Legendary Timepieces and the Companies Who Created Them
Alfred Davis and his brother-in-law Hans Wilsdorf founded Wilsdorf and Davis, the company that would eventually become Rolex SA, in London, England in 1905. Wilsdorf and Davis' main commercial activity at the time involved importing Hermann Aegler's Swiss movements to England and placing them in high-quality watch cases made by Dennison and others. These early wristwatches were sold to jewelers, who then put their own names on the dial. The earliest watches from Wilsdorf and Davis were usually hallmarked "W&D" inside the case back.
In 1908 Wilsdorf registered the trademark "Rolex" and opened an office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The company name "Rolex" was registered on 15 November 1915. The book The Best of Time: Rolex Wristwatches: An Unauthorized History by Jeffrey P. Hess and James Dowling says that the name was just made up. One story, never confirmed by Wilsdorf, recounts that the name came from the French phrase horlogerie exquise, meaning "exquisite clockwork" or as a contraction of "horological excellence". Wilsdorf was said to want his watch brand's name to be easily pronounceable in any language. He also thought that the name "Rolex" was onomatopoeic, sounding like a watch being wound. It is easily pronounceable in many languages and, as all its upper-case letters have the same size, can be written symmetrically. It was also short enough to fit on the face of a watch.
In 1914 Kew Observatory awarded a Rolex watch a Class A precision certificate, a distinction normally granted exclusively to marine chronometers.
In 1919 Wilsdorf left England due to wartime taxes levied on luxury imports as well as to export duties on the silver and gold used for the watch cases driving costs too high and moved the company to Geneva, Switzerland, where it was established as the Rolex Watch Company. Its name was later changed to Montres Rolex, SA and finally Rolex, SA. Upon the death of his wife in 1944, Wilsdorf established the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, a private trust, in which he left all of his Rolex shares, making sure that some of the company's income would go to charity. Wilsdorf died in 1960; since then, the trust has owned and run the company.
In December 2008, following the abrupt departure of Chief Executive Patrick Heiniger for "personal reasons", the company denied that it had lost 1 billion Swiss francs (approx £574 million, $900 million) invested with Bernard Madoff, the American asset manager who pleaded guilty to an approximately £30 billion worldwide Ponzi scheme fraud. Rolex SA announced Heiniger's death on 5 March 2013.
As of 2010 Rolex watches continue to have a reputation as status symbols.
Omega SA is a Swiss luxury watchmaker based in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland. Britain's Royal Flying Corps chose Omega watches in 1917 as its official timekeepers for its combat units, as did the American army in 1918. Omega watches were the choice of NASA and the first watch on the Moon in 1969. Omega has been the official timekeeping device of the Olympic Games since 1932. James Bond has worn it in films since 1995; other famous Omega wearers, past and present, include John F. Kennedy, Prince William, George Clooney, and Buzz Aldrin. Omega is owned by the Swatch Group.
The forerunner of Omega, La Generale Watch Co, was founded at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in 1848 by Louis Brandt, who assembled key-wound precision pocket watches from parts supplied by local craftsmen. He sold his watches from Italy to Scandinavia by way of England, his chief market. In 1894, his two sons Louis-Paul and César developed a revolutionary in-house manufacturing and total production control system that allowed component parts to be interchangeable. Watches developed with these techniques were marketed under the Omega brand of La Generale Watch Co. By 1903 the success of the Omega brand led to La Generale Watch Co to spin off the Omega brand as its own company, and the Omega Watch Co was officially founded in 1903.
Louis-Paul and César Brandt both died in 1903, leaving one of Switzerland's largest watch companies — with 240,000 watches produced annually and employing 800 people — in the hands of four young people, the oldest of whom, Paul-Emile Brandt, was not yet 24.
Brandt was the great architect and builder of Omega. His influence would be felt over the next half-century. The economic difficulties brought on by the First World War would lead him to work actively from 1925 toward the union of Omega and Tissot, then to their merger in 1930 into the group SSIH, Geneva.
Under Brandt's leadership and Joseph Reiser's from 1955, the SSIH Group continued to grow and multiply, absorbing or creating some fifty companies, including Lanco and Lemania, manufacturer of the most famous Omega chronograph movements. By the 1970s, SSIH had become Switzerland's number one producer of finished watches and number three in the world. Up to this time, the Omega brand outsold Rolex, its main Swiss rival in the luxury watch segment, although Rolex watches sold at a higher price point. Around this time it was viewed as Rolex versus Omega in the competition for the "King of Swiss Watch brands". Omega watches tended to be more revolutionary and more professional focused, while Rolex watches were more ‘evolutionary’ and famous for their mechanical pieces and brand.
