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Time and Again

For European watchmakers IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and A. Lange & Söhne, success has been all in good
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Laurence Fishburne, Jan/Feb 00

(continued from page 1)

Though the 49-year-old Sarp laughingly confesses that he does not understand all the technical workings of the Destriero, the ingenuity of its micro-mechanics is dramatically clear. The perpetual calendar will show the correct year until 2499. A split-seconds chronograph adds separate times together and has a repeater with two finely tuned gongs that strike the time in hours, quarters and minutes. The phase-of-the-moon display is one of the most accurate ever found in a wristwatch, while the "flying" tourbillon is the first one ever to complete eight vibrations per second, guaranteeing maximum precision.  

"Il Destriero is a grand watch of impeccable quality," says Arnaud Tellier, the deputy chairman of Antiquorum, the Geneva-based auctioneers. "Its mechanics are very impressive, and an extremely pretty watch with hand engravings and a sapphire back crystal. Il Destriero is a true collector's item."  

In the same mechanically spirited mode as the Destriero, IWC's Grand Complication with moonface and minute repeater is another technical treasure (50 are made annually, and with a platinum bracelet, cost $195,000). The brainchild of designer-engineer Kurt Klaus, the timepiece has 659 parts--71 of them jewels--performing 17 functions, and boasts a perpetual calendar that is programmed to remain accurate for 500 years.  

While the passion to rule time, rather than to be ruled by it, ennobles IWC's magnificent line of Portugieser watches (successors to the 1930s watches that first catapulted IWC to fame), Sarp is also trying to give the firm a younger, sportier image. To contend with such stalwarts as Breitling and Rolex, he's recently introduced an array of pilot's watches and GST sports pieces, including Aquatimers (watches that are water-resistant to 2,000 meters) and the titanium Deep One.  

Sarp is particularly enthusiastic about the Deep One's innovative features, which include a mechanical depth gauge with an analog display, and a mechanism for measuring dive time. He insists, "This is a vanguard piece which will ultimately become a classic like our Mark X [a pilot's watch supplied to the British armed forces in the 1940s] and the Mark XI [a 1948 pilot's watch highly prized by collectors]. It will help us put a new face on an old company without destroying its storied essence.   "We have lots of ideas, yet we must streamline our assortment the way A. Lange and Patek Philippe have done. That's been a key to their fame."  

IWC's sister company Jaeger-LeCoultre has also used a minimalist strategy to great success. Founded in 1833 in Le Sentier, Switzerland, this pioneer of movements with a crown winding and setting system (1847) and the first fully automatic watch (the Futurematic in 1953) has lately won acclaim for its Master Collection, which includes the Grand Taille and Perpetual Calendar.  

Equally renowned for supplying ébauches, or movement blanks, to the industry's elite watchmakers, Jaeger is hailed as "a terrific company" by Stewart Unger, the owner of New York's Time Will Tell gallery. "What they're doing with minute repeaters and chronographs is wild, just exquisite work."  

That accolade-winning craftsmanship is best exemplified by Jaeger's Art Deco-inspired Reverso pieces, which feature a swivel, or reversible, case. Though originally designed to protect the glass from impact, the advent of sapphire crystals enabled the watchmaker to use the backside of the Reverso for more aesthetic purposes, such as decorative engraving and enameling or using translucent sapphire crystal backs through which the watch movement can be viewed.  

Created in 1931 at the request of British polo players who wanted a watch that could withstand the jarring shocks of their rough sport, the rectangular Reverso is the world's longest-running unchanged watch model. It usually features a silver dial with black numerals and blued steel hands, and has a spring-loaded button hatch that when released allows the case to pivot, or reverse, with silky smoothness.  

Though the Classic-size Reverso retains the exact proportions of the 1931 watch, Jaeger has recently introduced mechanical, manually wound Reverso models that will also attract attention. One of them, the Reverso Duo, has been described as "two watches in one" because its 21-jewel caliber 854 movement displays the time in two time zones on "back-to-back" dials.   Although Reversos are dressy and not as sporty as their historical origins would indicate, these watches still evoke a measure of magic. For instead of being one more face in the bigger-is-better parade, Jaeger has overcome the technological challenge of engineering several functions into a smaller case.  


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