During its 186-year history, the company has come up with some 1250 calibers, countless inventions, and patents. Scrambling through the huge list of its outstanding achievements, you can almost feel the cool breeze of discovery and adventure blowing straight in your face. And yes, we are talking Swiss watchmaking here, not the novel by Ernest Hemingway or Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
It all started in 1833, when Antoine LeCoultre founded his workshop in Le Sentier, Switzerland. Natural born inventor Antoine never settled with the limitations of existing equipment and constantly pushed the technology forward. In 1844, he managed to create a device measuring up to a thousandth of a millimeter, the Millionometer. In next couple of years, he came up with his version of a keyless winding mechanism (only a year after Jean Adrien Philippe of Patek Philippe). Exceptional quality of produced watches attracted new customers, business gradually expanded, and by the late 1860s, LeCoultre & Cie. became the first manufacturer in Vallée de Joux to fully develop, produce, and test their timepieces under the same roof. In his senior years, Antoine handed the company to his three sons, but never really retired. To the very last breath, he proceeded with mechanical researches and finished his last invention, a toothed milling-cutter, just few weeks before passing away.
LeCoultre & Cie. faced the turbulent XX century with astonishing 350 calibersunder its belt Meanwhile, a Paris based company Jaeger S.A., the official horologist of French navy, came up with the idea of producing the thinnest watch ever. The lack of certain technology and experience forced their owner Edmond Jaeger to propose cooperation to daring Swiss horologists. And it was Jacques-David LeCoultre, founder’s grandson who accepted the call. According to official history, he even rode 20 kilometers to the nearest telephone to pick up the gauntlet personally. As you’ve already guessed, the two soon became close friends and long-time business associates. In 1907, 1,38 mm height caliber 145 was born, setting a new mark for the industry.
For the next 15 years, Jaeger S.A. exclusively supplied Cartier with movements (obviously, with the great help from its Le Sentier partners) and LeCoultre & Cie. soon got a similar long running contract from Patek Philippe. In 1925, when everyone in the market was after miniature sizes wristwatches, a Duoplan ladies model was born. Its elegance could only be surpassed by its technical flawlessness. The movement was built on two vertical levels, thus, keeping the dial small enough while maintaining all the precision and reliability expected from a Swiss timepiece. The creation of Duoplan line also pushed the company towards its next groundbreaking achievement – caliber 101. Produced in 1929, it has long remained the tiniest movement in the world consisting of 74 parts and weighing less than 1 gram. Despite its size, each winding provided the mechanism with 33 hours of power reserve.
According to official Jaeger-LeCoultre chronicles, their most famous model was partly a result of one inspiring vocation. It all started in the early 1930s, when Swiss citizen, César de Trey, who had made his fortune selling gold and porcelain dentures, took a leisure trip to India. Attending a polo game held by British officers, he had a momentous chat with one of the players who managed to break the watch glass while competing. In short, the conversation was about watches and Swiss manufactures who could pay more attention to the needs of their polo-loving customers and come up with something durable enough.De Trey had a keen eye for an opportunity and first of all brought his close associate Jacques-David LeCoultre (head of Le Sentier based LeCoultre & Cie.) to the game. At that point, Jaeger S.A. designed the majority of cases for LeCoultre’s movements, and one of its engineers Rene-Alfred Chauvot had a perfect strategy for the upcoming task. Instead of hardening the case, he invented rather simple but flawlessly thought out mechanism, allowing the user to turn their watch upside down without messing with the bands. Background surface was completely reserved for personal engravings, making each exemplar slightly unique. Both ideas soon proved to be a great marketing strategy.
Rectangular shaped watch was quite revolutionary at the time and its extremely modern and hi-tech looks instantly brought anyone’s attention. However, the key-winning factor was the overall level of elegance. It was first and foremost an item for a real gentleman. All legends aside, (why would anyone crave to know what time is it, while struggling with a horse and swinging the mallet?) it’s hard to come up with more suitable symbol for Reverso than a polo player. It’s a royal sport after all. Several years Reverso acted as a brand of its own. De Trey, LeCoultre, and others involved established an additional company called Spécialités Horlogères and even tried to rent out their patents to competitors. That’s why one can run onto several Reversos made by Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and Cartier on occasional auctions. But with the line of in-house calibers ready – classic one, ladies version, small seconds version, and central seconds version, – they decided to wind down external activities. Reverso became the exclusive Jaeger-LeCoultre trademark in 1937, when Jaeger S.A. and LeCoultre & Cie. merged accumulating all patents and copyrights under the same roof.
Being the essential watch of the Art Deco age, Reverso long outlived the order of its day. However the second full-blown momentum came with the 90s, when the guys at Jaeger-LeCoultre decided to arm it with all imaginable complications. A Tourbillon, a minute repeater, a perpetual calendar, the two-dialed Duetto, the Grande Complication Triptyque rocking 19 complications, 3 dials, and 642 movement parts, Reverso has seen it all. Still, it was executed within the same iconic design.
1932 marked the birth of the Atmos – the closest shot to the everlasting human dream – the perpetual motion. This table clock can function for a thousand years without any interference from its user. The main secret lies within the sealed capsule containing gaseous and liquid ethyl chloride. Driven by subtle temperature changes of the environment, it condenses and exhales winding the mechanism, needing some 6,000,000 times less energy than a 15-watt valve to function. It is recognized as a national asset and serves as official gift by Swiss authorities for the last 50 years.
In the last 25 years Master collection and related Master Control certification have become the crucial part of the brand’s DNA. Any Master timepiece goes a 1000-hour precision test, being put in various environmental conditions. Still, being ready to take some beating doesn’t restrain the majority of Jaeger-LeCoultre watches from tending towards the classical dressy style. Yes, there were some successful runs likeMaster Compressor diversnot so far ago, but on a larger scale the brand didn’t seem to care about arguably the most hot segment on todays market – steel luxury sports watches. Well, until the last year’s Polaris premier featuring a whole collection inspired by the brand’s back-catalogue. Now the guys at Le Sentier seem to be fully packed to once again start bombarding us with some wonders. Time to check out their Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel we’ve covered recently…