While Omega and Rolex had dominated in the pre-quartz era, this changed in the 1970s. That was when Japanese watch manufacturers such as Seiko and Citizen rose to dominance due to their pioneering of quartz movement. In response, Rolex continued concentrating on its expensive mechanical chronometers where its expertise lay (though it did have some experimentation in quartz), while Omega tried to compete with the Japanese in the quartz watch market with Swiss made quartz movements.
Weakened by the severe monetary crisis and recession of 1975 to 1980, SSIH was bailed out by the banks in 1981. During this period, Seiko expressed interest in acquiring Omega, but nothing came out of the talks.
Switzerland's other watch making giant Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG (ASUAG - supplier of a large range of Swiss movements and watch assemblers) was in economic difficulty. It was the principal manufacturer of Ébauche (unfinished movements) and owner, through their sub-holding company General Watch Co (GWC), of various other Swiss watch brands including Longines, Rado, Certina, Hamilton Watch and Mido.
After drastic financial restructuring, the R&D departments of ASUAG and SSIH merged production operations at the ETA complex in Granges. The two companies completely merged forming ASUAG-SSIH, a holding company, in 1983.
Two years later this holding company was taken over by a group of private investors led by Nicolas Hayek. Renamed SMH, Société de Microélectronique et d'Horlogerie, this new group over the next decade proceeded to become one of the top watch producers in the world. In 1998 it became the Swatch Group, which now manufactures Omega and other brands such as Blancpain, Swatch, and Breguet.
Omega's brand experienced a resurgence with advertisement that focused on product placement strategies, such as in the James Bond 007 films; the character had previously worn a Rolex Submariner but switched to the Omega Seamaster Diver 300M with GoldenEye (1995) and has stayed with the latter ever since until swapping it for the Omega Planet Ocean and Aqua Terra. Omega also adopted many elements of Rolex's business model (i.e. premium pricing, tighter controls of dealer pricing, increasing advertising, etc.) which was successful in increasing Omega's market share and name recognition to become more of a direct competitor to Rolex.
IWC (International Watch Co.)
International Watch Co., also known as IWC, is a luxury Swiss watch manufacturer located in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and founded by American watchmaker Florentine Ariosto Jones in 1868.
IWC Schaffhausen is notable for being the only major Swiss watch factory located in eastern Switzerland, as the majority of the well-known Swiss watch manufacturers are located in western Switzerland. The lingua franca of IWC is German.
In 1868, an American engineer and watchmaker Florentine Ariosto Jones (1841–1916) who had been a director of E. Howard & Co., in Boston, then America's leading watchmaking company, founded the International Watch Company with the intention of combining the craftsmanship of the Swiss with the modern engineering technology from the U.S. to manufacture movements and watch parts for the American market." At the time, wages in Switzerland were relatively low although there was a ready supply of skilled watchmaking labor" mainly carried out by people in their homes. Jones encountered opposition to his plans in French-speaking Switzerland because people feared for their jobs" and the work they did at home because Jones wanted to open a factory.
In 1850 the town of Schaffhausen was in danger of being left behind in the Industrial Age. At this stage, watch manufacturer and industrialist Johann Heinrich Moser built Schaffhausen's first hydroelectric plant and laid the cornerstone for future industrialization." He probably met F.A. Jones in Le Locle and showed great interest in his plans. Together, they laid the foundations for the only watch manufacturers in north-eastern Switzerland: The International Watch Company in Schaffhausen.
In 1869 F.A. Jones rented the first factory premises in an industrial building owned by J.H. Moser at the Rheinstrasse. Very soon he had to rent further rooms in the Oberhaus, one of the oldest buildings in Schaffhausen. By 1874 plans were already being made for a new factory and a site was purchased from Moser's hydroelectric company which was directly adjacent to the banks of the Rhine and called the Baumgarten. Schaffhausen architect G. Meyer won the order to design and build the factory. A year later, in the spring of 1875, the construction work was completed. At first, 196 people worked in the 45 meter long factory, which could accommodate up to 300 workplaces.
The Portuguese series of watches
Johann Rauschenbach-Vogel, Chief Executive Officer and a machine manufacturer from Schaffhausen, took over the Internationale Uhrenfabrik on 17 February 1880. Four generations of the Rauschenbach family owned IWC, with varying names.
