When Jaquet Droz released a skeletonised version of its classic Grande Seconde in 2018 many of us were taken aback. Could the refined design of the Grande Seconde, the brand’s cornerstone collection inspired by a historic pocket watch of 1748, undergo such a risqué disrobing? Why would a brand with such a colourful history as Jaquet Droz go down the road of contemporary skeletonisation? Well, it did and for many admirers of skeletonised watches, the result was as bold as it was unconventional. Instead of creating a skeletonised watch with fancy artistic flourishes, Jaquet Droz adopted a more radical and contemporary design language. Two years down the line, the Grande Seconde Skelet-One welcomes two new members to the skeletonised branch of the family: one with a sleek, high-tech plasma ceramic case and the other with a more classic red gold case.
Buying a watch brand with such an illustrious history as Jaquet Droz requires a very clear strategy of how to honour the past but produce watches that will still appeal to contemporary audiences.
Acquired by Swatch Group in 2000, Jaquet Droz laid down the cornerstone of its identity with the 2002 Grande Seconde collection. Naturally, automata still form part of the collections, with their astonishing animated miniature scenes and delicate hand-enamelled and sculpted figures, but the watch designed to be worn on an everyday basis was the highly refined Grande Seconde.
Inspired by the layout of a pocket watch built by Pierre Jaquet Droz in 1785, the Grande Seconde is characterised by two intersecting sub-dials that form a figure ‘8’: a smaller off-centred hours and minutes counter at 12 o’clock is intersected by a large seconds (grande seconde) sub-dial to form a perfect figure eight. A design of great purity and elegance, the Grande Seconde has proved extremely flexible when it comes to incorporating complications – from GMTs to chronographs and from moon phases to deadbeat seconds and even minute repeaters – without ever losing its elegant configuration.
In 2018, Jaquet Droz pushed the envelope and launched its very first skeletonised version of its iconic Grande Seconde model. To date, it has appeared in black ceramic with red highlights for Only Watch, in warm red gold to celebrate the 280th-anniversary of JD and even in ceramic with blue details.
Time in suspension
For a brand not associated with skeletonised models, it was a bold move. The skeletonisation performed on the Grande Seconde is positively contemporary, almost stark in its architecture when compared to other busier skeleton models on the market. Held in place by a spider’s web of dark bridges, the classic figure-eight configuration of the Grande Seconde floats in thin air and its diaphanous surfaces reveal the automatic movement.
There are no fancy engraved surfaces, no flourishes but a dramatic and dynamic scene of light and dark elements held in place by almost industrial-looking anthracite or blackened girders (bridges). Every component has been stripped down to its bare essentials and the gear train is suspended in mid-air. You can even see how the winding stem reaches from the crown into the movement to connect with the winding pinion or how the gold rotor is entirely hollowed out to allow a view of the suspended gear train from both sides of the case. The overall impression is of time, quite literally, in suspension as the cogs and wheels perform their turns before your eyes on both sides of the case.
The iconic Grand Seconde figure eight is represented here by two overlapping sapphire crystal discs held in place by five screws, all of them harmoniously aligned for a pleasing aesthetic effect, and all of them crafted in either red or white gold to match the case. The lower and larger seconds sub-dial is practically transparent while the hours and minutes disc rests on a white gold background with a grey treatment to be able to read the time. The indices, also in white or red gold, are faceted and applied to the hour disc. Six shorter indices are also applied to the large seconds disc (at 12, 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 o’clock) and a slim gold hand with a round counterweight indicates the passing seconds on the track. All the hands, the leaf-shaped hour and minute and the elongated seconds hands, are crafted in either red or white gold.
Plasma ceramic or red gold
Available in a high-tech plasma ceramic or a more classic red gold case, the look and feel of these two watches couldn’t be more different. This is the first time Jaquet Droz produces a case in plasma ceramic. Forged in an oven at incredibly high temperatures, gases activated at 20,000⁰ C raise the temperature of white ceramic and transform it into a material with a metallic shine, without any metal. It might look like metal but its weight immediately confirms that it is ceramic. Moreover, the inherent properties of ceramic remain intact offering a resilient, lightweight and scratch-resistant surface. The result is a technical, sophisticated, contemporary watch.
The 18k red gold case is warmer and more traditional than the plasma ceramic and provides a sharper contrast to the skeletonised elements on the dial. It might be harder to read the time, but the contrast of luxurious red gold and the strikingly modern grey bridges is eye-catching, to say the least. Slightly smaller in size than the plasma ceramic (41mm vs 41.5mm diameter and 12.30mm vs 12.48mm height), the rose gold is polished on the surface and brushed on the flange.
Again, on the reverse side, you can see how the dark bridges weave a web to support the moving parts and how the 18k gold rotor is entirely openworked and engraved with the individual number of the watch. The twin barrels, which you can clearly see in the top half of the movement, provide the automatic JD 2663 SQ calibre with a very decent power reserve of 68 hours. Fitted with a contemporary silicon balance spring and silicon pallet horns, the frequency is of 28,800vph/4Hz. There is no casing ring so the movement fits seamlessly inside the contours of the case.
If watches had temperatures, the plasma ceramic would register a pretty chilly reading. The plasma ceramic might be sleeker, cooler, more high-tech looking than the red gold, but it doesn’t really capture the luxurious, whimsical spirit of Jaquet Droz. It is more anodyne and despite its techie look and feel, seems somehow less daring than the red gold.
The red gold is a statement piece. With its dramatic contrasts, it plays with the element of surprise, just like the automata of 300 years ago. Yes, it might be harder to read, but if you are going to invest in an unusual Jaquet Droz model, why settle for something less eye-catching?
Straps and price
The Grande Seconde Skelet-One in red gold comes with an alligator strap with a novel rubber-like finish and a red gold ardillon buckle. In keeping with its high-tech mood, the plasma ceramic model is fitted with a modern grey textile strap with a steel and plasma ceramic folding clasp. The red gold model retails for CHF 34,600 and the plasma ceramic for CHF 24,300. More details at jaquet-droz.com.