Jaeger-LeCoultre - 180 Years of History

Jaeger-LeCoultre: Celebrating 180 Years of Superlative Watchmaking

For the most discerning connoisseur, hearing brands such as Omega or Breitling will hardly cause a stir or raise of the eyebrow, however, when a horologist hears the name Jaeger-LeCoultre, not only will an eyebrow lift, but heart-pounding elation will set in and that legendary name will blanket every other thought in his mind as he restrains his excitement in hopes of what he might hear next.

Jaeger-LeCoultre is an iconic celebration of all things holy in the field of luxury watchmaking. A significant archetype as if bestowed from the heavens and exquisitely crafted for each man’s individual wrist.

To own such a timepiece is the quintessential mark of refinement, showcasing a man with such exquisite taste that all who have the pleasure of being within his shadow should kneel in hopes they might be granted just a moment of his time, for he, who wears a watch as iconic as a Jaeger-LeCoultre, must be considered, at the lowest levels, a luminary of impeccable style, boasting supreme intelligence and exemplary taste.

Often considered one of the most sophisticated and extraordinary innovators of luxury timepieces, JLC watches are a culmination of superlative craftsmanship, artistry and imagination. They are a valuable commodity that should at all times be treated with the highest levels of respect and dignity. This year, they are celebrating their 180th birthday, and we were approached by JLC asking whether we’d be interested in collaborating with them on a sponsored piece about the company’s history. Considering the prestige of the brand, and the fact that we recently launched our watch series, we accepted. Of course, it is impossible to condense such a brands historic achievements in one article, yet we thought it was a good opportunity to introduce you to the brand, and some of the milestones as well as a few new collections.

History of JLC

When Antoine LeCoultre founded a small watchmaking workshop after inventing a machine that cut watch pinions from steel, little did he know that he would capture the worlds attention, making history while continuing to revolutionize watchmaking as the company grew.

In the heart of an old workshop on the land his ancestor Pierre LeCoultre bought in 1559, Antoine worked day and night honing his skills in an effort to make the most high quality timepieces the small village of Le Sentier, Switzerland had ever seen.

1870 Pocket watch with triple calendar and moon phases

1870 Pocket watch with triple calendar and moon phases

In 1884 Antoine made horological history after creating the first instrument to measure the micron. Just three years later another revolutionary invention came along in his workshop where Antoine LeCoultre discovered a system that would eliminate the need to use a key in order to rewind and set watches. In four short years, he would receive awards at the inaugural Universal Exhibition in London for his breakthrough work on a lever-winding mechanism, interchangeable parts and manufacturing processes, not to mention a gold medal for his exquisitely crafted gold chronometer.

Following Antoine’s expedition to London and return, his son Elie decided to join his father in the family business and at the age of 16, became a pioneer of watchmaking, developing a plethora of complications and transforming his father’s small workshop into one of Switzerland’s most celebrated manufacturers.

By 1866, LeCoultre’s workshop had risen out of the common home-run manufacturers spread across Switzerland and installed a contemporary steam-driven machine to power the tools of a new office that effectively took all of the watchmakers from their homes and combined them in one, centralized facility. Now named LeCoultre & Cie, the company became the very first manufacturer in the Vallée de Joux. Nicknamed the “Grande Maison of the Vallée de Joux”, Antoine and Elie LeCoultre employed more than 500 watchmakers in-house and by 1870, managed to create calibres with complications so small, they again revolutionized the accuracy and dependability capable in a timepiece with their excess of 350 various calibres, 128 of which were chronographs and 99 which contained minute repeaters. For the next thirty years, LeCoultre & Cie would produce almost all of the movement blanks for the king of watchmakers – Patek Philippe.

1903 Set of Medals

1903 Set of Medals

Far across the lands, a man by the name of Edmond Jaeger left his home in Alsace following the Franco-Prussian war. A watchmaker by trade, he set up shop in the bustling city of Paris, France devoting himself exclusively to creating complications that measured speed. In 1903, Edmond Jaeger, now a watchmaker to the French Navy, challenged the well-known Swiss manufacturers to produce an ultrathin movement he had invented. Jacques-David LeCoultre, Elie’s son who was responsible for production at the time, accepted the challenge and created the world’s thinnest pocket watch, equipped with the LeCoultre 146 calibre, measuring just 1.38 mm thick.

Following years of communication and information sharing between Switzerland’s LeCoultre and Parisian watchmaker Jaeger, a friendship was formed and by 1937, the formidable Jaeger-LeCoultre was born.

180 Years of Jaeger-LeCoultre Milestones

1559 Pierre LeCoultre arrives in the Vallée de Joux after fleeing Lisy-sur-Ourcq, France to escape religious persecution.

1612 Pierre II LeCoultre founds the village of Le Sentier after erecting a church to mark its founding.

1833 Antoine LeCoultre opens his small workshop.

1862 Keyless pocket watch by JLC

1862 Keyless pocket watch by JLC

1844 Antoine LeCoultre invents the Millionometer.

1847 A second invention comes quickly with the creation of the pivoting winding mechanism.

1851 Antoine LeCoultre receives a gold medal at the inaugural World Fair in London.

1858 Elie LeCoultre joins his father Antoine at the age of just 16.

1862 The first keyless pocket watch is invented by Antoine LeCoultre.

1866 With construction of a new building, LeCoultre becomes the first Manufacture in the Vallée de Joux.

1870 LeCoultre creates their first complicated calibres.

1870 A pocket watch with triple calendar and moon phases is created.

1880 Across the lands, Jaeger is founded in Paris, France.

1890 LeCoultre produces 156 calibres.

1890 LeCoultre introduces the first Grande Complication models.

1870 Pocket watch with triple calendar and moon phases

1870 Pocket watch with triple calendar and moon phases

1890 JLC introduces the minute repeater watch with an annual calendar.

1900 Jacques-David LeCoultre, Elie’s son is put in charge of production.

1903 Jacques-David LeCoultre is introduced to Parisian watchmaker Edmond Jaeger.

1907 The Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 145, the world’s thinnest movement, is created.

1915 The watchmaking company begins its work in aviation and automobiles.

1925 The Duoplan watch is invented.

1928 The incredible Atmos clock is invented.

1929 Again, the world’s thinnest movement is introduced; the Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 101.

1930 The first Chronoflight is created.

1890 Minute repeater watch with annual calendar

1890 Minute repeater watch with annual calendar

1930 An Ultra-thin pocket watch is manufactured.

1931 JLC produces an 8-day twin-barrel wristwatch.

1931 History is made with the birth of the iconic Reverso watch.

1932 A “Baguette” table clock is created in the workshop.

1937 Marks the official birth of the legendary Jaeger-LeCoultre brand.

1938 JLC introduces the Compass miniature camera.

1946 Jaeger-LeCoultre makes the tourbillon Calibre 170.

1930 Ultra-thin pocket watch

1930 Ultra-thin pocket watch

1946 History is made again with the first automatic Jaeger-LeCoultre watch.

1950 Marks the introduction of the Memovox.

1953 Always looking forward, the Futurematic is produced.

1953 The Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 803 is made, measuring a mere 1.64 mm thick.

1956 JLC creates their first automatic wristwatch with an alarm.

1958 A Geophysic Chronometer is introduced to the public.

1959 A Memovox Deep Sea edition is created marking the first diver’s watch to be equipped with an alarm.

1965 The Memovox Polaris is achieved.

1967 JLC is integral in the Beta 21 movement.

1976 Jaeger-LeCoultre designs an automatic, thin, high-frequency Calibre 900.

1982 The Calibre 601 is introduced, making it the world’s thinnest quartz movement.

1983 The Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 889 is made.

1987 JLC keeps pushing the limits with the mechaquartz Calibre 630.

1989 Marks the introduction of the Grand Réveil.

1990 A Géographique is created and hits the market.

1991 The Reverso 60ème is made.

Watchmaking at Jaeger-LeCoultre

Watchmaking at Jaeger-LeCoultre

1992 History is made yet again with the Master Control 1000 Hours.

1994 A Reverso Duo is created and becomes a huge success.

1997 The Reverso Duetto is introduced to the public.

1999 Marks the birth of the Atmos du Millénaire.

2000 The Richemont Group acquires Jaeger-LeCoultre.

2002 A Master Compressor Memovox is made.

2003 The Reverso Platinum Number Two is unveiled.

2003 With the success of its clocks, the Atmos Mystérieuse is designed.

2004 A Gyrotourbillon I is created.

2005 Marks the birth of the Master Minute Repeater Antoine LeCoultre.

2006 A Reverso grande complication à triptyque is given birth.

2007 The Duomètre is introduced and the industry is revolutionized yet again.

2007 A Master Compressor Extreme Lab is created in Le Sentier.

2007 Marks the official opening of the Heritage Gallery.

Enamelling at Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre --« Johann Sauty 2

Enamelling at Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre –« Johann Sauty 2

2008 A remarkable four pink gold limited series marking the 175th anniversary of the Manufacture is released.

2008 The Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 is released.

2009 A brand new 9,000 square-metre building is erected on site.

2009 The remarkable Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie is created.

2010 Marks the birth of the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication.

2011 An exquisite Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau is made.

2012 The legendary watchmaker does it again with a Duomètre Sphérotourbillon.

2013 JLC celebrates its 180th anniversary

Engraving at Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre --« Johann Sauty

Engraving at Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre –« Johann Sauty

Collections

What most people don’t realize is that the iconic Reverso, a Jaeger-LeCoultre masterpiece was actually invented six years before Jaeger joined the LeCoultre family. In 1931, the game of Polo was beginning to greet a circle of British officers in India. Constantly smashing the glass of their favorite wristwatches, LeCoultre decided to manufacture a wristwatch that’s case could swivel 180 degrees in order to protect the glass from the savagery of such a gallant sport. While initially intended to be a sports watch, the art deco appeal of such a contemporary masterpiece became such a delight to the Polo players that they began wearing the watch off the field, paired with morning coats and the most formal attire of the time.

Today, the Reverso is considered by many, to be one of the most resplendent dress watches in history, capable of being worn in both a formal setting as well as during casual horseplay with friends.

Atmos at Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre --« Johann Sauty

Atmos at Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre

Another equally important timepiece produced by Jaeger-LeCoultre was also created before the amalgamation of the two companies, yet not released until after its birth in 1937. The Atmos clock, a milestone in horological history, was invented in 1928 by a man named Jean-Léon Reutter, an engineer who defied the laws of physics by creating a movement so advanced, that it could work seamlessly for centuries without ever having to be serviced. While the Atmos clock was designed initially by Jean-Léon Reutter, it was not the first clock to rely on atmospheric pressure change or temperature. In fact, Cornelius Drebbel manufactured 18 of these clocks in the early seventeenth century which were given as gifts to noblemen including King James VI & I of Britain. The King James clock, known as the Eltham Perpetuum, has since become quite famous across Europe, mentioned twice in the works of Ben Jonson.

JLC Craftmanship

JLC Craftmanship

When Jaeger-LeCoultre heard of Reutter’s achievement, they became so intrigued by it that they offered their expertise in manufacturing at no charge to assist in the creation of what we now call the Atmos Clock. On July 27th of 1935, LeCoultre took over production of the Atmos Clock 1 from the Compagnie Générale de Radio in France intent on developing a second version that utilized newfound ideas. Without a need to be mechanically wound, the Atmos clock relies on temperature and atmospheric pressure changes in the environment. Its only source of power is an internal, hermetically sealed capsule which contains a precise mixture of gaseous and liquid ethyl chloride that expands with a rise in external temperature, thereby causing the spring to compress. As the temperature falls, the spiral spring slackens causing a constant winding of the mainspring of the clock. This was quite an engineering feat for its time considering that a temperature change of just one degree in the range of fifteen to thirty Celsius, or a pressure variation of just 3mmHg was enough to ensure consistent operation of the clock for a full two days. Announced to the public on January 15th, 1936, just one year before Jaeger officially joined forces with LeCoultre, production had to be halted as problems arose which delayed sales until after the Jaeger-LeCoultre brand was born in 1937, a reason so many don’t realize Jaeger was initially uninvolved.

For many years, Jaeger-LeCoultre perfected its watches and clocks, creating new and inventive calibres and creations. By 1992 with the surge of capitalism, reliability and accuracy became highly coveted expectations of America’s pinstriped sharks. Jaeger-LeCoultre soon realized that they needed to produce a watch so exceptional that it would become a staple of excellence at the top of the corporate ladder. Taking its most exceptional movement, the JLC 889 calibre, they packaged it in a rugged, yet classically appointed case and subjected it to nearly six weeks of ironclad tests totaling a combined 1000 hours. Following its success, the very first Master Control was born, and since then, every variation of the Master timepiece must undergo this stringent series of tests before it even leaves the manufacturer.

When we take into account all of the timepieces and calibres expertly crafted and produced by Jaeger-LeCoultre, the numbers become breathtaking. To detail all of the company’s milestones and achievements could give birth to a novel, rather than one article.

Gem-setting at Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre --« Johann Sauty

Gem-setting at Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre

From the Mark VII pilot watches of the 1940s that were so accurate they were officially used as aerial navigation instruments by the Royal Air Force and the US Army Air Corps to the first automatic watch to house a power-reserve indicator in 1948, Jaeger-LeCoultre has developed and revolutionized an industry where the simple task of telling time has become an expression of the wearers soul and a testament to their life story.

This year marks the 180th anniversary of one of my favorite watchmakers. In a continual pursuit of perfection, Jaeger-LeCoultre has amassed a global following of genuinely dedicated consumers and critics who pride themselves on having the most discerning and affluent tastes amongst their peers.

