Professional Jeweler Archive: Inside Jaeger-LeCoultre's Master Class

January 2004


Inside Jaeger-LeCoultre's Master Class

Retailers and customers play watchmaker for a day

Why would one of the world’s top timepiece manufacturers invite untrained enthusiasts to take apart a finely crafted mechanical movement?

Jaeger-LeCoultre gave about 60 store owners, numerous store employees and several customers (not to mention a few journalists) the chance to share its passion for fine watchmaking during a master class in October in New York City. Participants disassembled and reassembled the company’s new Calibre 875 eight-day power reserve movement, which powers the Reverso Grande Date, a new watch that begins at $7,400 retail.

“We hope these classes raise the level of awareness and appreciation of the art of watchmaking,” says Ronald Wolfgang, president of JLC North America. “Our goal is to share the passion we feel when we create these watches.”

At the first of six classes, Richard Horne, manager at Shreve & Co., San Francisco, CA; Bill Smith, sales manager at The Diamond Cellar, Columbus, OH; Peter Meyer, watchmaker and goldsmith at Wempe, New York City; and Michael Hopper, vice president of sales and operations at Hamilton Jewelers, Princeton, NJ, joined several other jewelry store representatives in what the retailers called a ground-breaking exercise. Later classes included representatives of Tourneau, Betteridge Jewelers, Neiman Marcus and Cellini. Only two of the week’s 60 participants had previous watchmaking experience.

Sylvain Golay, master watchmaker from Jaeger-LeCoultre, led the classes, assisted by Alexis Delaporte, the company’s marketing executive; and Gerhard Loitz, technical director for JLC North America.

Small Screws Disappear

The class began at 9:30 a.m. with a video introduction to the new movement. Each watchmaker bench and tool set was equipped with a laptop computer loaded with a CD used to train watchmakers who may work on the movement.
However, because we (I participated in the premier class on Oct. 23) were only to remove and then replace 20 of the movement’s 278 pieces, most of us took our cues from Golay.

Wearing white watchmaker’s shirts and peering through loupes, we first removed a bridge atop the escapement, then the escapement. Golay made the task appear a simple matter of removing a few screws, placing them at the top of the work area and then plucking out the pieces.

But the screws are extremely tiny and can elude the grasp of the required thin, sharp tweezers. Most of us peered through our loupes to get a better look at them. Hushed curses rose throughout the room as all (with the exception of the experienced watchmaker from Wempe) fiddled to control the thin screwdrivers, located the slots in the blued screws and rotated them. More than a few screws flew through the air before we eventually succeeded and removed the pieces.

Many were impressed at the fragility of the balance, the heart of the movement. This tiny wound spring is seen through the sapphire back in many watches now on the market. It’s the balance’s rapid to-and-fro spins that excite the pallet wheel and ruby-red-tipped pallet fork. Each piece was far tinier than expected by all in the room.

As we removed the dual spring barrels and the various closely linked wheels, many found it hard to believe we would return these microengineered items to their rightful places later in the afternoon. Reassured by the professionals we would finish this daunting task, we continued.

Disassembly was complete by 12:50 p.m., and following a short lunch break, reassembly began.

Golay showed us earlier that a watchmaker is to place each removed piece in a line from left to right atop the work space, replacing the pieces by lifting each one with the tweezers starting from the right.

It’s Alive

By afternoon, the size of the pieces was no longer a confounding issue. Instead, we concentrated on placing them back into their respective holes or onto the correct stems. At one point, I placed a wheel upside down, only to be rescued by Loitz, who deftly plucked it out, flipped it and gently replaced it in at least 1/10 the time it took me to maneuver it into its initially improper position. Similar dramas occurred throughout the day at the various tables.

As with my experience, the class sometimes frustrated the retailers not used to working with watchmaking tools and tiny movement parts.

Ultimately, however, all agreed on the usefulness of the exercise. “My employees will benefit from my being here,” said the Diamond Cellar’s Smith. “I’ll be able to pass along my appreciation of what our watchmakers do and can also express that during training sessions.”

Many were clearly satisfied as they watched their mechanical movements’ spring back to life when they replaced the escapement. To see the swinging rotation of the balance and the tick-tock rocking of the pallet fork is to witness the rebirth of the watch movement.

– by Michael Thompson

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s master watchmaker Sylvain Golay instructs students in the master class.
The Reverso Grande Date ($7,400 suggested retail) is powered by the same eight-day movement used in the class.

Copyright © 2004 by Bond Communications