Few high-end watchmaking brands are as intrinsically tied to the success of the haute horology industry and its origins as Jaeger-LeCoultre. Le Sentier in the Vallée de Joux — the heartland of Swiss watchmaking — where the manufacturer still sits today, was built up around a community that can be traced back to Pierre LeCoultre. LeCoultre was a French Huguenot who fled to Switzerland to escape religious persecution and who settled in the area in the early seventeenth century. Thanks to Jaeger-LeCoultre’s far-reaching influence, Le Sentier remains the home of such lauded Swiss watchmakers as Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Gérald Genta.
If you’re shopping around for pre-owned watch, then investing in Jaeger-LeCoultre is a sure bet. The brand and its manufacture has become one the most revered in the luxury watch space, and if you look into JLC’s history and heritage, it’s no surprise why.
Beginning with Antoine LeCoultre in 1833, Jaeger-LeCoultre started as a small watchmaking workshop as Antoine had recently invented a machine that could cut watch pinions from steel. Within 11 years, LeCoultre had invented the most precise instrument capable of measuring time in the world. Known as the Millionomètre, this was the first-ever device able to measure the micron, which lead to the possibility of watch parts being manufactured with precision. For more than five decades, this invention remained a closely guarded secret, enabling the company’s success and garnering Antoine LeCoultre a gold medal for his work on timepiece precision at the first World Expo.
Then in 1847, LeCoultre invented a keyless watch enabling users to wind and set the time without the need of a key. This brilliant mechanism involved a small push-piece, which triggered a lever that would switch the timepiece from one function to the other. In 1866, along with his son Elie LeCoultre, Antoine revolutionised the Swiss watchmaking world by forming LeCoultre & Cie. — the region’s first official manufacturer, gathering all the company’s artisans’ skills and knowledge under a single umbrella. By 1870, the manufacturer had created the first partially mechanised production process for complicated watch movements, following which the firm was soon dubbed the Vallée de Joux’s Grande Maison.
Within a few decades, the Maison produced over 350 different calibres, many of which featured chronograph functions and repeater mechanisms, as well as their combination to form a double complication movement. These innovations eventually lead to the company’s deal with Patek Philippe, in which for 30 years, they created the majority of Patek’s movement blanks. By the mid-1890s, LeCoultre & Cie. was producing grand complication watches, otherwise recognised as watches that are made up of at least three complications such as the chronograph, the minute repeater and the perpetual calendar. These innovations would go on to be the staples of JLC’s collections, from the Master Control and Master Minute Repeater to the Triple Date and Memovox.
The Jaeger part of the Jaeger-LeCoultre name enters the picture in 1903, when Edmond Jaeger — the watchmaker to the French Navy — sought to challenge Swiss watchmakers to create comparable ultra-thin movements such as those he himself had invented. By this time, Antoine LeCoultre’s grandson, Jacques-David, was running the manufacturer's production and he stepped up to meet the challenge. This led to LeCoultre’s series of ultra-thin pocket watches and eventually, in 1907, the thinnest movement in the world: the LeCoultre Calibre 145. Coming in at just 1.38 mm thick, this movement powered thinnest pocket watch at that time.
During the same period, Cartier and Jaeger entered into a contract where all of Jaeger’s movements would be exclusive to the fashion house for 15 years. These movements were in turn produced by LeCoultre. The fashion of the time called for small wrist watches, which eventually led to the invention of the tiny Calibre 7BF Duoplan in 1925. Created by Jaeger’s technical director Henri Rodanet, the Duoplan was constructed over two levels enabling it to maintain a large-size balance and thus its precision despite its small size. The Duoplan is also recognised as being one of the first gem-set steel watches and it was the first watch to have its glass replaced with sapphire crystal.
In 1931, inspired by polo players and the rigorousness of the sport and with the desire to protect this precious sapphire crystal, LeCoultre created one of the watch world’s most beloved timepieces: the Reverso. With a case that could be turned around, this watch was originally designed to withstand the knocks and jolts common during a game of polo. Today, the Reverso is a much sought-after piece amongst watch collectors, from those who love its Art Deco style to those who know of its prestigious origins. Because of its standing in the world of haute horology, the Reverso is the perfect piece to invest in if in the market for a pre-owned watch — like a fine wine, it only becomes more valuable and astonishing with age.
By the mid-1930s, the relationship between Edmond Jaeger and LeCoultre & Cie. had been firmly cemented. As further proof of this, Jaeger acquired the patent for the miraculous Atmos Clock and gave the license to LeCoultre. An incredible horological innovation, the Atmos boasts a near-perpetual movement that requires no human intervention and practically no energy as it is powered by small changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure.
Such collaborations between the two names eventually led to the renaming of LeCoultre & Cie. in 1937 to become Jaeger-LeCoultre, the celebrated brand we know and love today. What follows is an incredible output of watches from the merger. This includes the Memovox — originally released in 1950 — which featured a striking mechanism that could be used as an alarm, which in turn led to the Memovox World Time, the Memovox Deep Sea and the Memovox Polaris. This last model eventually inspired Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Compressor, a beloved model of which Xupes has some fine pre-owned examples.
By the mid-twentieth century, Jaeger-LeCoultre had created the world’s first fully automatic watch thanks to their invention of the Calibre 497. The Futurematic boasted a larger balance wheel thus better accuracy and hacking seconds, as well as a 6-hour power reserve. Then in 1958 — to pay tribute to the International Geophysical Year — Jaeger-LeCoultre launched the Geophysic, a chronometer that protected against magnetic fields, shocks and water, for scientists venturing to such extremes as Antarctica and deep underwater in nuclear submarines.
JLC’s technological innovations continued well into the twenty-first century with their invention of many Grand complication watches, such as the Master Gyrotourbillon 1, the Duomètre Sphérotourbillon, the Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau, the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication, the Hybris Mechanica à Grande Sonnerie, and the Master Compressor Extreme LAB. With each of these creations, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Manufacture has gained increasingly more recognition and respect, thus today the name remains an undisputed touchstone for watch aficionados.
With countless inventions, world firsts and revolutionary calibres under its belt, it’s not hard to see why Jaeger-LeCoultre is highly regarded and much acclaimed amongst discerning watch fans. In fact, since the company was first established, it has produced over 1,242 different movements and registered about 400 patents. As such, purchasing a pre-owned Jaeger-LeCoultre watch is a strong choice regardless of which collection you choose from. With a 185-year-old Manufacturer, you know you’re in good hands.