The idiom “tick-tock” includes two sounds that many of us were taught symbolize the passing of time, as they allude to the mechanical inner-workings of watches and clocks of yonder years. These onomatopoeic words may be the most well-known of all sounds associated with time-telling, but they’re far from the only ones. To step into luxury Swiss watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre‘s The Sound Maker exhibition, open now in NYC through 5 October, is to understand the extent of the interwoven legacy of sound and time.
Upon entry, guests start down a time-traveling path lined with historic pieces that represent the evolution of chiming watches made by the maison—from the 1800s through 2020. This includes stunning antique minute repeaters (mechanical watches that chime on the hour or sometimes with the push of a button) through to the iconic Memovox alarm watch of the ’50s and novelties of the highest complication that were released only last year. Among these are pieces that have never been displayed to the public before.
Throughout the exhibition, a history lesson that is sure to appease watch lovers runs alongside a visual presentation of treasures that anyone with an eye for beauty can appreciate. The display truly highlights the preciousness of timepieces, and explains the technical inventions and patents (which occurred on such a small scale within watch cases) that brought us to where we are today.
A mesmerizing sound sculpture, commissioned by Jaeger-LeCoultre from Swiss contemporary artist and composer Zimoun, swirls at the heart of the exhibition and occupies an entire room itself. Composed of repurposed industrial components—including some watch parts, as well as other raw materials—the kinetic installation gives reason to pause, watch and listen. It takes time to observe the magnitude of the work.
Altogether, “this exhibition talks about the technical expertise of Jaeger-LeCoultre, as a manufacture for 188 years,” chief executive officer Catherine Rénier tells us after our walk-through. “We have mastered sound-making in watches.” Indeed, traveling through the decades represented by the collection reveals the brand’s milestone mechanical contributions to sound within timepieces—from classic centuries-old pocket watches to the retro-futuristic ’70s-era wristwatches.
Rénier adds, however, that the exhibit is “also about sophistication and style. You see this art piece made in collaboration with the Swiss artist Zimoun. This offers a whole new perspective regarding what watchmaking is about because it includes innovation and lifestyle, it’s also about history and emotion. That’s what this exhibition invites people to discover.” From the Zimoun installation to the rare and wondrous watches encased all around, the exhibition succeeds in telling the story of sound’s relationship to time over the years.
Aligning with the exhibition’s NYC opening, Jaeger-LeCoultre released the exemplary Reverso Tribute Minute Repeater—a timepiece (limited to 10 production models) that falls upon the 90th anniversary of their beloved Reverso wristwatch and the 150th anniversary of their first-ever minute repeater. This magnificent chiming watch—and its marriage of technical complexity and aesthetic grandeur—telegraphs the musical future of a brand committed to furthering the legacy it highlights at The Sound Maker.
Tickets for The Sound Maker can be reserved for free online.
Images courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre