For the first international exhibition of its Hybris Artistica Collection, Jaeger-LeCoultre has chosen Masterpiece 2014, the upscale fine art fair held in London next month. The name of this collection - Hybris Artistica - provides a clue to what is in store. Hybris or 'hubris' is the Ancient Greek word for extreme pride or self-confidence and, as we will discover, there is a great deal to be proud of in this unprecedented display of mechanical prowess and artistic craftsmanship.
What the Swiss watchmaker has pulled off this year is nothing short of prodigious. Instead of unveiling one or perhaps two 'masterpieces', the brand has produced 12 outstanding timepieces. With 180 different watchmaking skills nestled under one roof in the manufacture of the Vallée de Joux -and that is an awful lot of artisans and skills to sustain full-time - the maison decided that it was time to showcase its reservoir of artistic talent and rare handcrafts by embellishing some its most famous models and complications.
Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie, the most complicated watch in the world, which strikes the hours to the chimes of Big Ben, keeps time perpetually and flies with a tourbillon, has been revisited for Hybris Artistica with a rock crystal dial to allow voyeurs an exclusive view of its movement.
Its sister, the Duomètre Sphérotourbillon, dressed in a white-gold hand-chiselled dial with a lovely grainy surface, features a dramatic staircase descending to the suspended spherical tourbillon. The blue paillonné enamel version is achieved by grating tiny chips - paillons- from a block of silver on to the enamel before firing.
A new old-timer, inspired by a model from 1928, is the Duomètre Sphérotourbillon Pocket Watch, the first time a spherical tourbillon has ever been incorporated into a pocket watch. With touches of blue enamel on the bezel, a grainy hand-chiselled dial and pure-white enamel counters, two gold curtains part at 6 o'clock to highlight the magical tourbillon.
Launched last year, the hypnotic Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 was a horologist's fantasy: a grand complication come true. For the Hybris Artistica collection, the watch has been cased in tantalum metal. Hard to work and resistant to corrosion, tantalum has a dark grey colour and blue lustre that lends the watch a contemporary, masculine appeal.
Craftsmen have recreated the night sky as seen from the northern hemisphere on a deep-blue aventurine dial for the Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste. By combining guilloché and translucent enamel to create textures and depth, time literally floats in a beautiful blue firmament. The Master Gryotourbillon 1 in aventurine, with its openworked dial, is a spectacular sight to behold. The impressive carving, which simulates a stained-glass window, provides a peephole lattice over the extraordinary grand complication movement.
For a watch that has remained faithful to its original 1931 Art Deco design, the Reverso has earned iconic status in watchmaking. For the Hybris Artistica collection, the Grande Reverso Tourbillon Squelette strips down to reveal its horological soul in all its glory. The pivoting part of the case is now sealed with two sapphire crystals, revealing the intricate openworked and hand-decorated movement.
For ladies, the Reverso Cordonnet Neva is a brilliant interpretation of a 1930s Reverso model that was fastened to the wrist with a cord bracelet. As the inventor of the snow-setting technique, the case, dial and bracelet have been blanketed with diamonds of varying diameters to recreate the beauty of a snow flurry. The undulating white gold patterns, which run across the dial and caseback, represent the Neva river in winter.
The Rendez-Vous Célestial women's watch celebrates founder Antoine LeCoultre's passion for stargazing. The hour arc that frames the oval lapis lazuli dial has been decorated with baguette diamonds using a top-secret, patented Rock-Setting technique. The dark-blue dial, with the signs of the Zodiac painted by hand, features a mobile shooting star, which can be set to mark the hour of your next important rendezvous.
The Rendez-Vous Tourbillon haute-joaillerie model has also been wrapped in a luxurious coat of baguette and brilliant diamonds using the Rock-Setting technique, which hides the underlying metal supports.
Jaeger-LeCoultre's fascinating and 'almost perpetual' Atmos table clock, which draws its energy from variations in temperature, is presented in an Art Nouveau case ornamented with enamel and wood marquetry. The clock itself, with its enamel hour and minute discs, displays an unusual Moon phase counter with diamond stars, a white gold moon and Indian rosewood. The lateral marquetry doors are hand-painted with miniature enamel reproductions of Alphonse Mucha's 1896 allegories of Spring and Autumn.
For those who want to delve deeper into the magical workings and artistry of these timepieces, Jaeger-LeCoultre will be offering exclusive masterclasses led by a team of its artists and watchmakers, during Masterpiece London - a rare opportunity for watch lovers with a taste for complications and die-hard aesthetes.
Masterpiece London, The Royal Hospital Chelsea, Chelsea Embankment, London SW3. 26 June-2 July 2014.