Table of Contents
Charles Antoine LeCoultre (1803-1881)
The Foundation of LeCoultre
The watch company LeCoultre was founded in 1833 by the brothers Charles Antoine LeCoultre and François Ulysse LeCoultre in Le Sentier in the Vallée de Joux. The former was a brilliant craftsman who invested all of his energy into developing new manufacturing processes and production methods. His Millionometer of 1844 made it possible for the first time to measure mechanical components to the thousandth of a millimeter. His crown winding mechanism, developed in 1847, dispenses with the winding key then required by all other watches. At the 1st World Exhibition in London, LeCoultre won his first gold medal with a pocket chronograph, thanks to this new invention.
The company grew steadily, bringing all functions of watchmaking in-house for the first time. By 1860, LeCoultre already had 100 employees and came to become a dominant manufacturer of movements and watches. The company, now led by the sons of the founder, began building repeater watches, chronographs and calendar watches and provided complicated watch movements to other companies. About 1890 the number of different LeCoultre watch movements had already reached 125.
The cooperation of Jacques-David LeCoultre and Edmond Jaeger
- 1903, the flattest watch movements in the world mechanical movement with height 1.38 mm, chronograph movement with height 2.8 mm, repeater with height 3.2 mm
- 1929 smallest watch in the world with 74 parts and a weight of only 0.9 grams
In the year 1903 Jacques-David LeCoultre, grandson of founder Antoine, in Paris meet the Alsatian Edmond Jaeger. This partnership brought LeCoultre to the luxury watch market. After decades of friendly relations with the manufacture, the company name was officially changed to Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1937. Fearing anti-German sentiment due to World War II, the LeCoultre name was retained in the U.S. market.
Jaeger-LeCoultre became and remains a leader in the development of so-called form movements, in which the form of the movement, if necessary, takes advantage of the entire form of the case. For instance, rectangular watches can have wheels and gears pushed to the corners. Another noteworthy development was the 1925 launch of the Duoplan watch, which boasted sensational accuracy and the possibility to exchange the entire movement in minutes. The term, “Duoplan”, refers to the fact that the movement is constructed on two levels. Thereby the balance wheel at the lower level can be made larger and thus ensures greater accuracy. Another milestone was the 1928 launch of Atmos, a desk clock fitted into a glass globe, which derives its winding energy solely from changes in atmospheric pressure and temperature.
The Reverso and further watch classics
Introduced in 1931, the Reverso entered the market with a flip-over case and art déco design. Today, the Reverso line amounts to approximately 40% of Jaeger-LeCoultre's production, with many variations introduced. The Reverso line today includes dual-face “Duo” or “Duoface” options, traditional small models, larger “Grande” models, a Grande Ultra Thin variation, both men's and ladies' options, in steel and in gold, with or without complications (up to a model with tourbillon), and in 1999 even a sports series, Reverso Gran'Sport.
Jaeger-LeCoultre was a pioneer of automatic movements, with the Futurematic sporting a rear crown in the 1950s, a series of bumper automatics shortly after, and finally a full central rotor automatic. Jaeger-LeCoultre was also involved in sports and diving watches in the 1960s, with the historic Polaris and Geophysic.
The company became well-known for alarm watches with the release of the Memovox. This was recognized as the industry's leading alarm movement in the 1970s, with a comprehensive redesign for 28,800 A/h operation and central rotor automatic winding. The company also produced a successful line of pocket alarm clocks for travel using the same movements.
Decline and Rise
The quartz crisis presented unique challenges for Jaeger-LeCoultre. The company was known for its high-quality mechanical movements, yet these were no longer valued in the 1970s. Like most Swiss companies, Jaeger-LeCoultre worked to create a quartz movement of their own, launching a 32 Hz quartz movement in 1973. But the market no longer looked to fine Swiss watchmaking and finances suffered. The Memovox was perhaps the only Jaeger-LeCoultre product to remain relevant in the mid-1970s, since it offered a feature unmatched by quartz competitors.
Jaeger-LeCoultre had been combined with Favre-Leuba in the SAPHIR group in 1965 but 65% of Jaeger-LeCoultre was sold to VDO Automotive in 1978 to finance a restructuring of the struggling company. It was restructured, with new lines launched including the long-dormant Reverso line in 1979. Jaeger-LeCoultre was also able to launch a long-running project, Cal. 601, one of the most compact quartz movements ever made.
