking. Secondly, Swatch Group is at the forefront of innovation; hence, this particular timepiece includes a silicon hairspring and mechanical components created using state-of-the art LIGA technology.
In my opinion, Jaquet Droz has expertly married tradition to technology and the outcome is exquisite.
Few watches are free of fault. There is always something, however small, that one might wish was slightly different. The Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Deadbeat watch is different. I cannot think of anything I would alter. Every aspect of this watch’s composition appears perfect.
In a modern age, where everything seems too fast, disposable, ill-conceived, I find solace in the beauteous appearance of this Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Deadbeat watch. The second hand pauses, it contemplates, and then it advances with poise and grace. The dial display, the case, and the movement collaborate together to form a wondrous performance.
There is nothing disposable about this watch. It entices the wearer to savor each moment and absorb each rarefied aspect of its formation. This is a timepiece that will forever impart time with balletic motion and will remain a lifelong personal favorite I aspire to own.
Click below to watch the official brand video:
Movement: Jaquet Droz 2695SMR, automatic movement; frequency = 21,600 vph (3Hz); jewels = 34; power reserve = 40 hours; indications = hours, minutes, small seconds
Case: 18k red gold; diameter = 43 mm; height = 13.79 mm; water resistance = 30 meters
Strap/bracelet: Rolled-edge hand-made black alligator leather supplied with 18k gold pin buckle
Price: $30,500 (as of 6/17/2015)
Where I tried on the watch: Montres Jaquet Droz SA, La Chaux-de-Fonds
Limited Edition: 88 pieces in total