Only a year after the sale, Johannes Rauschenbach died. His son, Johannes Rauschenbach-Schenk, was 25 years old when he took over the Uhrenfabrik von J. Rauschenbach and ran it successfully until his own death on 2 March 1905.
Another significant role on the way to the company's success was played by Urs Haenggi from Nunningen in the canton of Solothurn. He had got to know the watch business in French-speaking Switzerland and France; in 1883 he joined IWC and stayed with the company for 52 years. He was responsible for getting factory operations up and running smoothly and acquiring new customers. He was also responsible for warding off the prospect of the outside interests acquiring IWC "in the interest of the noble Rauschenbach family".
After the death of J. Rauschenbach-Schenk in 1905, his wife, two daughters and their husbands, Ernst Jakob Homberger (director of G. Fischer AG in Schaffhausen) and Carl Gustav Jung, took over the watch factory as an open trading company named as the Uhrenfabrik von J. Rauschenbach's Erben - watch manufacturer of the heirs of J. Rauschenbach. E.J. Homberger was the only authorized signatory, Haenggi and Vogel were directors.
Following the death of his father-in-law, Ernst Jakob Homberger had a considerable influence on the Schaffhausen watchmaking company's affairs and guided it through one of the most turbulent epochs in Europe's history. Just before the world economic crisis, he took over as sole proprietor and renamed the company Uhrenfabrik von Ernst Homberger-Rauschenbach, formerly International Watch Co. His contribution was honoured in 1952, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of St. Gallen. He died in 1955, aged 85 years.
Hans Ernst Homberger was the third and last of the Rauschenbach heirs to run the factory as a sole proprietor. He had joined his father's company in 1934 and took control after his death in April 1955. In 1957 he added a new wing to the factory and in the same year set up a modern pension fund for the staff. He bought new machines to meet new demands and continuously brought his production technology up to what were considered the latest standards. He died in 1986 at the age of 77.
Technician Johann Vogel from Wangen an der Aare in Solothurn played an important role as technical director. He designed and developed IWC calibers until 1919.
In 1885, IWC manufactured the first digital watch based on a patent granted to an Austrian by the name of Pallweber. It was a simple design, but was unable to replace the traditional analogue display.
In 1888 electricity began to take over at the watch factory. J. Rauschenbach had a power line installed which supplied it with electricity. During the first few years the electrical power was probably used only for lighting purposes and the galvanic gold-plating of watch movement parts. Shortly before the turn of the century, the company started converting its production machines to electricity. An electric motor made by Brown, Boveri & Co. from Baden powered the engines in the factory, transmitting the energy via a complicated arrangement of shafts and drive belts in the factory workshops. These were later replaced during the 1930s with individually powered machines.
During the period just before and after the First World War, E.J. Homberger devoted himself to devising and setting up social institutions. He extended the living quarters for factory employees and established a fund for widows and orphans. In 1929, the name of the fund was changed to the J.Rauschenbach Foundation and in 1949 he founded the Watch Company Welfare Foundation.
On 1 April 1944, as a result of an error, Schaffhausen was bombed by the United States Army Air Forces. The watch factory was hit by a bomb which failed to detonate after crashing through the rafters. The flames from incendiaries exploding nearby penetrated the building through the broken windows but were extinguished by the company's own fire brigade.
After World War II, IWC was forced to change its focus. All of Eastern Europe had fallen under the Iron Curtain, and the economy of Germany was in shambles. As a result, old contacts and connections with other countries in Europe and the Americas as well as Australia and the Far East were revived and intensified or established.
In the mid century, IWC rolled out its famed "Caliber 89" movement. This mechanical wound movement powered IWC models from the 1940s until the early 1990s. It gained a reputation for exceptional accuracy and longevity. Many of the early models are still fully functional.
1970s - present
The IWC Da Vinci (Musée International d'Horlogerie, La Chaux-De-Fonds, Switzerland)
In the 1970s and 80s, the Swiss watchmaking industry underwent a phase of far-reaching technological change. Following in the wake of the use of miniaturized electric batteries as a source of energy for wristwatches and eventually unsuccessful technologies, such as the electronically controlled balance. The Uhrenfabrik H. E. Homberger co-founded and was a shareholder in the "Centre Électronique Horloger" (CEH) in Neuchâtel and was financially involved in the development of the Beta 21 quartz wristwatch movement, which was first presented to the public at the 1969 Industrial Fair in Basel and used by other manufactures such as the Omega Electroquartz watches. In value terms, this movement accounted for about 5-6% of total sales of quartz watches. Parallel to this, the company expanded its collection of jeweller watches to include ladies watches with mechanical movements. 1973 was IWC's most successful year of the post-war period.
