The Original Geophysic of 1958
With the original Geophysic of 1958, Jaeger-LeCoultre had made a watch that was not only celebratory in nature, but that was also specifically designed to be fully functional in such an unprecedented scientific endeavor. This was a watch that had to be usable by the very scientists that would undertake the work, and it had to be made to the highest standards of what the manufacture could achieve at the time.

Here was a watch that while retaining a simple dress-like appeal, had to also be a certified chronometer fitted with shock, temperature and, most importantly, anti-magnetic protection for the studies at the poles that would be undertaken. Caliber 478BWSbr was developed for this watch, and it had been conceived with the experience that the manufacture had obtained making movements for the military watches of IWC. Designated as Chronometer E168, the watch featured hacking seconds, for precise time-setting; a Glucydur balance for stability through changes in temperature; a shock absorber; a “swan neck” index for micrometric adjustment; and a soft-iron inner case for protection against the effects of magnetic fields of up to 600 gauss.

For this very special production, approximately 1,000 stainless-steel pieces were made for only one year in 1958. Thereafter, this model was discontinued, being replaced by the more common Geomatic in 1959. Certainly a rare watch by any standard, the original Geophysic stands alone as being one of those watches whose appeal is undeniable, not just for the watchmaking chops that were displayed in its construction, but also for the romance of why it was made. After all, the effects of what was achieved by the scientists in that year still reverberate with us to this very day, and it seems by far to be the only watch designed with such a noble intention in that era.

Revival of a Legend
It was thus a pleasant surprise when the Geophysic 1958 was unveiled in 2014 by Jaeger-LeCoultre. Despite its larger size of 38.5mm versus the 35mm of the original, it was a faithful rendition of the long discontinued legend. And while the original model was little known except to the most fervent of collectors, the appeal of the story of why it was created was able to resonate strongly, making the re-edition model one of the strongest releases of a time-only watch among discerning connoisseurs for a long time.

This time coming with the caliber 898/1, the spirit of the original was largely preserved, with the features of the new watch being very similar, apart from the more modern features and the automatic-winding system. Included in this watch were hacking seconds; a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour for high precision; a balance with micrometric adjustment by means of screws set into the rim; Kif Parechoc shock absorbers; Spyr gears for smooth transmission of torque in the gear train; automatic-winding with ceramic ball bearings; water-resistance to 100 meters;  and lastly, the signature soft-iron inner case for magnetic protection.

Three versions of this watch were released in various limited numbers — stainless steel (800 pieces), pink gold (300 pieces) and platinum (58 pieces). While the stainless-steel and pink-gold versions were the same aesthetically except for case material, coming with the Arabic numerals 3, 6, 9 and 12 on the dial, with a crosshair marker (a detail seen on some of the original Geophysic variations), it is the platinum version that came closest to the original in look, with only the numerals 6 and 12 on the dial, and longer minute markers.

Extension of A Family
With the revival of the Geophysic name in 2014 as embodied by the re-edition Geophysic 1958, it had become plainly evident that a new family of watches with an undeniable appeal would come along to extend the tradition of the original.

This time in 2015, however, things were kicked up a notch, with a collection that would retain the spirit of the original, but that would update its features to the modern era. After all, Jaeger-LeCoultre had given the original Geophysic all the know-how that they had at the time, With the two new releases of 2015, they would come to add two new signature features to the line — the Gyrolab balance and the deadbeat complication (or True Seconds in Jaeger-LeCoultre parlance).

The Gyrolab was created from a simple idea: reducing the surface area of the balance wheel would reduce air friction and improve the performance of the watch. It’s easy to see how this works by just looking at the Gyrolab balance versus a more conventional balance wheel. Instead of the circular shape we normally know, what we have is what could be described as a double-sided hammer pivoting at its center. In fact, look a little closer and you can also see how each of the two ends on either side of its pivot resembles the Jaeger-LeCoultre logo.

This unique-looking balance was actually debuted in the 2007 release of the Master Compressor Extreme LAB watch, a technological feat of engineering that was produced under a special research program initiated by then-CEO Jérôme Lambert. The main goal of this watch was to test the limits of watchmaking by trying out new ideas, and in this Extreme LAB, the main area that was looked at in the movement was to reduce the amount of friction required via non-lubricating methods.

A small sample of the innovations contained in this watch — which was equipped with an automatic tourbillon, dual timezone indicator, pointer-type AM/PM indicator, and jumping-pointer date — revealed some of the more exotic materials that came in the caliber 988C of the Extreme LAB. First, there was Easium carbonitride, an extremely hard material that would be used to replace lubricated jewels and bearings. Then there was black crystalline diamond used for the pallet stones, which worked in conjunction with an escape wheel in silicon. Add to that a special surface treatment on the pivots of wheels and pinions, replacing traditional oils for lubrication, as well as a specially developed graphite powder, instead of grease in the mainspring barrel, and one can see how far this watch went in order to eliminate friction.

Aligned with this goal as well, the Gyrolab balance, in the same shape that we see in today’s Geophysic collection, was born. The Gyrolab balance in the Extreme LAB was made of an iridium-platinum alloy that was chosen for its density in maintaining a constant level of inertia, which combined with the new shape, would minimize surface friction by reducing the surface area of the balance, thus becoming more aerodynamic.

