A favourite watchmaker of mine, Marc Jenni, recently revealed his latest creation to visitors to The Horological Academy of Independent Creators (AHCI) stand at the 2011 Baselworld fair in March.
His new for 2011 piece, the Marc Jenni 'JJJ', presented in either rose or white gold, is both an evolution of his previously featured Prologue, featuring it's ground-breaking world's first lateral winding automatic movement, and at the same time serves as a window through which we are offered a view back in time, deep into the Jenni family history, and where we can clearly see the origins and inspiration for the magnificent new 'JJJ' piece.
Marc Jenni has had watchmaking in his dna since long before even he was aware of it; his father and grandfather both being accomplished watchmakers, his father owning a watch store in Zurich. As Marc Jenni will testify himself, as a youngster he felt no particular pull to follow in the footsteps of his forebears yet still found himself drawn towards the generations-old Jenni family profession.
Among the many old watches in the posession of his father, Marc found himself a challenge when he was shown a couple of pocket watches dating back to 1780, and intriguingly, signed by one Johann Jacob Jenny! Having established that the watches were indeed the works of his own ancestor, Marc Jenni then set about the task of translating aspects of his predecessor's watches, including the unusual day indicator which used the astronomical planetary symbols to mark the equivalent day of the week.
And so, with the seed of inspiration sown, Marc Jenni began the design of his new 'Seven Days, Seven Planets, Seven Symbols' piece, which would need to be sympathetic to the creation of his many times great-great-great distant relative to whom it would owe it's 'JJJ' name, yet also be an unmistakable evolution of Marc's own distinctive modernistic styling and technical cues first seen in the earlier Prologue piece.
With the Prologue as evidence, it would never be enough for the young watchmaker to settle for the conventional approach to address a challenge, and so with the new JJJ we are treated to some truly innovative solutions to questions only he could set himself.
True to the spirit born in it's own predecessors (both modern and antique) and from which it has evolved, the new piece is remarkable. The most eyecatching feature, (that is once you have got used to the fact that Marc Jenni's watches thus far do not have any visible means for setting or adjusting the time or other functions, nevermind that there appears to be no method of winding either!), is the little aperture just above the centre of the dial which displays a curious little symbol which changes daily and would certainly not be commonly found on a wristwatch nowadays.
Marc Jenni's contemporary adaptation of his distant relative's centuries-old concept sees the astronomical planetary symbols recreated on a disc which rotates in unison with the day and date functions whereas his inspirational base had the symbols hand painted opposite it's correlating day on the face of the antique enameled dial so each point of the hand's two ends indicated day and symbol! Thinking outside the box has clearly been a characteristic of the Jenni family - going back quite some time!
Marc Jenni's new JJJ displays the now familiar triangular motif with 'Time', 'Date' and 'Wind', to indicate which function you are adjusting or using, as debuted on the Prologue model. Normal functions which are usually attributed to a conventional crown are instead operated via the bezel-mounted selector pusher; the pointer within the triangle indicating the currently selected function. Once the desired function is selected, winding the movement and the adjustment of time, day and date are operated via the 'turning ring' which is essentially the entire flank of the watchcase featuring tactile natural rubber inserts and which rotates smoothly in either direction, cleverly passing under the lugs! Hence the watchmaker's ability to dispense with the traditional crown altogether.
The JJJ uses a single sapphire crystal plate for it's dial. To achieve it's multi-layered effect, the crystal has been given six different surface treatments including a metalization layer (for the background colour), laser engraving (the radiating sunrays), laser-cutting (apertures), sandblasted aperture frames, smoke-effect and metal deposit process (gold or rhodium) on the top surface for the motif, brand name and other applied indicators.
The crystal is directly mounted onto the movement by the two little 'feet' visible as 'satellites' at the 5 and 11 o'clock positions on the dial. Day and correlating planetary symbol are displayed seperately through their own apertures (although sharing the same rotating disc), as is the ascending date.
The new additions on the dial demonstrates both the versatility of his original Calibre 2010 Prologue movement (this evolution being the Calibre 2011) as well as showcasing Jenni's dextrous touch in incorporating the day, date and planetary symbols to his original movement without increasing it's dimensions.
The transparent sapphire crystal exhibition caseback reveals the new Calibre 2011 automatic movement with it's distinctive ruthenium-coated 22Kt gold oscillating weight, cast in the shape of the Marc Jenni signature triangle motif.
Offering as much assistance as I could possibly ask for, Marc left me with the following sentiment behind the philosophy of his latest piece;
Walking the edge of modernism and traditional watchmaking, I wanted the new collection “JJJ” to become more sportive, more pragmatic than the “Prologue” which stays for a more classical approach, as a counter approach to the very traditional pocket watch of “Johann Jakob Jenny”.
The JJJ is only Marc Jenni's second offering, but already he is forging his reputation as one of our generation's most innovative watchmakers and in whose hands, and thankfully a healthy number of other young like-minded creators and designers, the immediate future of modern watchmaking would appear to be set to continue to defy the confines of conventional design.
But as we are well aware, in almost all modern watchmaking, a huge debt is owed to those who had the same passion, but who also faced different challenges hundreds of years ago. It got me thinking that if Johann Jacob Jenni or his peers of the time had dreamed up the combustion engine or similar - then what kind of vehicles would we be driving around in today???