In the Vallée de Joux, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s historic facility is now home to an exclusive space dedicated to ornamental crafts, named the Métiers Rares or Rare Crafts Atelier. It brings together in one place the range of skills bound up with the brand identity: enamelling, engraving, gemsetting and guilloché work. This workshop devotes its multiple skills to creating remarkable models such as the Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon. Eleven gemsetters, seven enamellers, five engravers, a guilloché specialist, three artisans dedicated to chamfering and to driving-in operations as well as a polisher daily exert their skills in the Rare Crafts Atelier.
The Rare Crafts Atelier exudes an impressive sense of closeness. Separated only by glass panels, around 30 artisans ply their trade at their wooden workbenches. All appear to be in their own private world, intently focussed and oblivious to the world around them. Having previously worked on separate floors according to their craft as enamellers, engravers or gemsetters, they now radiate a contagious energy stemming from their combined presence.
Nurtured by ideas and stimulated by the lively curiosity of those exercising their talents there, the Métiers Rares® Atelier is a place where physical and intellectual interdisciplinary barriers are broken down to allow a free flow of inspiration. Where new working methods are developed and new innovations are born, leading to ever more astonishing creations.
Guilloché work takes on a new dimension at Jaeger-LeCoultre, alongside the historical disciplines cultivated within the Maison. The art of guilloché work lies in understanding the corresponding `machine’ which is more like a hand tool, in truly loving it so as to compose the flowing and inspired sequence of moves that will give the cut metal its inimitable gleam. The resulting dials are endowed with a unique shimmer that only the human hand can create.
Engravers display the full extent of their talent when skeleton-working extremely small movements. Based on the movement plans, they seek a design that lets them preserve all the parts required for its smooth operation. With a tiny hacksaw, they recreate the previously drawn motif on the component in question.
An engraving may take around two hours if it involves just initials, or stretch over an entire week when it comes to reproducing a face or a coat-of-arms that must be redrawn by hand.
Enamelling is the triumph of colour over time. Jaeger-LeCoultre has opted for the delicate technique known as Grand Feu enamelling which endows the models with exceptional purity and longevity. Six to ten layers of transparent protective enamel are applied to the dial that is carefully sanded and polished to achieve a shiny, finely glazed appearance. Each piece is fired between 17 and 22 times during the vitrification process, and each time, the enamel could crack and ruin hours of work. Despite the risks, the enamellers in the Atelier never tire of experimenting.
Jaeger-LeCoultre innovation involves transposing an exclusive jewellery technique to watchmaking, known as gemsetting, in which the artisan directly creates the pattern in step with theirß thoughts and inspiration, based on diamonds of varying diameters. They nestle against each other so as to entirely cover the gold surface, ensuring that the smooth feel of the surface is undisturbed by any prongs or sharp edges. The breathtakingly random nature of snow setting means that when the gemsetting begins, nobody can predict which gem will spring to life. Another signature technique used by the Maison is invisible or mystery setting, in which the stones are juxtaposed without the tiniest gap that might lessen the beauty of the craftsmanship.