Treasures from the Maison’s Heritage collection bear witness to the profound influence of the natural world
The Vallée de Joux, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s home, is a haven of rare calm and serenity, a place of timeless beauty and deeply-held values. Here, nature is the true master, the rhythm of its seasons measuring the pace of life, requiring man to be patient and calm. And thus, over the course of almost two centuries, the natural beauty of this valley has shaped the very identity of Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Today as always, the Maison’s master watchmakers, along with the artisans of its Rare Handcrafts (“Métiers Rares®”) workshops, are deeply influenced by their environment, not only as a rich source of aesthetic inspiration, but as the very foundation of their expertise.
THE LATE 19TH-CENTURY FASHION FOR WATCHES WORN ON A CHATELAINE
A women’s brooch-watch with a fleur-de-lis motif, circa 1880
From the beginning of the 18th century and into the 19th, watches became an important addition to the matching sets of jewelled accessories worn by both women and men. Women wore their timepieces as sautoirs, pendants, brooches or – in common with the fashionable men of the day – suspended from the waist by a chatelaine*
Dating from the early 19th century, this women’s watch epitomises the stylistic trend of that period, making subtle reference to the natural world through its elaborate detail and colourful enamel decoration. Such was the reputation of Geneva’s enamel-painters during this period that master watchmakers from all over Europe called upon their talents, thus contributing to the development of an international style of watch-case decoration.
This early timepiece also embodies important horological advances that had been made by LeCoultre, enabling the miniaturisation of watch mechanisms. The calibre LeCoultre 10 RC that equips this pendant has a cylinder escapement and a “lever” winding system – the latter invented by Antoine LeCoultre in 1847. By enabling both winding and time-setting through the crown, the system replaced the keys previously required for winding, allowing much greater freedom in the use of timepieces.
This and the many other inventions of LeCoultre & Cie and, subsequently, of Jaeger-LeCoultre, contributed greatly to the development of contemporary watchmaking, with modern versions of these mechanisms still being used in watches to this day.
THE RISE OF ART NOUVEAU-STYLE
A pendant brooch watch with enamelled floral motif in the Art Nouveau style, circa 1910
Art Nouveau, which emerged in the last decades of the 19th century, is considered by some to mark the birth of modern art. Unlike Impressionism, which developed at the same time, Art Nouveau was not confined to painting but sought to eliminate the distinction between fine arts and the (supposedly inferior) decorative arts, embracing metalwork, furniture, ceramics, jewellery and watches, textiles and architecture. Art Nouveau was a movement, rather than simply a stylistic rebellion against the dictates of the artistic Establishment; its philosophical and ethical foundations reflected the profound social, economic and political changes of the preceding decades.
Japanese art had a strong influence on the movement, and not merely for its exoticism. The asymmetrical compositions, the spirited rhythm of the lines, the expressive intensity of simplified contours, silhouettes and areas of flat but vibrant colour, the elongated pictorial formats and new angles of vision – all of this conveyed a naturalness and honesty that, in European art, had long been masked. This was translated into Art Nouveau not merely as an aesthetic perspective but an exploration of feelings and a source of poetic inspiration.
Highly stylised, fusing structure and ornament, Art Nouveau (and its sister movements throughout Europe) turned to nature as an antidote to the dehumanising power of urbanisation and industrialisation – as a path to regeneration. As seen in the decoration of this watch, undulating plant forms, particularly vines and flower buds, were flattened and abstracted into sinuous lines, asymmetrically arranged, to create a supple and vibrant new style. This Art Nouveau styling encapsulates a radical break with the aesthetic that had prevailed in watchmaking throughout the 19th century.
The calibre LeCoultre 9 HN in this early 20th-century pendant watch has a cylinder escapement and a “LeCoultre” semi-visible winding mechanism (patented in 1894) with a patented semi-visible ratchet-wheel click.