The cataclysmic rise in gold prices in 1974 had grave consequences for the watch exporting industry. Between 1970 and 1974 the price of gold rose from 4,850 to 18,000 francs and the value of the US dollar against the Swiss currency plummeted by up to 40%. As a result, the price of watch exports rose by as much as 250%. At the same time Japan was flooding the market with cheap quartz watches.
A change of direction was necessary and this led to the adoption of a number of measures. In order to survive, IWC, under the leadership of Director and CEO Otto Heller, built up a line of high-quality pocket watches, and, apart from setting up its own modern wristwatch and case manufacturing facilities, began working closely with Ferdinand A. Porsche as an external designer. In addition, IWC pioneered new watchmaking technologies, notably the first titanium bracelets, developed in 1978.
For its new plans IWC required a high level of venture capital. With the help of the Swiss Banking Corporation, the company was put in contact with VDO Adolf Schindling AG, which took a majority interest in IWC in 1978.
At the same time, IWC reacquired the name it had originally been given by its founder F.A. Jones (International Watch Co. AG).
In 1981, Kawal Singh succeeded H.E. Homberger as general manager following the latter's retirement on age grounds. The new director, Günter Blümlein, pushed for rapid implementation of planned changes, put the existing advertising campaign to work, built up the customer base, and solidified IWC's finances.
In 1991 IWC director Günter Blümlein founded the LMH Group with its headquarters in Schaffhausen. With a 100% stake in IWC, 60% in Jaeger-LeCoultre and 90% in the Saxony-based watchmaking company of A. Lange & Söhne, the Group employed some 1440 persons.
In July 2000, LMH was acquired by Richemont, a Zug-based luxury goods group, for CHF 2.8 bn. Despite the takeover by Richemont, IWC was guaranteed that it would continue to be managed by the same executives from the LMH Group.
In the year 2001 IWC went online with the Collectors Forum.
LeCoulture / Jaeger LeCoulture
Jaeger-LeCoultre (French pronunciation: [ˈʒegɛʁ ləˈkultʁ]) is a Swiss luxury watch and clock manufacturer based in Le Sentier, Switzerland, that dates back to the first half of the nineteenth century, founded by Antoine LeCoultre in 1833.
The brand has hundreds of inventions and over a thousand calibres (movements) to its name, including the world’s smallest calibre, one of the world’s most complicated wristwatches and a timepiece of near-perpetual movement. The company has been a fully owned subsidiary of the Swiss luxury group Richemont since 2000.
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.
LeCoultre & Cie
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. However, 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.
Jaeger dashboard instruments
LeCoultre of Switzerland and Jaeger of France 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.
Since Jaeger-LeCoultre’s founding, the company has produced over 1,242 different calibres, registered approximately 400 patents and created hundreds of inventions.
Invented by Antoine LeCoultre in 1844, the Millionomètre was the first instrument in history capable of measuring the micron, allowing for the precise manufacture of watch parts. The invention was never patented, as no such system existed in Switzerland at the time. However, its unique composition was kept a closely guarded secret, used by the company for more than fifty years. It was presented at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900.
In 1847, Antoine invented a keyless watch, the second simple and reliable winding and time-setting system to do without a key after Patek Philippe's version of 1845. Instead, it relied on a small push-piece that activated a lever to change over from one function to another. Again, the invention was not patented, allowing other watchmakers to quickly implement the system.
LeCoultre Calibre 145
In 1907, the LeCoultre Calibre 145 set the record for the world’s thinnest movement at 1.38 mm thick, appearing in pocket watches that remain to this day the thinnest in their category. From 1907 until the 1960s, the movement was produced in some 400 copies.
In 1866, for the first time in watchmaking history, LeCoultre & Cie. began to manufacture calibres with small complications in small series, and in 1891 combined the chronograph and minute repeater complications into a double complication calibre.
This subsequently led in the mid-1890s to the production of grandes complications, or watches comprising at least three classic horological complications, such as a perpetual calendar, chronograph and minute repeater.
