JLC Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185: Mechanical Ingenuity To Inspire
Simon Schneider3 May 2021 | 6 min read
Jaeger Le-Coultre has long enjoyed the moniker of being the watchmaker’s watchmaker. Nevertheless they have, to this day, failed to capture the fascination of the non-nerd demographic. Their strength instead lies in the impressions they leave on all those who care about what is under the hood, or rather behind the dial, of a mechanical watch.
Perpetual proof of their prowess can always be found in their partnership with Patek Philippe who was just one of the brands who used JLC movements before the trend to make everything in-house. In an economical landscape where outsourcing is seen as an opportunity to avert risk, JLC stood out as a company to happily pour countless hours into
research and development in a time before that wasn’t considered cool.
All that is to say that there really was no need for the watch we are about to discuss. This watch will not elevate JLCs status since it is already on top of the skyscraper. It can only cement it. And yet the Masion decided to fit more complications and complexity into a Reverso than was ever imagined before. For the 90th anniversary of the Reverso, JLC (in the most literal sense of the word) blessed us with the Hybris Mechanica Calibrer 185 Quadriptyque. In a year where creativity in the watch world revolves around which shade of green your watch will be, JLC slaps their metaphorical gear train on the table of this year’s Watches and Wonders and blows away everyone with one of, if not the, most mechanically impressive wristwatch ever made.
The least important aspect (specs)
Let’s talk about the specs first since they are the least important aspect. Housed inside the 51mm x 31mm x 15mm white gold case are 11 complications and 12 patents. It is the world’s first watch with four dials all of which are dedicated to the passage of time in every astronomical sense possible. It will be priced at a cool 1.3 Million CHF and, believe you me, will be the ultimate trump card at any watch meet.
Dial 1/4: mechanical ingenuity
Taking things head on, let’s focus on the first of four dials in the 185 Calibre. This is probably the most “normal” of the dials. It features the time, a perpetual calendar with indicators for day, month, year, leap-year, and day/night with instantaneous jumps. The mechanical ingenuity of this can be admired behind the semi-exposed guilloché dial. A striking flying tourbillon puts the cherry on the top making this first dial as a standalone already a serious piece of watchmaking.
Dial 2/4: trebuchet hammers & exposed mechanism
The second dial is visually much more intriguing. Instead of a classical display of time you have here a digital jumping hour with a rotating ring to show the minutes. The centerpieces are the trebuchet hammers for the minute repeater and the exposed mechanism which are a marvel to watch move as you activate the complication. The dedication to ingenuity goes so far that JLC has worked on the mechanism so that there is no delay between the different chimes. The wonderful trebuchet hammers, exclusive to JLC, as well as the fact that they hit the sapphire crystal rather than the case make the chimes that much more audible.
Dial 3/4: moon phase (northern hemisphere)
The third dial is dedicated to the moon’s orbit. It displays three different versions of the lunar month, that being the synodic, draconic, and anomalistic Cycle. The Synodic cycle is the normal moon cycle you expect from a moon phase complication and is centerfold painted on a big disk on the top. On the bottom left is the draconic cycle. This displays the slight angle at which the moon rotates around the ear in relation to the sun.
Fascinating for astronomers, it is a head scratcher for regular folk if not for the fact that this complication helps you predict the next solar eclipse which occurs once the moon and sun end up being on the same level. Next to the draconic cycle on the right side is the anomalistic cycle. Since the moon does not rotate around the earth in a perfect circle but instead an epileptic shape its distance to the earth will vary wildly. The Anomalistic cycle helps you keep track of that distance between the earth and the moon.
Dial 4/4: moon phase (southern hemisphere)
To find the last of the four dials you have to turn the watch around. Where on any other watch you would have the case back instead you are greeted with yet another watch face displaying the moon phase in the southern hemisphere.
If you are accustomed to the Reverso collection you might ask yourself how the third and fourth dial generate power.
Since the movement is in the rotating element that makes up the first and second dial there is no mainspring to power the latter two dials. While there isn’t a mainspring there is a gear train in the back plate. Since the gears for the different moon indicators only need to be moved once a day the main movement will release a pin exactly
at midnight that operates the moon indicators similar to how pins and pushers work on any other moon phase watch.
More clever engineering
Another piece of clever engineering can be found in the buckle. The buckle actually makes up one of the 12 patents in this watch and is an element that I hope to see brought down to other models in the JLC collection. It has two little gears that can be operated to move the pin which secures the leather bracelet. Since this is a top heavy watch fine adjustment to your wrist for a proper fit is essential.
The JLC allows for this without having to take the watch off your wrist, something you want to avoid out of principle with a watch worth more than a million. While all this is fine and dandy it would not be out of the extraordinary so far. Don’t get me wrong, this is a one in a billion timepiece whose mechanical muscle is second to none. It is not, however, like we have never seen a hyper-complicated wrist watch before.
All of the others do, however, have one issue that seriously hampers their wearability. Having more complications than fingers in a watch is all fun and games until you have to set them because this watch is miles removed away from being a daily timepiece. I have met people not willing to set their date on a mechanical watch due to the hassle, could you imagine having to set all these moon cycles? Not only would you have to set them but also figure how to set them and what to set them to. An unrealistic endeavour which would in any other scenario leave 10/10 of these watches set to the wrong time. A real shame. But this isn’t one of those other watches.
Extra details: the box
To explain what makes this watch so incredible you have to pay attention to the box it gets delivered in. Personally, I am no fan of the ever increasingly ridiculous of massive watch boxes like can be found on any modern Omega Moonwatch. To me the much more inspiring approach is the utilitarian and minimal one brands like Breitling have taken with only delivering their watches in little travel pouches which, beyond being economical and environmental, are more practical.
An exception to this has to be made with the 185. It will be accompanied by a truly massive wooden box with many compartments. In the lower half of the box you can pull out a tray. In that tray you have a metal inlay in which you can place your watch. Next to this you have a lever, a gear, and a day indicator. To set this watch you simply have to turn the gear to the number of the days since you have last worn this watch and the box will set all the different indicators to the correct position. It is this box grants this mechanical marvel a realistic chance of being properly used rather than be a depressed timepiece questioning its purpose.
A watch to fascinate and inspire
I love this watch. It is not a watch you would necessarily want to wear or own, but a watch to inspire and fascinate you. This watch, unlike any other release this year, awakens the kid inside you making you wonder “How the fuck does this even work?”. So many watch brands create timepieces for obscure purposes only to completely ignore the fact that real people will use them who are unlikely to be the actual demographic a watch pretends to cater to.
Not so with the Hybris Mechanical 185.