The Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre
The Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre was born in 1833 when Antoine LeCoultre, son of watchmaker Jacque LeCoultre, opened a small workshop in the Swiss town of Le Sentier. While Antoine was an excellent watchmaker, he was a brilliant inventor. In 1844 he changed the watch making world forever by inventing the Millionometre, a device that measures with an accuracy of one-thousands of a millimetre. This meant that components could now be measured and produced with unparalleled accuracy, resulting in more accurate timekeepers. It also spelt the end of chaotic Imperial units of measure and the final ascendancy of the metric system for watch making. Antoine's belief that "we must base our experience on science" led the Manufacture to create the finest ebauche possible, allowing the artisan watchmaker to assemble and decorate the watch as appropriate.
The achievements of the early company were impressive: the keyless winding system of 1847, a Gold Medal at the first Universal Exhibition in London of 1851, the 1.38 mm thick pocket watch movement, the 2.8 mm chronograph movement and the 2.7 mm minute-repeater all of 1903. Amusingly, the invention of the keyless winding and setting technology is publicly claimed by many including Breguet in 1830 and Patek Phillipe in 1845. As if in conclusion David Landes writes that ?Philippe?s winding mechanism opend the way to acceptance, but he was only one of several working on these lines, and it was in the form devised by Antoine LeCoultre that stem winding was to establish itself over the next thirty years.? Landes, D. 2000 Revolution In Time, London: Viking Press, p. 312.
So highly regarded were LeCoultre movements, that the Manufacture provided ebauche to the great Swiss houses of Breguet, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Phillipe. It is only very recently that these houses have moved away from these marvellous JLC ebauche, toward movements of their own manufacture. Of course, both Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin still express their good judgement by continuing to purchase from Jaeger-LeCoultre.
In 1925, Antoine's grandson David LeCoultre, merged his company with that of Edmond Jaeger. Jaeger's company, famous in its own right, was the exclusive supplier of movements to Cartier, supplier of watches to the French Navy, inventor of the deployment buckle and the duoplan wristwatch - a movement three times as long as it was wide. The merger of these two technically superb companies led to more innovation: stainless steel wristwatch cases, the amazing Atmos clock and the world's smallest mechanical movement - the 101 - weighing a remarkable 1 gram with dial and hands.
While Jaeger-LeCoultre now existed as a powerful company, it did not yet exist as a brand. Up until this point the company had not produced a watch under its new name.
Invention of the Reverso
1931 was a revolutionary year for the company and the world of wristwatches. The Reverso, invented for English Polo players who had the annoying habit of cracking their watch crystals, had a case that rotated a full 180 degrees, turning the face of the watch away from danger. The watch was well received by the public and instantly captured the heart of the Art Deco era. The great economic depression, the following World War, and the inevitable changes in fashion nearly spelt doom for the watch. Luckily, however, an Italian watch dealer, Giorgio Corvo, noticed some unused Reverso cases at the Manufacture on a visit and took them home with him. Fitting them with movements, they were an instant success. The Reverso became an iconic piece of design and style - a living legend. Today, the Reverso accounts for approximately 80% of all watches produced by the Manufacture and is universally regarded as a horological classic.
What Could Have Been
The following year, 1932, found Patek Phillipe in deep financial trouble and looking for relief. LeCoultre, who had close ties with the company, proposed purchasing a majority interest. However, when the arrangement was close to being finalised, the Stern brothers - whose company manufactured the dials for Patek Phillipe - made a counter-offer that the management of Patek could not refuse. The Stern family took control of the company and have owned it since.
40s, 50s & 60s
Meanwhile, the Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre continued to prosper through the '40s and '50s. The company introduced the Memovox, Futurematic, Geomatic, and Geophysic watches. The Atmos and Baguette clocks. The remarkable Compass camera. It also continued to produce peerless ebauche for the other Swiss houses. It is also during this time that Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin developed close ties. The two companies, through the ownership and management of George Ketterer, began an arrangement whereby Jaeger-LeCoultre provided the movements and Vacheron Constantin became an etablisseur, or a compiler and marketer of watches. This relationship ends in 1965 when George Ketterer moved entirely to Vacheron Constantin, severing his ties with LeCoultre and Jaeger-LeCoultre.
In 1978 the German company Mannesmann AG acquired a 60% stake of Jaeger-LeCoultre. Audemars Piguet, with whom Jaeger-LeCoultre had a long-standing relationship, secured a minority stake of 40%. In the spring of 2000 Mannesmann sold their stake of Jaeger-LeCoultre (together with IWC and Lange & Sohne) to the Richemont Group, owner of Vacheron Constantin, Piaget SA and others.
Under this new management, the Manufacture has flourished. It introduced the smallest quartz movement in 1982, the smallest chronograph movement in 1987, and the automatic perpetual with moonphase and hammer-struck gong in 1989.
The 60th anniversary of the Reverso was celebrated in 1991 with a limited edition Reverso 60�me. More limited edition rectangular movements followed: Tourbillon of 1993, R�p�tition Minutes of 1994, Chronographie of 1996, G�ographique of 1998, and the final Quanti�me Perp�tuel of 2000. The Manufacture has also continually developed the Reverso line of serially-produced watches including the Sun Moon, Date, Duo and Gran?Sport models.
Master Control Series
The Master Control 1000 Hours series, introduced in 1992 with the Grande Taille, is tested for an astonishing 1000 hours - while it is in the case, with its hands and dial installed - far outstripping the COSC requirements. The classic watches of the Manufacture were redesigned and tested to fit the classic 1950s aesthetic and 1000 Hours promise. Memovox, R�veil, R�serve de Marche, Moon, Date and Ultra Thin all become part of the Master line. The automatic Perpetual with day, date, month, year and moonphase as well as the Master Grande Memovox - an automatic perpetual moonphase with acoustic gong ? also join the Master family. The Master Geographic, with date, power reserve and a selectable second time zone is introduced in 1996. The Master Limited series of 250 pieces in platinum is introduced in 1997 and grows to include the entire Master series, save for the venerable Grande Taille.
And the technical excellence of the Manufacture continues to this day. The amazing oversized date mechanism used in the Lange & S�hne line of watches, regarded as the horological feat of the year, was invented and patented by Jaeger-LeCoultre. It now appears in the new Septanti�me which features a rectangular movement with an 8-day power reserve, large date, day/night phase and power reserve indicator.
Today, the Manufacture holds a unique place in the world of Swiss watch making. It still exists in Le Sentier, a few hundred feet from the original workshops of 1833. It still manufactures all its own movements and cases - and finishes both to a superb standard. It is recognised as amongst the very best of serially-produced watchmakers in the world. It continues to sell ebauche to a select group of great houses. And, above all else, it continues the traditions of Jaeger and LeCoultre - creating innovative, interesting and desirable movements, watches and clocks.
Web site: Jaeger-LeCoultre
This information courtesy of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Societyde:Jaeger-LeCoultre
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