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The 1950s were an important time, not only in the world of horology, but in the realms of technology and science as well. During this decade, Eastern and Western scientists united for the International Geophysical Year. A similar period of scientific awakening and study occurred in the 1880s and 1930s with the International Polar Year, in which scientists around the world observed magnetic and meteorological phenomena at the North and South Poles. This spirit of scientific unity was put on hiatus by the rise of Communism, but the death of Josef Stalin in 1953 reignited the flame of collaboration in the minds of the world's best scientists. Inspired by an upcoming eleven-year period of heightened sunspot activity, in 1952 International Council of Scientific Unions announced the International Geophysical Year, to be held in 1957.
Like the intrepid explorers of the International Polar Year expeditions, the explorers of the International Geophysical Year turned their eyes to the Poles. Prior to this time, travel to the Poles was only achieved via sled, aircraft, or ships with specially-reinforced bows. General consensus among educated people in both East and West was that there was no easy way to get there.
But with the advent of nuclear power, the United States devised the best way to travel to the North Pole. Not above, not through, not on top of, but beneath the polar ice caps, in the world's first atomic submarine: the USS Nautilus. In 1958, the Nautilus became the first vessel to complete a submerged transit to the North Pole, a scientific milestone that cooly doubled as strategic muscle-flexing. (Remember, even though East and West were united in the spirit of science during the Geophysical Year, this was still at the height of the Cold War).
Even though the Nautilus rendered travel to the Poles somewhat easier, it still presented unique challenges for the instruments carried on board the submarine, particularly the watches. Simply put, the North Pole's powerful magnetic fields rendered ordinary timepieces completely useless. Captain William Anderson, the commander of the Nautilus, recognized the need for watches for himself and his crew that could operate in the extreme magnetic interference posed at the North Pole.
Jaeger-LeCoultre (in turn celebrating their 125th anniversary during the International Geophysical Year) answered the Commander's call with the Geophysic, a manually-wound, 35mm steel chronometer that could withstand the increased magnetism at the North Pole. In developing the Geophysic, JLC appropriated the design of their aviator's watch, the Mark XI, whose soft iron inner case protected the movement from the magnetic interference of the instruments inside an airplane's cockpit. The dial was pressure-fitted to the case with screws at 4 and 11 o'clock. Inside the soft dust cover, the cal. P478/BWSBr powered the watch: a specially-modified of the Mark XI's cal. 488 SBr with added shock protection. The movement itself was unadorned, only bearing the name of "LeCoultre" to commemorate the company's founder, Antoine LeCoultre.
In 2014, Jaeger-LeCoultre released the Geophysic 1958, a heritage piece that served as an homage to the original piece. Though remaining very true to the original feel and layout of the Geophysic, JLC elected to increase the case size from 35mm to 38.5mm and fit the watch with a Calibre 898/1 Automatic movement. This re-issue was accepted with wide acclaim and was sold out quickly, in no small part due to the extreme rarity of the originals.
The original Geophysic was only produced for one year, making it an incredibly rare and desirable watch among collectors. Only 1,393 watches were produced throughout its run. To find one in such good condition is an incredibly rare treat, for there is no other watch with as much historical and horological importance as the original Geophysic.
Read more about the Geophysic - both the original and the re-issue - at HODINKEE.com, HERE.
Stainless Steel case is approximately 35mm (excluding crown). Calibre P478/BWSbr manual-winding Movement. 1958.
Overall condition: Case is in very good condition over all, showing signs of normal wear consistent with age and use, including some light scratches and tool marks throughout. Dial is in very good condition, showing an even patina throughout, and slight scratching around the 3 o'clock marker. Dauphine hands are in excellent condition with a lovely aging to the luminescent material. Unsigned case back and crown.
Includes a black 18mm lizard strap with silver-tone Jaeger-LeCoultre buckle and two 18mm nylon straps by Crown & Buckle
Also includes Extract from the Archives of Jaeger-LeCoultre.