First introduced in January of this year to celebrate Jaeger-LeCoultre's 190th anniversary, the Collectibles is the manufacturer's new program focused on restoring its vintage watches from what it calls the golden age of 20th-century watchmaking, the 1920s to 1970s. Last week, JLC unveiled its second collection of vintage watches under the Collectibles in Los Angeles, offering 11 historically important watches for sale.
What makes the Collectibles special is the thought and effort that goes into acquiring, and then fully servicing and restoring this small collection of vintage watches. I don't need to tell you about Jaeger-LeCoultre's prowess as a movement manufacturer here, but even in this small collection of 11 watches its historical innovation is on full display: there's the caliber 101, launched in 1929 as the smallest mechanical movement ever; the Futurematic, with the caliber 497 that featured a number of innovations (including a special six-hour power reserve that allows it to immediately run when put on); and five Memovox examples, JLC's chirping alarm watch.
Jaeger-LeCoultre says it has a team of 10 specialized restoration watchmakers that work on its vintage timepieces. Since JLC is a vertical manufacturer and pretty much always has been, these watchmakers have access to the brand's archives and the schematics for every caliber ever made. Sometimes, a spare part for a decades-old movement will even be available for the service. But if they can't find a certain component, the watchmakers are able to make a new one from scratch.
While this is the method for mechanical restoration, JLC tries to minimize restoration work to the case and dial, preferring these to be kept as close as possible to original condition. This emphasis on originality was on full display with this second capsule collection – each of the 11 pieces was in collector-grade condition. The focus on originality starts with the acquisition process, a charge led by Matthieu Sauret, Director of Product and Heritage at JLC. The brand's collection now consists of a couple thousand pieces, but Sauret only tries to find examples in good and original condition. Like any obsessive buyer of collectible vintage watches, that means he says he's constantly checking auctions and listings around the world. We were able to hang out for a few days in L.A. around the launch of the Collectibles, and he was quick to show off his latest acquisitions from the U.K. (an Atmos clock), Japan, or a small auction house in Louisiana (the triple calendar for this capsule collection).
With the launch of the Collectibles at its Rodeo Drive boutique, Jaeger-LeCoultre hosted a few collector-focused events to feature this edition of the Collectibles, along with a number of other vintage watches from its archives.
The 11 watches from this edition of the Collectibles illustrate the great variety in Jaeger-LeCoultre's designs and mechanical innovations from the 1920s through the 1920s. The collection starts with an elegant Duoplan from the 1920s on a yellow gold bracelet, and by the 1970s we see JLC producing those massive Memovox watches, where the only thing louder than the large case and color combos is the jarring alarm itself. You can check out this entire collection of the Collectibles on Jaeger-LeCoultre's website – for those who just want to learn about the watches, I can't recommend enough finding yourself a copy of The Collectibles book. Each of the 11 watches comes with a copy of this book, an extract from the archives, and a few have their original box and papers.
Now in its second capsule collection, the Collectibles shows how a manufacturer can transparently service, restore, and present its vintage watches to support the heritage of its brand. Here's a look at all 11 watches from this collection:
During a panel discussion with Eric Wind and Charlie Dunne of Wind Vintage, Sauret's passion for the Collectibles project and for JLC was on full display.
"Technology and design are not two separate worlds," Sauret said. "Technicality means nothing if it doesn't serve a purpose – these two worlds have to talk with each other." This philosophy is apparent in JLC's historic timepieces and, increasingly, in the way it approaches its modern products. Take this year's Reverso Ultra-thin Flying Tourbillon (photo below): sure, a flying tourbillon is kind of cool to look at and all, but if it's not wearable it doesn't mean much. So, JLC manufactured the new caliber 847 to fit in its slim 9.15mm Reverso case and added a second time zone for good measure.
This is the perfect example of design driving innovation and vice versa that can be seen throughout Jaeger-LeCoultre's vintage catalog. JLC's caliber 101, the smallest mechanical movement in the world when it was introduced in 1929, allowed for all kinds of gorgeous shapes and designs, some of which were on display in L.A. Of course, alarms and triple calendars and anti-magnetism would define the ensuing golden age of watchmaking for Jaeger-LeCoultre. Even the case of the Reverso is a technical marvel, taking more than 50 components to create the simple and seamless flipping case.
This year's Tribute Reverso Chronograph and Duoface Tourbillon releases, along with the simpler Reverso Small Seconds, seem to hint at a Jaeger-LeCoultre that's learning from the history on full display with the Collectibles. It's not making Gyrotourbillons for Gyrotourbillons' sake (though I suppose there's a place for that). Perhaps it's learning as much from the Collectibles as I am, I can't say. All I can say is this year's releases got me excited for the Reverso in a way I haven't always been. This is JLC making wearable watches that think of technology and design hand-in-hand, the way JLC did during the golden age that's proudly presented in the Collectibles.
While the events in L.A. were centered around the release of the Collectibles and these 11 watches lived up to their top billing, they weren't the only watches on display. Friends and collectors also came out wearing their best Jaeger-LeCoultre (along with some others that we'll allow for this Photo Report).
Lead image courtesy of Brandon Menancio.