The Often-Overlooked Story Behind The Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 101

The Often-Overlooked Story Behind The Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 101

With Jaeger-LeCoultre just launching two amazingly well-designed calibre 101 timepieces, this writer thought it was the right time to shine a spotlight on the history of the smallest mechanical calibre in the world.

By Viviana Shanks

One thing is for sure, Jaeger-LeCoultre has not disappointed with any of their 2020 releases. From the newly redesigned and improved Master Control (HERE) to the Kingsman Kingsman Knife Watch (HERE) through to the Master Control Memovox, La Grande Maison is clearly "Dancing in the Rain" in 2020, according to CEO Catherine Rénier (Read our interview HERE). And something makes me think that this is only the beginning.

Jaeger-LeCoultre has a deep history and involvement in the watchmaking world that we know today. It started with the invention of the Millionometre, allowing watchmakers to measure watch parts to the micron, to the Atmos eternal clock. Over the years, La Grande Maison has developed over 1,200 calibres, 400 patents, and often broke world records. One of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s world record titles that other brands have yet to break is the smallest mechanical calibre in the world, and let's say, it's a movement fit for a queen (read HERE)!

Feminine Watchmaking Revolution

The first time I was introduced to the Jaeger-LeCoultre mastery was my first week working at the manufacture in Le Sentier. Like every new employee, I was invited to an orientation session. The presentation included a visit to the ateliers and the museum. During the visit, a ring caught my eye. Not only because it was pretty, but also because it was a watch. This made me wonder what kind of magic could La Grande Maison wield to make a watch that could fit inside such a small object.

In 1880, Jaeger-LeCoultre (then called LeCoultre) introduced the Calibre 7HP, made specifically for small enameled watches. Always looking to innovate, the 7HP was then followed by the LeCoultre calibre 6EB in 1908. This latest movement didn't measure more than a centimeter in length. The 6EB was the movement powering the ring watch that caught my eye at the museum and sparked my curiosity about small timepieces.

The story of the record-breaking 101 started in 1925 with the launch of the emblematic Duoplan. Unmistakable and elegant, its Art Deco style took the feminine watchmaking world by storm. But it was the Duoplan's "stacked" dual-level movement architecture that was the real wonder. Always going the extra mile, Jaeger-LeCoultre aimed to make a movement even smaller.

In 1929, Jaeger-Lecoultre watchmakers created a smaller version of the Duoplan movement they called, the calibre 101. Measuring 14mm long, 4.8mm wide, and 3.4mm thick, the 101 movement was, and still is, the smallest mechanical movement ever made. It is also one of the oldest watch movement still in production to this day.

The calibre 101 then became the heart of hundreds of timepieces, even if it has always been produced in small series. It is often seen at the heart of delicate jewelry timepieces because the size of the movement frees designers to create something unique. My favorite example of a jewelry timepiece made possible by the 101 has always been the Joailliere 101 featuring a bracelet with two rows of diamonds and a dial hidden behind delicate diamonds and white gold leaf. The movement is now over 90 years old and has undergone multiple upgrades and improvements, but the dimensions remain unchanged.

The Jewelry Side of Watches

This year, Jaeger-LeCoultre decided to highlight what they know best, and clearly, the calibre 101 is part of it. And for that, we are thankful. First and foremost, the smaller movement allows designers to focus on the look and feel of the timepiece. So, with a completely new look, these two new timepieces are modern and refined.

The first timepiece is the cuff-style 101 Snowdrop, which is perfectly apt for La Grande Maison of la Vallée de Joux, where the snow is plentiful. The flower shape around the dial is inspired by the intrepid bell-shaped flowers that can grow even in snow. Set with a total of 904 diamonds, the timepiece has 204 pear-shaped diamonds set around the opaline dial, resembling a wave of petals. It takes the jewelry artisans approximately 130 hours to set the 20.9 carats of diamonds on the rose gold band. The Snowdrop 101 setting plays beautifully with the light and is as much a piece of jewelry as it is a horological masterpiece.

The second timepiece is the 101 Bangle, Inspired by the Art Deco roots of Jaeger-LeCoultre and the calibre that powers it, the Bangle is a bold statement with 996 brilliant-cut diamonds expressing femininity and modernity. The different sizes of the brilliant-cut diamonds give a three-dimensional look to that timepiece and perfectly accentuate its curves. Like every diamond-set Jaeger-LeCoultre timepiece, the diamonds play a symphony with light and spark the attention of people nearby who may not suspect you're wearing a watch at all!

Final Thoughts

While these two novelties are clearly not for everyday wear, one cannot help but find them highly attractive. Yet again, Jaeger-LeCoultre demonstrates its talent and savoir-faire through amazingly well-designed timepieces. Understandably, these new novelties will be produced in small quantities, making them more exclusive and precious. Still, I can’t help but wish for the calibre 101 to one day become available in a less jeweled, more accessibly priced setting. I cannot wait to see what La Grande Maison has in store for us next!

(Images provided by Jaeger-LeCoultre)

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