For almost 200 years, the legend that is Jaeger-LeCoultre has imagined and created hundreds of patented inventions and over a thousand different calibres bearing its name.

From the iconic Reverso wristwatch to the brilliantly engineered Atmos clock, whether we consider Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Duometre Chronograph, a Rendez-Vous, or any watch in between, owning a JLC timepiece is a mark of distinction and each piece is a highly sought-after timepiece that since its namesakes birth, has been created on the same parcel of land, just thirty kilometers outside Geneva.

In celebration of its anniversary, Jaeger-LeCoultre will introduce a new wristwatch so revolutionary, so intricate in design, that the holy trinity of watchmakers (Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet) will have no choice, but to bow their heads in respect as standards are reborn by the introduction of the highly coveted and classically styled Master Ultrathin Jubilee. Considered by many to be one of the most precise perpetual calendars ever created, the Master Ultrathin Jubilee is a testament to the craftsmanship, engineering and artistry that Jaeger-LeCoultre is known for. A celebration of ingenuity, Jaeger-LeCoultre considers it “the perfect combination of simplicity and elegance”. Inspired by the pocket watches launched in 1907, the Master Ultrathin Jubilee is the flattest manually-wound, mechanical wristwatch ever made and a perfect tribute to the company’s dedication to ultra-thin movements and watches.

10 replies
  1. Ahmed Sajeel
    Ahmed Sajeel says:

    Fascinating. That I own a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Day-Date model with Caliber 826, makes me even more proud.

  2. Kurt
    Kurt says:

    Sir, once again a fabulous article. It should be noted that Jaeger, whilst producing fine time pieces, they have also been making excellent instruments for cars as well. My Ferrari has Jaeger instruments and when needing repair were sent back to the factory, consequently returned beautifully restored. Wonderful company to deal with.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear Kurt, what Ferrari is that? I did not know they also made car instruments but I find it great to hear that Ferrari opted for such quality pieces. Do you have pictures by any chance?

      Best, Raphael

  3. Wooster
    Wooster says:

    A very interesting article.Thank you.Whilst not very knowledgeable about wristwatches I do admire Swiss watches from the 1950s,60s and 70s.They are elegant and much more stylish, in my opinion, than Swiss watches sold today.I would be interested to read your thoughts on what differentiates the likes of Patek,JLC,Vacheron and Audemars from vintage 50s and 60s watches by Omega,Rolex,Eterna,Zenith,Longines et al.Omega and co. made extremely fine watches albeit patek . spent much more time on hand finishing and hence demand higher prices for their more exclusive products.Nevertheless,Omega produced in the 1950s and 60s the 550 series of calibres which were used in their chronometer rated watches and in their other models.Longines movements of this period are exquisitely made often using gold settings.Their 340 calibre is regarded as a gem by enthusiasts.Likewise,Eterna watches are of fine quality.I have a Rolex and an Eterna, from the 1970s. Both are accurate to + or – 3 seconds a day.The Eterna looks as good as new and cost me a fraction of the value of my mint Rolex that I’ve had for 35 years.
    Lets not become obsessed with exclusive brands like Patek.Quality watches post 1945 are available at much lower prices and are just as stylish.There is a lesson for us here.You do not have to pay a lot of money to be stylish but you do need to be discriminating and knowledgeable about your acquisitions.Anybody with money today can buy so called exclusive brands and follow the herd.I for one would prefer to wear at a party a vintage Zenith when all the other oligarchs attending are wearing modern timepieces.

  4. Wooster
    Wooster says:

    Thank you Raphael but may I say that Rolex,Eterna,Longines,Zenith,Omega,Universal,Breitling,Girard-Perregaux,Movado and IWC amongst other vintage wristwatches, can sit quiet comfortably alongside any of the other luxury branded watches of today like Patek.

  5. Noel Parker
    Noel Parker says:

    Thank you for an excellent article. I have a small collection of 1950’s automatic Jaeger LeCoultre watches with bumper movements which have a large case size to accommodate the movement. The watches look in keeping with today’s style but with a very classic design.
    I believe that the picture that you have used of Antoine LeCoultre is the only one in existence – unfortunately all other images have been lost of this great man.

  6. Eric Rebello
    Eric Rebello says:

    An excellent article. I’m embarrassed to admit I was unfamiliar with the brand – until now. I’ve always had an interest in timepieces, especially antique pocket watches. But Patek Phillipe was the only luxury brand I would hunt for, hoping to find that special piece that the seller was indifferent to, and would give up at a very low price. Now I have another to add to my list.

    Many thanks!

    Eric

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