The Grande Seconde IS Jaquet Droz. While there is nothing unusual in this statement, the reverse is also true: Jaquet Droz IS the Grande Seconde. And this is where the fusion between the model and the brand comes in: despite being reintroduced two years after the brand was acquired by Swatch Group, the Grande Seconde has made a name for itself with disconcerting ease as an indispensable benchmark not only for the brand but also for watchmaking in general.
A hostile environment
Nonetheless, the odds were definitely not stacked in Jaquet Droz’ favour, with its very small production volume (estimated at around 4,500 units); the logic of being part of a big group (Swatch Group); as well as just 12 years in the catalogue for the Grande Seconde, whereas most brands take decades to establish an iconic model – if this indeed ever happens.
How did Jaquet Droz manage to be so successful where so many others have failed? Firstly, it has something to do with being true to the original design. Jaquet Droz has not attempted to modify, adapt, or modernise its 1784 creation. The 43 mm diameter is in tune with the tastes of this early 21st century while also echoing the spirit of the historical pocket watch, which was by nature larger than a wristwatch.
Then it’s about controlled boldness. This has nothing to do with adorning a grand old lady with a minute repeater flyback mechanism on a skeletonised movement. The beauty of the piece is closely bound up with the enamel of its dial, associated with the gold of its case. This is a non-negotiable combination for Jaquet Droz. And as for the movement, the way it is built would make it impossible to add a chronograph.
Lastly, Jaquet Droz has never modified the case of the Grande Seconde, thus infusing its icon with a reassuring aura of continuity.
That leaves the dial. And it is here that Jaquet Droz’ boldness becomes the most apparent. Paradoxically, the brand has never attempted to leverage its legitimacy in the field of enamelling. One might well imagine endless colour variations in this regard, but only one different shade dial in red enamel was created in 2009 for Only Watch, which was a one-off piece. The pristine grand feu enamel therefore remains another element on which the brand never compromises.
Creativity therefore depends on other materials and the standout feature is all about minerals. Here too, this could have meant tricky terrain, because the brand has no special connection throughout its history to the realm of rocks or meteorites, unlike, let’s say, a Louis Moinet.
Yet here again, the idea actually works. The Grande Seconde’s mineral dials are pieces produced as very limited – even unique pieces, which immediately find takers. For the past three years, their number one position on the podium has been shared with another finish: Côtes de Genève. Jaquet Droz has gambled heavily with a distinctive display on the dial side and unusual colours for metal, such as chocolate brown or blue. And the bet has paid off, as the brand vividly demonstrated at this year’s Baselworld with new models also featuring this finish.
Return to reason
Nonetheless, the public has sometimes struggled to keep up with the brand, and particularly with its collections. Just a few weeks ago, they were called Beijing, London or Paris. Aficionados of the brand with the cloverleaf (Jaquet Droz’ secret signature on all its movements) understood that these were the main towns that had marked both the life of Pierrre Jaquet-Droz himself and that of his son. Alas, the general public never really caught on. Even well thought-through story telling has its limits.
Consequently, the brand has now gone back to basics: one collection, one model. Less rich, undoubtedly, but far clearer for its clients and even for retailers.
What future is Jaquet Droz intending to give its collections? As we have just seen at Baselworld, it will be made of silicon. In the medium term, all the brand’s models will be equipped with a movement that has been smartened up and equipped with this more modern, more reliable escapement.
As regards the Grande Seconde, the “GSQ” version – or Grande Seconde Quantième – is in the process of overtaking its ancestor, the Grande Seconde. The slight (approximately 500 CHF) price difference between the two encourages the client to opt for the version complete with a date display. We know however that the venerable Grande Seconde is already preparing its comeback for next year.