In 2004, the Manufacture created the Gyrotourbillon I, its first grande complication wristwatch, featuring a tourbillon gravitating on two axes, along with a perpetual calendar with double retrograde indicators and a running equation of time. In 2006, it released the Reverso grande complication à triptyque, the first watch in history to be equipped with three dials driven by a single movement, and in 2009 the company produced one of the world's most complicated wristwatches, the Hybris Mechanica à Grande Sonnerie with 26 complications.
Its name inspired by the Latin “I turn around”, the Reverso was created in 1931 as a watch capable of surviving the hard knocks of a polo game: the case can be swivelled in its carrier to protect the watch glass. Considered a classic of Art Deco design, the Reverso is still manufactured today.
In 1925, the LeCoultre Calibre 7BF Duoplan was created in an effort to bring together miniaturisation and precision. The fashion of the period was for small wristwatches, however small calibres often suffered from a loss of reliability. Created by Henri Rodanet, the technical director of Etablissements Ed. Jaeger, the Duoplan was built on two levels – hence its name – enabling it to maintain a large-size balance.
The Duoplan was also one of the first gem-set steel watches and, in 1929, its glass was replaced with sapphire crystal, a first in watchmaking. The Duoplan was ensured by Lloyd's of London with a special after-sales service, and a damaged movement could be replaced in a few minutes, leading London-based store owner Tyme to display in its shop window: “You won’t have time to finish your cigarette before your watch is repaired”.
The Duoplan led to the creation in 1929 of the world’s still-smallest mechanical movement, the Calibre 101, whose 74 original parts (98 today) weighed a total of approximately one gram. The second family of watches equipped with the Calibre 101, Joaillerie 101 Étrier appeared in the 1930s. In 1953, Elizabeth II of England wore a Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 101 wristwatch for her coronation.
The Atmos Clock is a timepiece of near-perpetual movement needing no human intervention and almost no energy. Invented by Swiss engineer Jean-Léon Reutter in 1928 in Neuchâtel, the Atmos clock has been the Swiss government’s official gift for important guests since 1950. Patented in 1928, the first version – known today as the Atmos 1 – was marketed by La Compagnie Générale de Radiologie (CGR) in 1930.
It derives energy from small Temperature and Atmospheric pressure changes in the environment, and can run for years without human intervention. Wound by a capsule filled with a mixture of temperature-sensitive gases, a 1 °C fluctuation is enough to store sufficient energy to supply the clock with two days' autonomy. Its balance, suspended from a steel-alloy wire thinner than a hair, performs two vibrations per minute; its gearing requires no lubricant. The Atmos' gearing is known for its accuracy: the moon-phase model, for example, accumulates a one-day discrepancy only once every 3,821 years.
The patents were subsequently purchased by Jaeger-LeCoultre in France 1936 and in Switzerland in 1937. The company then spent ten years perfecting the clock before beginning to manufacture it in its current technological form in 1946. In 1988, the Kohler and Rekow design agency created a two-piece limited edition showcase for the clock and, in 2003, the Manufacture released the Atmos Mystérieuse, driven by the Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 583 and comprising 1,460 parts.
In 1950, the Manufacture released the Memovox (potmanteau of memoria and vox, “voice of memory”), a year after the model cricket was released by Vulcain. Its striking mechanism could be used as an alarm for waking up, appointments, timetables, etc. The first models were hand wound and equipped with the Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 489.
In 1956, a Memovox featuring the Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 815 became the first self-winding alarm watch in history, while shortly thereafter the company marked its 125th anniversary by releasing the Memovox Wordtime. In 1959, the Memovox Deep Sea was equipped with a specific alarm to remind divers to begin their ascension, and in 1965, the Memovox Polaris was released with a patented triple case back to optimise the transmission of sound under water.
The latter model would go on to inspire the current Master Compressor and AMVOX lines. It was reproduced in 2008 under the name Memovox Tribute to Polaris.
In 1951, the Manufacture released the Futurematic, the world's first 100% automatic watch, the calibre 497, Calibre 497 debuted with the Jaeger-LeCoultre Futurematic and was much more advanced than the earlier JLC 476 and JLC 481. It features a larger balance for improved accuracy and hacking seconds. One unique feature is a lock that holds the swinging weight in place when the mainspring is fully wound. It also features a special 6 hour power reserve, allowing the watch to immediately function when it is put on, rather than requiring it to be wound first.
The Calibre 497 featured a power reserve indicator along with small seconds located at the unusual position of 3:00.
