Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic True Second

The true second

Words and photography: Gisbert Brunner​

News from Watch & Wonders in Hong Kong: An exclusive preliminary report on the Geophysic True Second and the Geophysic Universal Time by Jaeger-LeCoultre
Gisbert Brunner

Gisbert L. Brunner was born in 1947 and has worked with every sort of precision timepiece, though mainly wristwatches, since the 1960s. He has now published more than 15 books on the subject. He is also in demand the world over as a public speaker.

On September 30 2015, the Far East’s luxury watch show, Watches and Wonders, opened its doors in Hong Kong for the third time. 12 brands were represented, 11 of which belong to the Richemont group: A. Lange & Söhne, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Panerai, Piaget, Roger Dubuis, Vacheron Constantin and Van Cleef & Arpels. Richard Mille was also represented as an external exhibitor. 

My first appointment was first thing in the morning with Jaeger-LeCoultre. CEO Daniel Riedo gave me a sneak preview of the brand new Geophysic range which would only officially be unveiled the following evening.


The story of this range of Jaeger-LeCoultre watches goes back to the 1950s. That was when the idea for a new polar year began to germinate. Due to the Cold War, it was declared a global endeavour after consultation with the International Council for Science. This meant that a group of ambitious scientists from all over the world could make arrangements for the International Geophysical Year (IGY). 

Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic 1958 Sputnik

The Jaeger-Le Coultre “Geophysik Chronometer” of 1958

The IGY went from July 1 1957 to December 31 1958. During that time, scientists were engaged in various geophysical projects researching unexplored aspects of the ionosphere, geomagnetism, glaciers, oceanography, meteorology, cosmic radiation, seismology and, last but not least, the sun, our major celestial body.

To mark such a significant event, Jaeger-LeCoultre launched its officially certified Geophysic Chronometer in that same year, 1958. Here was a wristwatch whose soft iron inner casing could protect the 28.25-mm in diameter and 4.55-mm in height P 478/BWS/br hand-wound calibre from magnetic fields of up to 600 G. 

The integrated movement was a particularly refined version of the tried and tested 478 that had been used in military wristwatches. The 800 samples came in a case that resembled the Russian Sputnik. The city of Geneva presented one of these timepieces – highly prized in collector circles, and with a price tag to match - to William R. Anderson, the captain of the US nuclear submarine which had sailed under the ice cap surrounding the North Pole by travelling directly from the Atlantic to the Pacific on August 3 1958. The USS Nautilus had set out on its secret mission, which only the crew knew about, on August 1 1958.


In 2014, this long-established Swiss watchmaker paid homage to these legendary timepieces – some well-maintained pieces today go for more than €20,000 on the collector market – in the shape of three retro-editions with a 38.5-mm-diameter stainless steel, pink gold or platinum case and 3.3-millimetre thick Jaeger-LeCoultre 898/1 automatic calibre with 43-hour power reserve. The complete look, even the dial, harked back strongly to the original.


In 2015, Jaeger-LeCoultre made the Geophysic watches into a completely new range. To the uninitiated, they might look like quartz watches, due to the hour hand. But flip it over and you quickly see that it is innovative, state-of-the-art, good old-fashioned mechanics within, with a frequency of 4Hz. Portable mechanical watches with a ticking second hand aren’t all that new. There were already such pocket watches in the 18th century.

In 1958, when Jaeger-LeCoultre launched the first Geophysic, Doxa already had a number of wristwatches with a ticking second hand. The Fabrique d’ébauches de Chézard S.A. developed the feature in the late 1940s. Chézard had secured a patent for its 11½-line 118 calibre with a “device for the gradual forward movement of the second hand using clockwork” in 1948/49. Production began in 1955. In the 1950s, Rolex also had the Metropolitan, Ref. 6556. The automatic wristwatch is also known as True Beat due to its ticking second hand. The experiment was curtailed after a mere five years for lack of success, though the feature had cost almost 30 % more than an Oyster Perpetual with the running second hand.

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic True Second 2015 is running

Technically speaking, none of this is magic. A mechanism counts the vibrations and pre-stresses a small hairspring. A second had elapsed after five vibrations, or eight in the case of Jaeger-LeCoultre. The release occurred at that precise moment and the discharged spring made the second hand tick forward.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic Universal Time 2015

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic Universal Time 2015

Jaeger-LeCoultre developed a completely new automatic movement, the 6.75-millimetre-thick 770 calibre, for the Geophysic True Second. Its central rotor stretches the mainspring in one direction. Once fully wound, it has a power reserve of about 40 hours. The 4Hz micro cosmos consists of 275 components, 30 of which are for the additional mechanisms required for the ticking second hand alone.  

Eight years after it first appeared in 2007 as the Master Compressor Extreme Lab 1, we now also have a production version of the Gyrolab balance wheel. The balance wheel, which resembles the JLC logo, has 22-carat gold external elements and a variable moment of inertia, which renders superfluous the regulator adjusting the active length of the hairspring. And on the subject of the springs, Jaeger-LeCoultre makes them out of Nivarox in house.

Globetrotters will delight in this inconspicuous wristwatch which measures 39.6 millimetres across. The hour hand can be adjusted forwards or back in hourly increments when you reach a distant time-zone. The date window promptly follows hot on its heels. The minute hand is not affected. This simple yet technically exciting wristwatch, water-resistant at up to five bar, is available in steel or pink gold for approximately €8,000. The small, round, luminous hour markers on the bezel ring around the dial hark back to the historic original.

The cosmopolitan can avail themselves of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic Universal Time, which shows the time around the world. Its striking dial shows the time in all 24 standard time zones around the world at once. The central hour hand is again adjustable in hourly increments via the crown. The optional time zone display, mounted on the front of the watch, increases the size of the 722 calibre to 7.13 millimetres. The case, available again in steel or pink gold, is a little larger at 41.6 millimetres across. Prices begin at approximately €13,000.

All Geophysic watches undergo strict 1000-hour testing before leaving the manufacture.

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09 2015 The Red Bulletin

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