Jaquet Droz: The Time Is Write
 
Over the past ten years Jaquet Droz has been cultivating one of the industry’s most beautiful collections of wristwatches. JD places great emphasis on the hushed lyricism of its dials and traces its descent and inspiration to the Age of Enlightenment and the venerated watchmaker, Pierre Jaquet Droz (1721-1790).
 
Pierre Jaquet-Droz also achieved great fame for his singing bird boxes and automata; immensely complicated mechanisms capable of achieving life-like motion, and many of which are now museum pieces. Most famous among them are: The Writer, The Musician and The Draughtsman.
 
   
 
The historic name was resurrected for the new brand in 1995 and in 2003 JD was subsumed into the Swatch Group. 2008 saw the brand commemorate a somewhat arbitrary 270th anniversary, marking the date when Jaquet Droz established his first manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds (1738). The manufacture has gone to great lengths to underscore its historical pedigree and bridge the 205 year gap between its founder’s death and its fin de siècle renaissance. This has been accomplished through a shrewd combination of marketing and design: The brand’s most recognisable model, the Grand Seconde,
 
 
perfectly preserves the aesthetic of a c.1785 pocket watch with alternating Roman and Arabic numerals and three of the collection’s four lines are named in honour of the locations of Pierre Jaquet-Droz’s 18th century workshops: London, La Chaux-de-Fonds and Genève.
 
At Baselworld 2004, JD exhibited Pierre Jaquet Droz’s Draughtsman automaton and Baselworld 2009 heralded the arrival of its 21st century counterpart: “La Machine à Ecrire le Temps”, the “time-writing” automaton that had been almost a decade in the making. It returned at this year’s Baselworld and continues to excite fascination. The notable absentee however from Jaquet Droz’s Baselworld 2010 exhibition, was former CEO Manuel Emch, who recently left the brand to take the helm at Romain Jerome, leaving Mr Nicolas Hayek senior in command.
 
The Collection
 
The collection comprises a magnificent array of ethereal, visionary designs that are among the most elegant in the industry. So far JD’s greatest innovations have been in design terms, but Hayek is now beginning to concentrate on the technical side of the brand’s production. Since 2001, many pieces within the collection have used exclusive Frederic Piguet ebauches and base movements, with JD developing the modules for its various complications. Last year, Emch expressed his desire to create a new base movement to accommodate the modules. A state-of-the-art, new manufacture is in the process of being built at Le Crêt-du-Locle, and upon its completion later this year, the brand can begin working towards these targets. It is likely that some components will still have to be sourced from elsewhere, but the movements will be assembled and tested “in house”.
 
As with many of the upper tier brands, Jaquet Droz’s current collection is spread across four lines: London, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Genève and Paris. The sports range, nominally within the Genève line, spills over and can be considered a line of its own.
Across the collection you can usually find the signature blued lancine hands, double barrel 68-hour power reserves, twin star JD insignias stamped on the crowns, and secret signature clover stamps on the lavishly decorated movements.
 
JD’s dials are highly celebrated. A “Sur Mesure” customisation service allows customers to select the configurations of model, case material and dial. And with over 40 spectacular dial materials to choose from, including meteorite, moss agate, onyx, aventurine, chalcedony and grand feu enamel; the permutations are vast. Furthermore, the cut of every dial is unique; in fact, the dials with subtle imperfections in the graining look most beautiful. To select “stand out” models from the collection is difficult, but amongst the finest offerings are: Les Lunes, from 'La Chaux-De-Fonds', a beautifully serene piece and with an exclusive retrograde moon phase complication; Les Douzevilles, also from 'La Chaux-
 
 
 
De-Fonds', possibly the most uncluttered and attractive multiple time zones watch ever made. JD gives clients the freedom to select the 12 cities that will appear on the time zones disc. Also housing a fine jumping hour mechanism. Lastly, from 'Geneve', the Grande Seconde; many of JD’s models could be called “pocket watches for the wrist”, but the stunning Grande Seconde meets this definition most assuredly. If Jaquet Droz considers developing a hand wind calibre, it would be most a home in the “snowman” (as JD enthusiasts have dubbed the model).
 
Developments At Jaquet Droz
 
At Baselworld 2009 JD presented several variations on existing models alongside the remarkable “La Machine à Ecrire le Temps”. The Ceramic Collection sees a power reserve and a flash of colour added to
the classic Grande Seconde design. As usual, the collection comes in Numerus Clausus of 8 and 88 depending on the power reserve colour. It is an attractive, playful model but certainly not one of the brand’s finest. Anyone buying a Jaquet Droz watch for the first time would be very unlikely to opt for it, but some of the long time JD aficionados may appreciate the novel use of colour.
 
The Grande Seconde SW Rouge was 2009’s addition to the company’s Sports Watch (SW) range. The SW line came as a fine complement to JD’s classic models and placed added emphasis on the case architecture. The powerful SW Rouge retains the burly bezel (almost reminiscent of DeWitt) and stylish crown protecting claws. The case, hollowed horns and three-dimensional interlocking rings on the dial are all made of rose gold, and the juxtaposition with black works well.
 
One Year Later
 
At Baselworld 2010 Jaquet Droz has outstripped last year’s performance. Leading a field of excellent novelties is the Grande Seconde Minute Repeater. With characteristic JD understatement, the exquisite minute repeater differs only so slightly from the standard Grande Seconde: the delicately rendered treble clef at 8 is the only alteration to the dial. It combines a 43mm 18 carat red gold case, with 18 carat red gold appliqué hour markers and the classic Grand Feu enamelled dial. It’s a wonderful execution of the most magical complication in haute horologerie and will likely become one of the most collectible pieces within JD’s oeuvre.
 
 
The Eclipse is another fine piece arriving this year. With all the trappings of enlightenment taste it presents a novel moon phase indication device (marked by the passage of a matt black disc across the smiling moon) alongside day-date indication with a serpentine hand.
 
Following last year's economic down-turn, this year’s Baselworld has seen many brands focussing on their entry level pieces, and alongside the Eclipse, JD have revealed a second, more accessible, “night-time” piece; the Grande Heure Minute Onyx. With a steel case and onyx dial, it is an attractive model that will appeal to broad market. Its minimalist styling is likely to draw comparisons with Zenith's new Ultra Thin, although the Jaquet Droz does not possess the same depth of character.
 
 
An Obsession With 8
 
Jaquet Droz’s preoccupation with the “lucky” number 8 is not unprecedented in the industry. The figure 8 has an association with the lemniscate (the symbol for infinity), and has been adopted by Bedat and Co, who has incorporated the figure into its logo. But for JD, the fixation goes further. JD only produces around 2500 watches per year and many of its lines are in limited editions, (numerus clausus) of 88 or 8. The interlocking rings on many of the models take the shape of the figure 8, a tourbillon model has an 88-hour power reserve, the Eclipse has 8 stars on its dial, and the Grand Seconde SW Rouge contains exactly 88g of rose gold. Perhaps most remarkably, water resistance levels are given as 88m for some of the SW models (too far?). Surprisingly,“La Machine à Ecrire le Temps” has not been billed as the 8th wonder of the world and is in fact in a numerus clausus of 28.
 
Shae Spreafico (Apr 2010)
 
For more information visit www.jaquet-droz.com
Images: Jaquet Droz, TimepieceReview
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