There’s perhaps nothing more gratifying for the serious watch collector than owning a piece of horological history. That’s exactly what Jaeger-LeCoultre proposes with its Proto Zero watches—highly sought-after original prototypes of the Swiss Manufacture’s most iconic limited-edition models—and possibly the first time a major watchmaker planned to release its prototypes to the general public.
Forget about acquiring the first in a series. For the initiated, there’s nothing like owning Number 0, the one that existed before the production models, the first full-scale and functional unit manufactured of the watch.
For the opening of its boutique in Hong Kong, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s CEO Jérôme Lambert had announced that these one-of-a-kind pieces would be sold exclusively at this flagship store, and ten percent of the sales of each prototype would be donated to the End Child Sexual Abuse Foundation (ECSAF), a Hong Kong-based charitable organization protecting children and teenagers.
“Our partnership with ECSAF aims to be a long-term one,” explains Lambert. “ECSAF is providing several services to raise awareness and educate families and the general public through lectures, seminars, media, a hotline and a library corner. It teaches children and teenagers how to protect themselves from sexual abuse and communicates interpersonal and social skills that are vital for survival in a very dynamic and aggressive modern society. This year, Jaeger-LeCoultre is raising funds to finance a new education program, which will start in September 2012. This program aims to provide preventive classes for junior secondary school students.”
The first is the highly precise 43-mm Master Grande Tradition à Tourbillon 43, powered by the automatic Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 978 showcasing hours and minutes, a pointer-type date display that may be synchronized with local time and is adjustable in both directions, a 24-hour display of reference time and a tourbillon with seconds indication.
The second is the Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 in the legendary swivel case, housing the manual-winding Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 174, with hours, minutes and seconds indication on the carriage of the spherical tourbillon, and power-reserve indication located on the caseback. Many fall under the spell of the spherical tourbillon with the exceptional speed of rotation of its two carriages: the inner one completes a full turn in 18.75 seconds, while the outer one performs a more conventional one-minute turn.
The third is the 44-mm titanium Master Grande Tradition à Répétition Minutes, driven by the manual-winding Jaeger-Coultre Caliber 947 featuring hour and minute indications, a minute repeater and fifteen-day power reserve. Creations from the Duomètre line, including the Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire in yellow gold, and the Reverso line, represented by the Grande Reverso Enamel, as well as other watches will be put on sale in the future.
While these prototypes are usually kept at the Jaeger-LeCoultre Manufacture in La Vallée de Joux, and are traditionally not made to be sold, they have now been brought out of hiding for good reason, Lambert says.
“The prototypes put on sale are the first watches that came to life in the hands of watchmakers who work at our manufacturing facilities. The ‘zero’ in their names indicates the exclusive nature of the watch. As a rule, these watches remain within our Manufacture as our heritage, something precious that represents special value for us. As the program of the charity touched us deeply, we decided to contribute these watches to this cause.”
The 1881 Heritage boutique in Hong Kong was chosen as the only one in the world to sell the Proto Zeros, as its interior architecture reproduces the spirit of the Manufacture, its rich history, tradition and creativity, and is the first Jaeger-LeCoultre store in the world to feature a wall of watch movements. These are meant to echo a similar wall at the brand’s Heritage Gallery in La Vallée de Joux, symbolizing Jaeger-LeCoultre’s extensive movement-making capability, where since 1833 it has designed and produced over 1,200 calibers.
The prototypes have been refurbished, reconditioned and returned to pristine condition to be visually identical to the serial watches. However, the production of these experimental models necessitated longer hours and sometimes-different tools on the part of the watchmakers. Thus, they are the embodiment of the creative process and innovation, as they serve as the starting point of a new series.
Despite the exclusivity of the prototypes and their emotional and historical value, their prices are the same as the commercial-production timepieces, as their functionality is identical. The Master Grande Tradition à Tourbillon 43 in platinum goes for HK$815,000 ($104,890), the Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 in pink gold for $336,000 and the Master Grande Tradition à Répétition Minutes TiVan for HK$1,440,000 ($185,328).