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The true blue Jaeger-LeCoultre pedigree in Chronograph watchmaking

February 28 2005 at 11:25 AM
Jaw  (no login)

From an etymological standpoint, chrono-graph means “writing the time”. The chronograph invented by Rieussec in 1821 (patented in 1822) literally placed a drop of ink to mark the end of the measurement (while the hand continued turning). Strictly speaking, the current complication should thus be called chrono-scope, “looking at the time”; a term which is recently used by Chronoswiss - in any case, the term, Chronograph is now the commonly accepted name for the complication.

(Jaeger calibre 420TMS in 1884)

Adolphe Nicole in 1844 was credited as the inventor of Chronograph which included the 3 common functions (1) Start, (2) Stop and (3) Reset to Zero. Adolphe was a native of Valee de Joux who had settled in London for business reasons and had his main workshop in Le Solliat. Lesser known is the fact that Adolphe enjoyed a good relationship with his cousin, Antoine LeCoultre, the founder of Jaeger-LeCoultre.

(The Old Manufacture)

At the time, it was generally agreed that complicated watches were far less precise than simple watches. Antoine LeCoultre and his son Elie examined this problem which stemmed mostly from the imprecision of the human hand. LeCoultre & Cie was the first and for years the only Manufacture capable of producing complicated movements by means of a partially mechanised process. Uniting hand and machine in the service of precision and reliability led to extraordinary expansion.

(1890 Jaeger calibre 20TMCCS)

Between 1870 and 1900, the Jaeger-LeCoultre created no less than 128 different chronograph calibres! 42 were equipped with counters, 32 with split-seconds hands; 33 also comprised a repeater mechanism, and 1 combined a chronograph, a repeater and a perpetual calendar.

These calibres at one time supplied the entire Swiss, French and German watch industries, from Glashütte to Geneva and including Schaffhausen, Besançon, La Chaux-de-Fonds, le Locle, Saint-Imier, Fleurier, Sainte-Croix, and of course the Vallée de Joux.

The Manufacture Lecoultre & Cie had become a reference in the field of chronographs movements.

During the first half of the 20th century, the Manufacture continued to innovate in this field. From 1903 onwards, it began creating ultra-thin chronographs, which were marvels of technical sophistication and miniaturisation.

(1915 calibre 19CCRM)

From the 1920s on, LeCoultre was one of the pioneers in chronograph calibres for wristwatches. By way of example, a LeCoultre 13-lignes movement made in 1923 Cal 13cc was fitted within a Patek Philippe watch that was estimated to be worth $200,000 at an auction in 1997.

(1923 calibre 13CC)

In 1927, LeCoultre created Calibre 133, a counter chronograph movement with a diameter of 11 lignes, meaning 24.8 mm! 62 movements were made up until 1936 for other haute horlogerie top brands.

In 1987, Jaeger-LeCoultre created the mecha-quartz chronograph Calibre 630.

(1970 calibre 154, Perpetual Chrono Minute Repeater)

Starting from 1994 and 1995, there were 2 concurrent projects to develop 2 very fine Chronograph movements, the exceptional shaped Calibre 829 in the form of the 1996 Reverso Chronograph Retrograde and the round calibre 930 originally meant to be used in the round Jaeger-LeCoultre.

(The Reverso Chronograph Retrograde Limited Edition)

The Reverso Chronograph Retrograde and the subsequent Reverso Gran’Sport Chronograph (Cal 859) was exceptionally fine and rare. This should have been a talking piece in 1996. An inhouse and integrated double face chronograph was unique at that time and is still very rare today. I attributed the relatively cool media and public reception then (the watch took a number of years to sell) to a conservative team in Le Sentier who under-appreciated the value of good marketing. If I recalled correctly, there wasn’t even a marketing department in the manufacture! (The Reverso Gran’Sport Chronograph was briefly discussed here at )

(Reverso Gran’Sport Chronograph, exceptionally good value)

Both the Calibre 829 and 930 developments were expensive; the thinking in the factory then was to create the best chronograph movements. The only production caliber 829 double sided complication was particularly expensive to produce.

(Calibre 829)

The Calibre 930 development, under Roger Guignard (I call him the George Lucas of Jaeger-LeCoultre) started with the same pure intention, with the following minimum requirements
(1) Integrated chronograph and not modular
(2) It must bear the traditional column wheel as a sign of quality. A column wheel remained the best and the most reliable way to coordinate all the functions of the chronograph: start, stop and reset.
(3) There are 3 main ways to start and stop (engage and disengage) the chronograph, i.e. Lateral Coupling, Vertical coupling (vertical clutch) and Sliding Pinion. Conventional wisdom says that the higher quality Vertical Coupling is the best way was collaborated by real test results. Other factors being equal, Vertical Coupling has the following advantages (3a) Chrono seconds starts without hesitation (3b) highest resistant to shock and (3c) the rate of balance wheel remained unchanged when the chronograph function is engaged.

Roger Guignard also successfully incorporated the Jumping Minute function and the project was a technical success. The Calibre 930 development project however was finally suspended as the manufacture sensed that the product maybe ahead of its time.

(Roger Guignard, Constructeur)

In recent years, the lack of a round chronograph in the Jaeger-LeCoultre product range is getting a little awkward. The need for one is also getting obvious as chorus of calls from retailers and collectors were heard.

(Philippe Vandel)

Two years ago, Jaeger-LeCoultre decided to revive the abandoned calibre 930 project and was put under the charge of Philippe Vandel, a constructeur who was involved in the calibre 829 development…

to be continued

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