The Geophysic line of 2015 also came with a second innovation, a deadbeat seconds complication or True Second as Jaeger-LeCoultre calls it. How it works is similar to what you find in a typical constant-force escapement or remontoir d’egalité, with the use of a smaller mainspring, this time powering the jump of the seconds hand, instead of being isolated between the escapement and oscillator. Here, this small mainspring is kept under tension by the mainspring, and its power is released via a star wheel on the same axis of the escape wheel, against which a metal “whip” rests. Every second that passes causes the whip to slip free from the tooth of the star wheel, coming to rest on the next tooth. As this happens, the seconds hand jumps forward, making the True Second complication come to life.

The two watches to which these innovations were applied were instantly lauded by connoisseurs when they were announced. True to form, the spirit of what had made the line so special was evident in not just the aesthetics, but also in the technological innovations that they came with.

The first model was the 39.6mm wide Geophysic True Second, an elegant dress-oriented watch that had now given up the crosshairs and Arabic numerals on the dial, to be replaced by bar markers that presented a cleaner appearance against the silver grained texture of the dial.

The second model was more unexpected, but ideologically coherent with the nature of the collection. This model, the 41.6mm Geophysic Universal Time, was a worldtimer, with a city ring on the periphery of the dial that worked in conjunction with an inner 24-hour ring that would rotate to show the time in various timezones. The best feature of this watch, however, was the lacquered blue dial representing the sea, and silver/gray or pink-gold areas (in the stainless-steel and pink-gold versions respectively) representing the map of the world as seen from the North Pole.

Both these watches had, aside the aforementioned Gyrolab balance and True Second, complications that were also conceived with the capability of having the time adjusted in hour increments, just like in a “real” GMT watch, with the benefit of keeping the minutes and seconds running accurately when adjusting to a different timezone.

Adding to the luxurious implementation of features in this pair of watches was also the open sapphire caseback, offering a view of the solid gold rotor decorated with the Jaeger-LeCoultre logo, and allowing a clear view of the Gyrolab balance in motion. In the context of the remarkable True Second complication, it also is an unmistakable assertion to others, who on pointing out that these are like quartz watches due to the jumping seconds hand, can be silenced quickly with a view of the finely made mechanical movement.

A New Pinnacle
With the well-received launches of the Geophysic watches over the past few years, there is no doubt that the Geophysic line is here to stay. It fulfils a useful and practical aspect of the maison’s collections with its classic, unassuming looks, yet is packed internally with a bevy of astonishing technical features. With the future of the line assured through the foundational models of the previous launches, there is no doubt that it is on the way to becoming a secure and staple member of the Jaeger-LeCoultre line-up.

What we see for 2017 then, has elements of refinement to the collection and is a major step forward as evident from the highlight release of the Geophysic Tourbillon Universal Time.

First, however, is the introduction of a new stainless-steel bracelet option for the Geophysic True Second and the Geophysic Universal Time watches that are already members of the current collection.

A well-thought-out refinement, it could be said that this new stainless-steel bracelet suits the character of the watches well, with their previously intended use as hardwearing technical instruments for the scientist. Being resistant to water and allowing the watch to be quickly taken off when required, the new bracelet also contains some technical upgrades that raise its utility beyond most metal bracelets on the market today. First of all, the folding clasp contains a mechanism that allows the adjustment of the bracelet length to be done quickly and conveniently up to 5mm, a feature useful for swollen wrists in hot weather. In addition, the bracelet is equipped with a lever that makes it fast to change it out for a leather strap in situations where a more elegant look is preferred.

Certainly, a step in the right direction by providing more utility to the line, the bracelet while impressive for 2017, will no doubt be overshadowed by the stunning new watch that will be launched as the new highlight and pinnacle of the Geophysic collection.

The Geophysic Tourbillon Universal Time is not the first example of a watch with the Gyrolab balance in its tourbillon. The Extreme LAB mentioned earlier was the first implementation. In a production watch, however, the Gyrolab balance has also been seen in the astonishing Hybris Mechanica Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon that was released this year, the second and improved version of the Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 first seen in 2008.

While the Geophysic Tourbillon Universal Time is the third tourbillon watch by Jaeger-LeCoultre utilizing the Gyrolab balance, it is notable in being the first that is a flying tourbillon and also the first flying-tourbillon worldtimer ever made.

Taking an aesthetic and functional cue from the Geophysic Universal Time, this new watch adds a flying tourbillon to the four o’clock position on the dial, covering a portion of the world map seen in the former. In addition, the relative position of the city ring and 24-hour ring has been swapped, with the city ring now completing a full rotation every 24 hours.

A similar aesthetic with the inclusion of the world map is seen in the center of the dial, but this version, when compared to the Geophysic Universal Time, has a more luxurious implementation in line with the prestigious complication that it contains. Similarly lacquered in an intense blue, there is now an addition of a guilloché pattern with small swirls to represent the oceans. Furthermore, the world map now, instead of being flat on the dial, is lightly convex and dome-like, to represent Earth.

At 43.5mm in platinum, it is the largest Geophysic watch yet, and with a limitation of 100 pieces, is the most exclusive member after the 58-piece Geophysic 1958 in platinum from 2014.

With this new watch, the Geophysic line has now been taken to new heights, giving credence to the enduring legacy of the original Geophysic from which it was inspired. As the pinnacle of an increasingly respected family of watches, the Geophysic Tourbillon Universal Time now opens the door for greater things to come.

Photographer: Sidney Teo
Fashion Stylist: Marie Lee
Grooming: Rina Sim using Cle De Peau and Living Proof
Models: Chris V / Ave & Ben S / Upfront