Jaeger LeCoultre (Est. 1833 – ) A luxury watch and clock manufacturer with headquarters in Le Sentier, Switzerland. The Swiss line of the LeCoultre family goes back to the 16th century when Pierre LeCoultre (1530? – 1600?), settled there to escape religious persecution. In 1559, Pierre acquired land in the Vallée de Joux. Over time, a small community formed there and, in 1612, Pierre’s son built a church that marked the founding of the village of Le Sentier where the company has its headquarters today.
Inventor and self-taught watchmaker, Antoine LeCoultre (1803-1881) founded his workshop in 1833 after inventing a machine that produced watchmaking pinions from steel. It was here that Antoine became a unique watchmaking craftsman.
In 1844 he invented the Millionomètre which, at that time, was the world’s most precise measuring instrument. In 1847 he created a keyless system to rewind and set watches. Four years later, he received a gold medal for his work on timepiece precision and Mechanization at the first Universal Exhibition in London.
Also a watchmaker and inventor like his father, Elie LeCoultre (1842-1917) joined the Manufacture at16. His pioneering creations include many complicated calibers. He also developed new manufacturing processes. It was Elie who transformed the small family workshop into the first manufacture in the Joux Valley, LeCoultre & Cie.
By 1888, the company’s 500 employees’ worked under one roof. As the company grew through the 1870’s, it developed the first partially mechanized production processes for complicated movements.
By 1888, the Manufacture was known as the “Grande Maison of the Vallée de Joux” and by 1900, it had created over 350 different calibers of which 128 were equipped with chronograph functions and 99 with repeater mechanisms. From 1902 and for the next 30 years, LeCoultre & Cie. produced most of the movement blanks for Patek Philippe of Geneva.
The soon-to-be-other half of Jaeger LeCoultre, Edmond Jaeger (1858-1922), a highly regarded French watchmaker and specialist in micro-engineering, left his birthplace of Alsace after the Franco-Prussian War. He set up shop in Paris In 1880. As watchmaker to the French Navy, he devoted his life to developing mechanisms to measure speed: chronographs, tachometers, kinemometers and counters used in aviation, shipping and automobiles.
In 1903, Jaeger challenged Swiss manufacturers to develop and produce the ultra-thin movements he’d invented. Jacques-David LeCoultre, Antoine’s grandson who had taken over production responsibilities for LeCoultre & Cie in 1900, accepted the challenge. This began the collection of ultra-thin pocket watches that ultimately included, in 1907, the thinnest pocket watch in the world that contained the LeCoultre Calibre 145.
The same year, French jeweler Cartier, one of Jaeger’s clients, signed a contract with the Jaeger firm under which all Jaeger movements would be exclusive to Cartier for fifteen years. The movements were produced by LeCoultre.
In 1928, Jean-Léon Reutter invented an atmospherically driven clock he called, “Atmos.” Edmond Jaeger acquired the patent for the Atmos clock from Reutter and licensed it to LeCoultre who began producing it in France in 1936 and in Switzerland in 1937.
The Atmos clock came close to fulfilling the ancient dream of perpetual motion. It worked by extracting energy from the slightest variations in temperature. For over half a century, this tiny technological marvel has been the official gift of the Swiss Confederation.
The collaboration between Jaeger and LeCoultre led to the company being officially renamed Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1937. However, from 1932 to about 1985, laws required that watches were cased in locally produced North American cases and sold under the name LeCoultre bei. After 1985, the name Jaeger-LeCoultre was adopted uniformly worldwide. According to factory records, the last movement to be used in an American LeCoultre watch was shipped out of Le Sentier in 1976.
The entry for Jaeger LeCoultre on Wikipedia states, “Some collectors and … dealers have made the erroneous claim that American LeCoultre is not associated with Jaeger-LeCoultre Switzerland. The confusion stems from the 1950s, when the North American distributor of LeCoultre watches was the Longines-Wittnauer Group, which was also responsible for the distribution of Vacheron Constantin timepieces. Collectors have confused this distribution channel with the manufacture of the watches.”
In its history Jaeger LeCoultre has produced unique movements and timepieces that have affected horological history. These include hundreds of inventions and over a thousand calibers including the world’s smallest caliber that is among the world’s most complicated wristwatches and a timepiece of near-perpetual movement.
Other well-known and treasured timepieces are Reverso, created in 1931 to survive battering during a polo game by swiveling the case to protect the watch glass. Considered a classic of Art Deco design, the Reverso is still manufactured today.
The list of the company’s distinctive creations includes Duoplan, built on two levels – hence its name – so it can maintain a large-size balance. The Duoplan was also one of the first gem-set steel watches. In 1929 its glass was replaced with sapphire crystal, a first in watchmaking.
In 1950, the Manufacture released the Memovox. Its striking mechanism could be used as an alarm for waking up, appointments, timetables, etc. In 1956, a Memovox became history’s first self-winding alarm watch.
In 1959, the Memovox Deep Sea was equipped with a specific alarm to remind divers to begin their ascent. In 1965, the Memovox Polaris was released with a patented triple case back that could optimize sound transmissions under water.
In 1958, celebrated as, ‘The International Geophysical Year,’ Jaeger LeCoultre created a watch that protected against magnetic fields, water and shocks. The Geophysic chronometer was a watch intended for scientific bases in Antarctica.
The watch featured a Jaeger LeCoultre mechanism, seventeen jewels, Breguet overcoil, a regulating spring on the balance-cock, a shock-absorber, and a Glucydur balance. The year of its release, the Geophysic was offered to William R. Anderson, the captain of the Nautilus, the first American nuclear submarine to travel between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans via the North Pole.
In 2004, the Manufacture created the Gyrotourbillon I, its first grand complication wristwatch featuring a tourbillon gravitating on two axes, along with a perpetual calendar with double retrograde indicators and a running equation of time.
The company’s official website proclaims, “As the “Grande Maison” of the Vallée de Joux, the Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre made a strong contribution to regional development in the 19th century. In a valley with a population of 6,000, it currently employs over 1000 people. This situation makes it keenly aware of its responsibility to maintain a balance between human activities and nature.
“By committing itself to a genuine policy of sustainable development, the Brand is participating in preserving the unique natural setting of the region that is home to many rare or endangered plant or animal species. This commitment is expressed through concrete measures implemented in the field of buildings, transport, energy, recycling and the conservation of local ground water. On a broader level, the Manufacture applies strict norms to its sourcing of wood, paper, leather and diamonds.
“In addition to promoting respect for our natural heritage, the Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre also plays a key role in the development of the national cultural heritage. Serving as the guardian of hundreds of specific skills, including certain extremely rare crafts, it is also one of the most innovative companies in its field. Its exceptional creations constantly renew the grand Swiss watchmaking tradition.”