Today, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is one of the most famous watches ever
produced. But were you aware that the company got its start producing ebauches
for other companies? A little known fact about Jaeger-LeCoultre is that in
addition to producing movements for its own watches, the company has also
produced movements for famous watch houses such as Vacheron Constantin, Audemars
Piguet, and IWC. As a matter of fact, in the early part of the 20th Century,
Jaeger-LeCoultre even supplied ebauches to the great firm of Patek Philippe.
Then as now, Jaeger-LeCoultre was considered one of the finest watchmakers in
The year was 1833 when thirty-year-old Antoine LeCoultre, son of Vallee de
Joux watchmaker Jacques LeCoultre, opened a small factory in the town of Le
Sentier. Amazingly enough, the current Jaeger-LeCoultre factory is only a few
feet away from the site of the original factory. In any event, LeCoultre soon
proved himself to be a gifted watchmaker, but an even more brilliant inventor.
In 1844, LeCoultre revolutionized the watch industry with the invention of the
millionometer, an instrument with which measurements of up to one thousandths of
a millimetre could be made accurately. As a result, precisely finished
components could be manufactured, resulting in greatly improved accuracy in
timekeeping. Likewise, the metric system became the universal measuring standard
in watchmaking, while other systems were rendered obsolete.
LeCoultre's motto - "we must base our experience on science" - was
particularly true when it came to manufacturing precision movements and tools.
The artistry came later at the hands of a master watchmaker, who assembled,
decorated and regulated the movements. In short order, LeCoultre became the
leading supplier of movements, parts and tools to the watchmaking industry in
LeCoultre movements were so highly regarded, in fact, that until 1910, the
company provided Patek Philippe with most of its raw movements. It was only in
later years that Patek Philippe built its own movements from scratch. In the
meantime, other companies had come to rely exclusively on LeCoultre's products,
from which they would create finished watches. LeCoultre's success was so great
that between 1900 and 1919, 40,000 raw movements were produced. Movements sold
for between 100 and 400 francs each, not an inconsiderable sum of money back
In 1925, the grandson of the firm's founder, David LeCoultre, merged his company
with that of Edmond Jaeger, the exclusive supplier of watch movements to
Cartier. This is when the modern company known as Jaeger-LeCoultre first came
into existence. Incredibly enough, up to this point Jaeger-LeCoultre had not
sold any watches under its own name. The merger, however, prompted further
technical innovations, not the least of which was a case made from stainless
steel, as well as the creation of the smallest mechanical movement in the world,
which weighed less than one gram.
The year 1931 saw the introduction of the Reverso, a wristwatch that could be
turned 180 degrees within the case, thereby protecting the crystal and dial. It
was a fantastic creation and one that was enthusiastically received by the
public. Unfortunately, the worldwide economic crisis and World War II combined
to prevent the Reverso from achieving its full potential.
Changing fashions coupled with the advent of waterproof watches might have
forever doomed the watch to obscurity, had it not been for an Italian dealer who
visited the factory in the 1960s and noticed a number of unused Reverso cases
sitting in a watchmaker's drawer. The Italian dealer bought the cases and fitted
them with movements. The finished watches were an instant sell-out and the rest
is history. Today, the Reverso is by far Jaeger-LeCoultre's most popular model
and the rest is history.
Another interesting story concerns David LeCoultre's bid for Patek Philippe. In
1932, Patek Philippe was in major financial straits and looking for a white
knight. LeCoultre, whose company manufactured movements for Patek, wanted to
acquire a majority interest. He came close to finalizing a deal, but the Stern
brothers, whose company supplied the dials used in Patek Philippe watches,
ultimately acquired the company. Although Patek Philippe has certainly prospered
under the Stern family's management, it is nonetheless interesting to
contemplate what effect a Patek Philippe/Jaeger-LeCoultre merger may have had on
the Swiss watch industry.
Needless to say, the company has continued to thrive, introducing such
innovations as the Memovox, Futurematic, Atmos Clock (which in and of itself
could be the subject of an article) and strikingly original movements such as
the world's thinnest automatic with a thickness of just 2.35 mm, just to name a
few. The thin automatic movement in particular was an incredible success, as
both Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet featured it in wristwatches
advertised as being the world's slimmest self-winding timepieces. During the
1970s and early 1980s, Jaeger-LeCoultre produced a 36 jewel, self-winding
calibre for Patek Philippe. Once again, both companies had come full circle.
On a final note, it is worth noting that Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of the few
companies in Switzerland that still produces its own movements, cases, dials,
hands and bracelets. Virtually every single component in a Jaeger-LeCoultre
watch is hand-finished, produced in-house, and this in turn results in strict
quality control. As a result, Jaeger-LeCoultre watches are recognized as being
among the very finest hand-crafted watches available, and evidence of this can
be seen in the fact that Jaeger-LeCoultre regularly produces such masterpieces
as the Reverso Tourbillon and Reverso Minute Repeater. There is also the Master
Control series of watches, which boast 1,000 hours of testing and assembly at
the patient hands of a master watchmaker.
In any event, if you are contemplating the purchase of a Jaeger-LeCoultre
wristwatch, you've made an excellent choice. It's a highly prestigious and
respected brand with a long and wonderful history.
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