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Jean Lassale was a Swiss watch brand specializing in ultra-thin watches. Founded by 1974, the Lassale brand was later owned by Seiko, while the mechanical movements went to Nouvelle Lemania and Piaget.
Jean Lassale was founded by 1974 as a brand of Bouchet-Lassale SA of Geneva. The brand name comes from the founder, Jean Bouchet-Lassale. The initial products were simple dress watches with oval, round, or square stepped gold cases and black dials. The company also produced jewelry watches and other dress models before focusing on ultra-thin.
At the Basel Fair in 1976, Jean Lassale introduced the thinnest watch movement in history, the hand-winding Cal. 1200 and automatic Cal. 2000 at 1.20 mm and 2.08 mm, respectively. Designed by Pierre Mathys, it would become the company's claim to fame and their downfall, launched just as quartz movements were becoming prized. This movement caused a sensation and received much press for the young brand, however, with various models with tonneau, square, and round cases and a model with an integrated bracelet.
The company produced both quartz and mechanical watches, casing a 1.2 mm mechanical movement or 1.25 mm quartz movement in a 3 mm case. These movements and patents were purchased by Claude Burkhalter, who founded Nouvelle Lemania in 1982. The resulting movements were licensed to Piaget, who has continued this tradition.
Lassale had switched entirely to quartz movements in the 1980s, produced in association with Seiko, and tried to diversify from the ultra-thin market. The company was purchased by Seiko in 1979.
Lassale also produced high-end cases for Seiko, which fitted them with their quartz movements for their Credor line. This cooperation lasted from 1977 through 1979, when the company became a Seiko subsidiary. In 1981 Seiko introduced the quartz Seiko Lassale watch line, advertising it as “Seiko's proudest hour.” These were later branded Jean Lassale or just Lassale.
For a time, Lassale watches were produced both in Japan and Switzerland. The former, branded Seiko, and the latter, branded Jean Lassale, were marketed separately by the two companies but shared Seiko's ultra-thin quartz movement. For example, the Jean Lassale Thalassa line, introduced in 1985, was a rounded sports watch with an integrated bracelet and quartz movement. The thin octagonal dress watch was renamed Orphée in 1983. Both were produced in Geneva.
Seiko reorganized Jean Lassale in 1987 and re-launched the brand in 1990. By 1992, it was once again going strong, introducing new models and sponsoring sport, art, and film events. They even re-introduced an ultra-thin mechanical watch, with a skeletonized Swiss movement.
For their part, Seiko produced their Seiko Lassale products entirely in Japan, though the design was similar to previous Swiss products. One special model from 1981 was a Seiko Lassale Centennial, commemorating the company's 100th anniversary and etched with Kentaro Hattori's signature.
In 1991, Seiko re-launched Lassale as a high-end brand intended to compete with the elite Swiss manufacturers. These products featured solid gold cases, diamonds, and other luxury touches. But lower-end movements were substituted for the early specialty calibres. Seiko cancelled the Lassale brand in the 2000's.
Lassale is best known for their Calibre 1200, the thinnest in the world at that time. It was invented by Pierre Mathys in 1970 and brought to Lassale in 1975. It caused a sensation for a few years, before Lassale went bankrupt and was acquired by Seiko Group in 1979. The movement technology went to Nouvelle Lemania in 1982 and was used by Piaget and Vacheron Constantin.
One of the primary technical tricks was to mount all moving components on one side only, with the other “flying”. The barrel (with mainspring and ratchet wheel) was free-floating, guided by three side ball bearings rather than a traditional pivot, and also held the ratchet wheel, mounted on another ball bearing. Microscopic ball bearings were used instead of pivots for most wheels. Everything was supported on a single plate with no bridges apart from the pallet and balance. Despite the thin profile, the movement presented at the Basel Fair operated at 28,800 A/h and had a 50 hour power reserve.
- JL1200 was 20.4 mm in diameter, 1.2 mm thick and used 13 0.24 mm ball bearings, a novel design. It had 11 jewels, and a power reserve of 35 hours.
- JL2000 was an automatic variant of Calibre 1200. It was 2.08 mm thick, had 18 ball bearings, and a gold or platinum central automatic rotor
Both calibres 1200 and 2000 were produced from 1976 through 1979 in Geneva. Nouvelle Lemania produced successor movements to these, the 1210 and 2010, respectively, in the 1980's. These were used exclusively by Piaget until their acquisition by Cartier. After this, Vacheron Constantin also used them.
Seiko produced special versions of their 7A series analog quartz chronograph movements for Lassale wrist and pocket watches, Calibres 7A54 and 7A75, which were more decorated but otherwise similar to the standard movements.