A Swiss luxury watch and clock manufacturer founded by Antoine LeCoultre in 1833 and is based in Le Sentier, Switzerland. Since 2000, the company has been a fully owned subsidiary of the Swiss luxury group Richemont.
Jaeger-LeCoultre is regarded as a top-tier Richemont brand. It has hundreds of inventions, patents and over one thousand movements to its name, including the world’s smallest movement, one of the world’s most complicated wristwatches (Grande Complication), and a timepiece of near-perpetual movement.
The earliest records of the LeCoultre family in Switzerland date from the 16th century, when Pierre LeCoultre (circa 1530 – circa 1600), a French Huguenot, fled to Geneva from Lisy-sur-Ourcq, France to escape religious persecution. In 1558, he obtained the status of “inhabitant” but left the following year to acquire a plot of land in the Vallée de Joux. Over time, a small community formed and in 1612, Pierre LeCoultre’s son built a church there, marking the founding of the village of Le Sentier where the company’s Manufacture is still based today.
In 1833, following his invention of a machine to cut watch pinions from steel, Antoine LeCoultre (1803-1881) founded a small watchmaking workshop in Le Sentier, where he honed his horological skills to create high-quality timepieces. In 1844, he invented the world’s most precise measuring instrument at the time, the Millionomètre, and in 1847 he created a keyless system to rewind and set watches. Four years later, he was awarded a gold medal for his work on timepiece precision and Mechanization at the first Universal Exhibition in London.
In 1866, at a time when watchmaking skills were divided up among hundreds of small workshops, Antoine and his son, Elie LeCoultre (1842-1917), established the Vallée de Joux’s first full-fledged manufacture, LeCoultre & Cie., pooling their employees’ expertise under one roof. Under this set-up, they developed in 1870 the first partially mechanised production processes for complicated movements.
By the same year, the Manufacture employed 500 people and was known as the “Grande Maison of the Vallée de Joux”, and by 1900, it had created over 350 different calibres, of which 128 were equipped with chronograph functions and 99 with repeater mechanisms. From 1902 and for the next 30 years, LeCoultre & Cie. produced most of the movement blanks for Patek Philippe of Geneva.
In 1903, Paris-based watchmaker to the French Navy, Edmond Jaeger, challenged Swiss manufacturers to develop and produce the ultra-thin movements that he had invented. Jacques-David LeCoultre, Antoine’s grandson who was responsible for production at LeCoultre & Cie., accepted the challenge, giving rise to a collection of ultra-thin pocket watches, including the thinnest in the world in 1907, equipped with the LeCoultre Calibre 145.
The same year, French jeweller Cartier, one of Jaeger’s clients, signed a contract with the Parisian watchmaker under which all Jaeger movements for a period of fifteen years would be exclusive to Cartier. The movements were produced by LeCoultre. Edmond Jaeger also acquired the patent for the atmospherically driven clock Atmos from its inventor Jean-Léon Reutter and licensed it to LeCoultre from 1936 for France, and in 1937 for Switzerland.
The collaboration between Jaeger and LeCoultre led to the company being officially renamed Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1937. Before that, LeCoultre of Switzerland and Jaeger of France also formed a company in England, Ed. Jaeger (London) Limited, in 1921 to make instruments for prestige car manufacturers. In 1927 Jaeger LeCoultre sold 75 per cent of the company to S Smith & Sons and in 1937 the company name was changed to British Jaeger Instruments Limited. The 1930 Bentley Speed Six also features gauges made by Jaeger.
From 1932 to approximately 1985, due to the Smoot Hawley Tariff Act, watches were cased in locally produced cases in North America and sold under the name LeCoultre by the company Vacheron-LeCoultre, a subsidiary of Longines-Wittnauer, with slightly different case designs. After 1985, Jaeger-LeCoultre was adopted uniformly worldwide. According to factory records, the last movement to be used in an American LeCoultre watch was shipped out of Le Sentier in 1976.
Some collectors and misinformed dealers have made the erroneous claim that American LeCoultre is not associated with Jaeger-LeCoultre Switzerland. The confusion stems from the 1950s, when the North American distributor of LeCoultre watches was the Longines-Wittnauer Group, which was also responsible for the distribution of Vacheron Constantin timepieces. Collectors have confused this distribution channel with the manufacture of the watches. According to Jaeger-LeCoultre enthusiast Zaf Basha, the “Galaxy”, an upmarket mysterious dial diamond watch, is a collaboration between Vacheron & Constantin and LeCoultre for the American market. It features “LeCoultre” on the front and “Vacheron & Constantin — LeCoultre” stamped on the case. The LeCoultre trademark expired in 1985 and was replaced by the Jaeger-LeCoultre trademark.