Jaeger Le-Coultre – The Brand Story1:03 pm
Not many watchmakers can boast of a century old history, hundreds of inventions and over a thousand calibres to its name (including the world’s smallest calibre), 1,242 unique movements to be precise. It doesn’t end there though, a brand known to have one of the world’s most complicated wristwatches and a timepiece of near-perpetual movement, if one were to judge watchmaking in terms of fine craftsmanship and a long-illustrious tradition of creating one masterpiece after another, Jaeger LeCoultre (Pronounced as jay-jay le coolt ruh) may well be the leader of all brands. The company was founded in 1833 but has a history dating back to the 16th century.
The Foundation (In Brief)
The first representative of the LeCoultre family, Pierre LeCoultre fled France to settle in the Vallée de Joux in Switzerland. It was his son Abraham-Joseph LeCoultre (blacksmith, farmer and beekeeper of the village) who sowed the seeds that eventually gave rise to the ‘Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre’ we know.
The watch company LeCoultre was eventually founded in 1833 by brothers Charles Antoine LeCoultre and François Ulysse LeCoultre. Charles was a passionate engineer and the initial works of Charles were an example of his brilliant skill of craftsmanship. The Millionometer of 1844 made it possible for the first time to measure mechanical components to the thousandth of a millimetre! In 1847, Charles also designed a push button system that not only changed the function of the watch, but also eliminated the need for a key to wind it. This incredible innovation was of course, not overlooked. LeCoultre was awarded a gold medal for his work at the Great Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace in 1851. And from then on it became clear that they weren’t merely interested in making watches, but inventing them.
Their work and spirit obviously caught the eye of watch lovers across the globe and LeCoultre slowly became a big name in the watch market. The company internally grew steadily, bringing all functions of watchmaking in-house. By 1860, LeCoultre had 100+ employees and gradually become a dominant manufacturer of movements and watches in Switzerland. Their philosophy was (and still is) to build every watch in the most unique and innovative way with of course, exceptional materials.
Production was in full swing and they started building repeater watches, chronographs, calendar watches and even provided complicated watch movements to other companies! By 1890, the number of unique LeCoultre watch movements had already reached 125.
“Sometimes the greatest achievements take place in the smallest scale”
The most prestigious of all manufactures
Now that you know about their background, it’s worthy to mention that Jaeger-LeCoultre bears the designation ‘manufacture’, a title that is earned over years and is highly regarded in the watch business, and they rightly earned it since the company is known not only for building watches, but also for producing its own movements. We mentioned before that Jaeger movements were also delivered to other watch companies, and some of them are worth sharing here. IWC for instance has long used JLC movements. Even greats like Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet used Jaeger movements before they could manufacture or possess the skills of developing their own calibres. It’s clear now that their work not only fascinated watch lovers, but the industry at large.
The Struggle and Rise
Every great company sees struggle and so did Jaeger-LeCoultre. The 1980’s quartz revolution (crisis for the Swiss) crippled the demand for luxury watches as the quartz bandwagon overtook mechanical watches in popularity, which in turn not only affected them but the Swiss watch industry at large. Many watchmakers even went out of business during the crisis.
The silver lining for them came in 1986, as the VDO Group of Germany bought IWC and 60% of Jaeger-LeCoultre. The rebirth fuelled them to outdo themselves in terms of innovation, in fact, this period gave rise to many modern classics we know of, the most noteworthy of them all being the ‘Reverso’- the flip-over watch. Given the popularity of the collection, Reverso accounts for almost 40% of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s total production, with of course, many variations.
They are now owned by the prestigious Swiss Richemont group.
The list of achievements is never-ending for Jaeger Le-Coultre, and with over a thousand different movements and 350+ patents under its belt, it’s easy to understand why the brand has earned its ranks of being a master watchmaker today. Innovation never stops for them and over the years they have added more collections to their repertoire.
Here’s a summary of some of their noteworthy collections:
Reverso — The classic flip-over watch
Duometre — “Dual wing” power
Amvox — Aston Martin inspired
Atmos — A clock that powers itself
Rendez-Vous— Watches for the lady
Ultra Thin — The elegant dress watch
Sure there are plenty of watches out there that are priced less, but a Jaeger-LeCoultre is a kind of timepiece that maintains its value permanently. Where other brands are trying really hard to draw your attention, here is a brand that has a record of fine timekeeping dating back to the 16th century, continuously reinventing themselves and maintaining their high production standards without making a noise about how good they are. The choice though, is ultimately yours.
Features Writer, The Watch Guide
Rahul is a watch and sports lover currently living in New Delhi. Having worked as a journalist and a copywriter previously, he is now thrilled to be a part of a team that loves, lives and breathes wristwatches. After joining Ethos and The Watch Guide team, his interest for the world of horology grew and is now completely and hopelessly hooked on watches.