It all began in 1833 in Le Sentier, Vallée de Joux, when Antoine LeCoultre started a small watch workshop that specialized in cutting watch pinions from steel.
In his quest to create high quality timepieces, Antoine invented the world’s most precise measuring instrument, the Millionomètre (capable of measuring the micron) in 1844.
Three years on in 1847, he created a keyless system to rewind and set watches.
And in 1851, enterprising Antoine was awarded a gold medal for his work on a lever-winding mechanism, interchangeable parts and manufacturing processes, at the inaugural Universal Exhibition in London.
His son Elie LeCoultre, joined him at the workshop at the age of 16. Together they developed and established a full fletched watch mechanism manufacturing company (LeCoultre & Cie). This was set up in 1866, and by 1870 they had developed the first partially mechanised production processes for complicated movements and were renowned for their accuracy and reliability. They had over 350 various calibres, 128 of which were chronographs and 99 contained minute repeaters.
For the next 30 years from 1870 to the 1900s, as LeCoultre & Cie produced watch movements for the likes of Patek Phillippe, IWC and Vacheron Constantin, they were deemed as watchmaker to the watchmakers.
In 1890, LeCoultre & Cie introduced the first Grand Complication model.
In 1903, third generation Jacques-David LeCoultre (Elie’s son) rose to the helm of Production Director. It was then that Parisian Edmond Jaeger (watchmaker to the French Navy) challenged Swiss Manufactures to produce an ultra-thin movement. Without disappointment, Jacques-David accepted the challenge and created the world’s thinnest pocket watch, equipped with the LeCoultre 146 calibre, measuring just 1.38 mm thick. Making history as the world’s thinnest movement then in 1907.
In 1928, the incredible Atmos clock was produced. The torsion pendulum clock that does not need to be wound manually, it gets the energy it needs to run, from temperature and atmospheric pressure changes in the environment, and can run for years without human intervention.
The legendary JLC 101 introduced in 1929 by Jaeger-LeCoultre is still the world’s smallest mechanical watch movement. In 1930, JLC produced the ultra-thin pocket watch.
In 1931, due to the frequent occurrence of damage – wrist watches being smashed and broken – during the ever popular (but extremely ‘brutal’) game of polo, JLC designed their iconic Reverso watch that could swivel 180 degrees and hide or conceal the watch dial in order to prevent the glass of the dial from cracking.
Following decades of collaboration between Switzerland’s LeCoultre and Parisian watchmaker Jaeger, the formidable business partnership grew and by 1937, the company was renamed Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC).
It was also in the 1950s that the Memovox – translated from ‘Memory of Voice’ – was introduced. With that, came the automatic wristwatch with alarm (1956), the GeoPhysic chronometer (1958), the Memovox Polaris (1968), the automatic, thin, high-frequency Calibre 900 (1976), the world’s thinnest quartz movement Calibre 601 (1982), the Master Control 1000 hours (1992).
Jaeger-LeCoultre was acquired by the Richemont group in 2000, and the Manufacture blazed on to present the Gyrotourbillion in 2004, the Reverso Grand Complication in 2006, the Duometre in 2007, and the Duometre Spherotourbillion in 2012, with many more achievements to this present day.
Each Jaeger-LeCoultre watch, from calibre to case, is still designed, made and assembled under the same roof (at the Grande Maison that houses 180 different crafts), in keeping with the spirit of the very first workshop of the Manufacture.
All images courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre.