Introducing Jaeger-LeCoultre

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Introducing Jaeger-LeCoultre

Words by Mr Robin Swithinbank

16 November 2017

With its history of supplying movements to the world’s finest watchmakers, is this the ultimate Swiss brand?.

A lot of promises are made by Swiss watch brands, and it can be hard to decipher just how accurate a watch is, or whether it really could survive being run over by a tank. Sometimes it seems they’re all saying pretty much the same thing.

But common consensus among watch aficionados is that the promises made by Jaeger-LeCoultre are not only reasonable, but also reflect a story that over time has earned the company the imposing moniker “La Grande Maison”. Founded in 1833 in La Vallée de Joux, the cradle of Swiss watchmaking, Jaeger-LeCoultre is among the first names in the traditional industry.

Much of the reason for this is that it ranks as one of, if not the all-time great movement creator. Latest calculations have the number of movements it’s made at 1,262 – streets ahead of the competition. In the past, it supplied movements to dial names as prestigious as Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Cartier. At its Le Sentier manufacture, it’s still making 50 different calibres to fuel its current collection, scope no other brand comes close to.

Those stats are born of its heritage. Before it was a bona fide watch brand in its own right, Jaeger-LeCoultre (or LeCoultre as it was until 1937, when it merged with watchmaker and distributor Edmond Jaeger), was a specialist movement manufacturer. Before the idea of “manufacture” brands was popularised – verticalised companies that develop, produce and assemble watches from the ground up under their own roofs – the industry was disparate in shape. One company made cases, another dials, another hands and so on, and then “brands”, as we now know them, assembled these parts into watches. That’s still the case in many corners of the watch industry, incidentally.

In those days, Jaeger-LeCoultre was king among complicated movement makers, specialising early in complex “repeaters” that chimed the time and later in technical, highly accurate movements (and watches) designed as tools for scientists and explorers. That legacy continues, and today the company makes some of the most complicated, robust watches in the business, often suffixed with terms that mean little to the uninitiated, like Gyrotourbillon or Grande Sonnerie.

It also obsesses over reliability. In 1992, it set up the “1,000 Hours Control”, a series of rigorous tests over a six-week period that monitor sturdiness and precision. Today, every watch in the collection, bar those equipped with its esoteric Calibre 101 (the smallest mechanical movement in the world since 1929), are subjected to tests for shock and water resistance, as well as accuracy. To put that into context, so-called chronometers, watches that are independently tested for accuracy and for which consumers pay a premium, are tested for 15 days, only just over a third of the time involved in Jaeger’s test.

Not that we should limit Jaeger-LeCoultre’s strengths to its movements and reliability. It also has impeccable design credentials, and is responsible for one of the most instantly recognisable – and frequently imitated – designs in watch history. The Reverso was introduced in 1931 and remains one of the most successful and well-executed pieces of the school of Art Deco, its rectangular, reversible case a design icon that transcends watchmaking.

Here then are half a dozen pieces that illustrate the strength and depth of the Jaeger-LeCoultre collection.

Reverso Classic Large

Jaeger’s rectangular Art Deco watch is a classic. Introduced in the early 1930s, it was originally intended for polo-playing members of the British Raj, who had complained of smashing their watches while in the saddle. As no gentleman should ever be without his wristwatch, the solution was a reversible watch with a case that could be flipped while worn to protect the glass. The practical benefits of this are long since forgotten – instead the flipside, or “reverse”, is now used to house second watch dials, or, as here, left blank for personalisation.

Master Ultra Thin Moon

Jaeger’s collection of round-cased ultra-thin Master watches is riddled with rock-solid workday staples, as well as a number of dressy beauties such as this pink gold number. While its pointer date indication has the benefit of usefulness, its moon phase indicator is pure watchmaking romance. The 39mm case is less than a centimetre deep, an unofficial benchmark for a watch only ever likely to be called into service when tailored cuffs are involved.

Master Geographic

Rather sensibly, Jaeger-LeCoultre avoids the trap many brands fall into of calling a watch with a second time zone a worldtimer. This watch may have a disc with cities linked to 24 of the world’s time zones, but it only references one of them at a time through the wide aperture at six o’clock. Local time is shown by the central hands, while the subdial shows hometime, backed up by a 24-hour indicator in case during your travels you need reminding whether it’s day or night before checking in with anyone back at base.

Deep Sea Chronograph

It’s most famous for its Reverso and Master lines, but Jaeger-LeCoultre also has impeccable diving watch credentials. This model is based on the 1959 Memovox Deep Sea, one of the brand’s milestone designs, but takes its headline function from an even older piece, a 1930s military chronograph instrument called the Chronoflight. That function is the on/off chronograph indicator just under the logo. It’s white when off, red-and-white when running, and red when stopped – the theory being that it’s easy to read during a dive. It’s automatic, has a uni-directional rotating bezel, and is water-resistant to 100 metres.

Master Compressor Chronograph Ceramic

The use of ceramic in watch cases is a relatively recent innovation – ceramic is difficult to work, but when mastered, it delivers a number of benefits, including scratch and fade resistance, and lightness. Jaeger-LeCoultre has employed it in this Master Compressor, one of the company’s line of technical diver’s watches. The Master Compressor’s signature is its compression key, which straddles the crown and, when in the locked position, serves as a guarantor of the watch’s water resistance. This version has an automatic movement with a hefty 65-hour power reserve, date, chronograph and second time zone functions, and comes on a fabric strap.

Geophysic Universal Time

In watch circles, the word Geophysic carries a certain weight. It was first attached to a Jaeger-LeCoultre watch in 1958 to mark both the 125th anniversary of the brand and the world’s first “International Geophysical Year”, a collaborative event that united 67 countries in pursuit of scientific exploration and experimentation. The original Geophysic was touted for its accuracy and durability, the perfect companion for this new era of discovery. That spirit lives on in today’s models, among them this highly technical world timer that champions Jaeger’s “True Second” technology – the net result of which is heightened accuracy and a second hand that ticks rather than sweeps.