Smaller than the tip of a pencil and weighing under a gram, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Calibre 101 remains the smallest mechanical movement in the world since 1929.
Developed 50 years before the advent of computer-aided design and production technology, the movement is truly a remarkable feat of miniaturisation, measuring just 14mm in length and less than 5mm wide. Instead of having components set on a single plate, Calibre 101 adopted the “stacked” dual-level architecture first developed by the manufacture for the Duoplan movement in 1925.
The tiny hand-wound calibre is also one of the world’s oldest movements that is still in production, originally conceived and developed for jewellery watches. As it was deemed impolite for women to check the time while in a social setting back in the day, watchmakers were forced to find creative ways to create discreet timepieces. The movement revolutionised feminine watchmaking as its miniscule size and baguette shape opened a new realm of aesthetic freedom to designers. Over the years, Calibre 101 has appeared in jewellery watches by Jaeger-LeCoultre under its name, as well as in creations by other great maisons. These rare timepieces have graced the wrists of exceptional women, including Queen Elizabeth II, who famously wore one – a gift from French President Albert Lebrun – for her coronation in 1953.
For the latest pair of Calibre 101 jewellery timepieces, which house the fourth-generation movement Calibre 101/4, the maison’s artistic team took a jewellery-led approach by designing the bracelet forms and gem-setting style first before integrating the cases and movements. The first timepiece is the manchette-style Snowdrop, which is inspired by the white bell-shaped winter flowers in the Vallée de Joux. A circle of pear-shaped diamonds surrounds the dial to form a corolla, while waves of diamonds repeat the petal motif in perfect symmetry over the entire bracelet. A griffe setting was used for the diamonds to minimise the visibility of the pink gold and create the illusion of diamonds floating on the bracelet. Jewellery artisans spent 130 hours on the gem-setting work alone, encrusting it with 904 pear-shaped and brilliant-cut diamonds totalling 20.9 carats.
Inspired by Art Deco geometry and the strong forms of 20th-century Modernism, the Bangle timepiece is a bolder expression of femininity. Embellished with 19.7 carats of 996 brilliant-cut diamonds graduated in size to emphasise the design’s sweeping curves, the griffe and grain setting techniques were combined to heighten the diamonds’ three-dimensional effect and brilliance. Rows of grain-set diamonds highlight the gold bands that run along both sides of the bracelet, supporting its structure. The bracelet delicately opens with a simple twist of its two sides without the need for a clasp.
(All images: Jaeger-LeCoultre)