Jaeger-LeCoultre is Swiss watch manufacturer founded in the early to mid 19th century. The brand is credited for having produced some creative innovations in the world of watchmaking. For example, Jaeger-LeCoultre has created the world’s smallest calibre (movement), the world’s most complicated wristwatch, and much more to be discussed below. The company maintains partnerships in various areas of society like marine preservation, motorsports, and polo. The Richemont group owns the brand since 2000. A separate company under the Richemont group is Vacheron Constantin.
The company’s history dates back to long ago. The earliest records of the LeCoultre family begin with Pierre LeCoultre in the 16th century who fled to Geneve from France to avoid religious persecution. Around 1560, he acquired a plot of land in the Vallee de Joux and a small community began to form. In 1612 LeCoultre built a church on this plot of land, which marked the founding of the village of Le Sentier. The company’s manufacture is based in this same area today.
In 1833 Antoine LeCoultre founded a small workshop to hone his watchmaking skills. Around this time, LeCoultre had also produced an invention to cut pinions from steel, making the production process much easier for himself. LeCoultre was a brilliant man in his field. In 1844, he created the world’s most precise measuring tool known as the Millionometre. Several years later he came up with a system that eliminated the need for keys to rewind and set watches. In 1851 he was awarded a gold medal for his work on timepieces at the Universal Exhibition in London.
In 1866, LeCoultre and his son, Elie, founded the first Vallee de Joux’s first manufacture called LeCoultre & Cie. This allowed all of the employees’ expertise to be pooled under one roof, during a time when many little workshops existed. This allowed the company to be more efficient and by 1870 they had developed somewhat of a production process system. The company grew quickly. 500 people were employed and by 1900, LeCoultre had already created over 350 different calibres. Of those 350, 128 contained chronograph functions and 99 had repeater mechanisms. For the next 30 years, LeCoultre also produced movement blanks for Patek Philippe. The company was surely ahead of its time, which helped it grow and acquire a bigger customer base.
In 1903, Edmont Jaeger showed up to the scene. This man was a watchmaker to the French Navy. He challenged Swiss watchmakers to produce ultra-thin movements similar to those he had created. Jacques-David LeCoultre, the grandson of Antoine, accepted this challenge and produced some ultra-thin pocket watches. In fact, in 1907, he produced the thinnest in the world. The pocket watch had the calibre 145 movement. Other watchmakers were impressed by the company’s developments. One of these watchmakers was Cartier who quickly pushed to sign a contract with LeCoultre in which movements produced by LeCoultre would be supplied to Cartier for their watches. This agreement lasted about 15 years.
LeCoultre too impressed Jaeger and so he began to collaborate with the company. As a result, the company was officially renamed to Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1937. Even though this collaboration became official in ’37, watches under the name ‘LeCoultre’ were sold in North America for some decades to follow. This may have been the result of some watches already having been produced prior to the collaboration.
There is a period in the company’s history that adds some confusion to details. In the 1950s, there was a North American dealer under the name Longines-Wittnauer, which distributed both LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin watches. What’s confusing is that Longines-Wittnauer also produced its own watches. Some misinformed dealers and collectors believe that American LeCoultre watches are not associated with the original Swiss company, but this is not true. Longines-Wittnauer was simply a distrubitor of original LeCoultre watches.
Innovations in the world of watchmaking
Jaeger-LeCoultre is credited for having produced many inventions in the world of watchmaking. Since its founding, the company has produced over 1,200 different calibres (movements), created hundreds of inventions, and registered over 400 patents. Below we will go into details of some of the creations that the company produced.
Millionometre – this watch was invented by Antoine in 1844. At the time, this was the first instrument in the world to be able to measure the micron, which made it a very precise tool. The invention was never officially patented, largely because a patent system did not exist at the time. However, it was kept closely guarded for many decades. It wasn’t until 1900 that it was officially presented at the Universal Exhibition in Paris.
Keyless watch – In 1847 Antoine created a keyless system for watches to be wound and set. The invention relied on a push-piece that activated a lever. This invention wasn’t kept as much of a secret and due to Switzerland’s lack of a patent system, numerous watchmakers quickly adopted this innovation.
LeCoultre Calibre 145 – In 1907 LeCoultre produced the world’s thinnest movement measuring at 1.38 mm. The movement has been used in pocket watches and can still be found in present-day pocket watches.
In 1866 the company began to produce calibres with small complications in series. In 1891 the chronograph and minute repeater were combined into a double complication movement. This was a big deal at the time. Subsequently, this combination led to the development of grandes complications, which were movements consisting of at least three complications – often a perpetual calendar, minute repeater, and chronograph.
In 2004, Jaeger-LeCoultre produced the Gyrotourbillon I, the first grande complication wristwatch. It includes numerous complications such as a perpetual calendar with double retrograde indicators and a running equation of time. The company has also produced countless historic timepieces that are unique and significant in their own way. We will discuss these historic timepieces in a separate article should you wish to read about it. If you are interested in learning more about Jaeger-LeCoultre watches, we encourage you to drive to our store in Boca Raton Florida so you can take a look yourself!
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