VDO had purchased IWC the same year they gook control of Jaeger-LeCoultre, and VDO engineer, Günter Blümlein, took on responsibility for the two watch brands in 1980. He engineered a refinancing of the brand, buying out the 20% owned by a local bank and the 25% owned by Vacheron Constantin and selling 40% of the company to Audemars Piguet in 1986. This combination would become Les Manufactures Horologères (LMH), the forerunner of Richemont, one of the signature luxury goods trusts of today.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tourbillon, one of many Reverso variants
IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre were largely responsible for the resurgence of mechanical watches between 1985 and 1995. The two companies focused on differentiating their products with complications and displaying their finely-finished movements. One of the first examples was the 1983 Moonphase Watch, 1987 Perpetual Date, and 1989 Le Grand Réveil, which demonstrated the company's capabilities. Jaeger-LeCoultre leveraged the renewed interest in the Reverso brand to launch a a series of complicated models that excited the watch world in the 1990s. Along with partner companies like Audemars Piguet and Corum, this laid the foundation for today's haute horology trend.
In the recent history of the company, the presentation of the Master Control marks an important step. Every watch provided with this designation will be thoroughly checked for 1000 hours prior to delivery to the customer, and that means that it must pass tests that are much sharper than those in the chronometer certification guidelines.
The latest innovations in the model range include the development of a new approach to the crown sealing, called the compression key system. This patented invention takes the place of the usual, awkward-to-use system of the screw-in crown, which is still common practice for most manufacturers. Especially for chronographs with their mostly two additional pushers the traditional system is proving to be extremely impractical. Whit the compression key system a short push of a lever is enough, and immediately the crown and pusher openings are completely sealed.
One of the most prestigious manufactures
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin with super-flat movement JLC Calibre 849
- See also Jaeger-LeCoultre calibres
Jaeger-LeCoultre bears the designation 'manufacture', which is highly regarded in the watch business, with full right since the company is known not only for building watches, but also for producing the corresponding movements used. These movements are coveted due to their quality and are also delivered to other famous watch companies which in turn integrate them in their own models. IWC, for example, has long used JLC movements, as did Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet. Indeed, Jaeger-LeCoultre was combined with Vacheron & Constantin from 1938 through 1965 under the holding company, Société Anonyme de Produits Industriels et Commerciaux.
Jaeger-LeCoultre was struggling by the 1980's after the quartz crisis. In 1986, the German VDO Group (known for its automobile speedometers), brought IWC and 60% of Jaeger-LeCoultre together as LMH, adding A. Lange & Söhne in 1991. The company's rebirth centered on the iconic Reverso watch, with many complications introduced in the following decade. After VDO was integrated into Mannesmann, it in turn was bought by Vodafone. Not wanting to be in these industries, Vodafone sold LMH to the Swiss Richemont group.
Success through persistent focus on excellence
In the 1990s, Jaeger-LeCoultre at first focused on the classic Reverso line, as an example of the company's unique history. The company revitalized the Reverso with the new Grande Taille case and complications. But when the young Jérôme Lambert took over as CEO in 2002, he directed a diversification. Together with designer Magali Métrailler, Lambert refocused on the Master Compressor and other sports models, haute horology like the Hybris Mechanica, and women's watches like the Rendez-Vous. Jaeger-LeCoultre also opened a number of boutiques around the world and improved profitability and volume.
Jaeger-LeCoultre scores particularly with the superior manufacturing quality of its models, from manufacture movements to high-quality cases and dials. Where other brands try to draw attention to themselves with loud PR campaigns, Jaeger-LeCoultre lets the watches speak for themselves and their high production standards stand at the center.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Watch Trilogy Hybris Mechanica 55
Another branch of production is focused on new inventions and projects in the highly complicated specialties. These include the models Gyrotourbillon 1 and Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 with spherical tourbillon as well as the award-winning model Duomètre à Chronographe that in 2008 was chosen Watch of the Year.
In the fall of 2009, this parade of world news and exclusive complications is even extended by presenting the trilogy 'Hybris Mechanica 55', which comprises in total 55 complications, and between 2010 and 2014 comes in an edition of 30 sets. The collection consists of three watches, which, by themselves in their own way, surpass anything ever in the watch world-famous the Hybris Mechanica à Grande Sonnerie (at this point the complicated wristwatch in the world), the Hybris Mechanica à Triptyque and the Hybris Mechanica Gyrotourbillon. But that's not all For each set, there is a purpose-built, expensive watches safe vault of the German manufacturer Döttling.
A year later, Jaeger-LeCoultre presented the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication featuring minute repeater, flying tourbillon and zodiac calendar.
Survey over the most important models and ranges
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Diving Pro Geographic
Rue de la Golisse 8
CH-1347 Le Sentier
Tel. 021/845 02 02