Calibre 817 was used in the Jaeger-LeCoultre Futurematic and was a modification of the existing Calibre 497. Like that movement, it has a power reserve indicator at 9:00 and small seconds 3:00, but in Cal. 817 and Cal. 837 these are tiny round windows rather than being full subdials. Calibre 827 returned to the full subdial format,
Calibres 817, 827, and 837 were produced from 1956 through 1958, with just 3,500 movements made. About 3,000 of Cal. 817, 1,000 of Cal. 827, and just 500 of Cal. 837 were made.
Approximately 52,500 examples of Calibre 497 were produced between 1951 and 1958.
It has been said that the whole project for the Futurematic almost made the company bankrupt, as they never fully recovered their investment from sales of the Futurematic series of watches.
In honour of the International Geophysical Year in 1958, Jaeger-LeCoultre created a watch protected against magnetic fields, water and shocks. The Geophysic chronometer was proposed by long-time employee Jules-César Savary as a watch intended for scientific bases in Antarctica. The watch was fitted with the Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 478BWS and featured seventeen jewels, a Breguet overcoil, a regulating spring on the balance-cock, a shock-absorber and a Glucydur balance. The year of its release, the Geophysic was offered to William R. Anderson, the captain of the Nautilus, the first American nuclear submarine to travel between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans via the North Pole.
JLC produces some complicated watches (Grand complication), e.g. the Master Gyrotourbillon 1 with a spherical Tourbillon. The Duomètre Sphérotourbillon is equipped with a tourbillon adjustable to the nearest second; the Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau is equipped with a minute-repeater shutter as a third face covering one of its two dials; the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication is equipped with a flying tourbillon that follows the rhythm of celestial phenomena and indicates sidereal time, and a minute repeater comprising cathedral gongs; the Hybris Mechanica à Grande Sonnerie is equipped with gongs capable of playing the entire Big Ben chime; the Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 is equipped with a spherical tourbillon principle, a reversible case and a cylindrical balance; the Master Compressor Extreme LAB is oil-free; the Gyrotourbillon 1 is equipped with a tourbillon evolving in three dimensions to compensate for the effects of gravity in all positions.
Jaeger-LeCoultre and the International Herald Tribune have joined forces with UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in support of the World Heritage Marine Programme. The partnership provides funding and media exposure for one of the World Heritage Committee’s priority programmes, leading to the listing of new marine sites and protection measures for the 46 sites already listed. Each year, the programme as well as the sites are featured in print and online news articles by the International Herald Tribune, thus offering increased visibility to the partnership.
The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC)
In October 2011, the Responsible Jewellery Council announced that Jaeger-LeCoultre had obtained certification for its commitment to human rights and for meeting the ethical, social and environmental standards established by the RJC’s Member Certification system.
In 2004, Jaeger-LeCoultre teamed with Aston Martin to launch the Aston Martin Jaeger-LeCoultre gentleman’s watch - the AMVOX1. The design of the timepiece was inspired by a 70-year historical link between the two companies. The dashboard of the 1930s, 1.5-litre Aston Martin LM – a regular class winner in international motorsport – contained instruments created by Jaeger-LeCoultre.
In partnership with the Italian luxury leathergoods brand Valextra, Jaeger-LeCoultre began offering a two-tone version of its ladies’ Reverso watch in 2012.
Jaeger-LeCoultre and Equestrianism
Jaeger-LeCoultre has held close ties with the equestrian sports community since 1931 and counts the Polo Club de Veytay as one of its partners.
The company partners with the Venice Film Festival to present the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker Award.
Patek Philippe & Co. is a Swiss watch manufacturer founded in 1851, located in Geneva and the Vallée de Joux. It designs and manufactures timepieces and movements, including some of the most complicated mechanical watches. It is considered by many experts and aficionados to be one of the most prestigious watch manufacturers. Past owners of Patek Philippe watches include Pope Pius IX, Queen Victoria, Victor Emanuel III of Italy, Christian IX of Denmark, and Albert Einstein.
Polish watchmaker Antoni Patek started making pocket watches in 1839 in Geneva, along with his fellow Czech partner Franciszek Czapek. They separated in 1844, and in 1845 Patek joined with the French watchmaker Adrien Philippe, inventor of the key-less winding mechanism. Patek Philippe & Co was founded in 1851. Patek Philippe popularized the perpetual calendar, split-seconds hand, chronograph, and minute repeater in watches.
In 1935, the manufacturer was brought to American markets by New York-based Henri Stern Watch Agency, where it was sold as a sister brand alongside Universal Genève. Alan Banbery, who previously designed Universal's "Compax" movements and worked as a horologist for London's Garrard & Co, would take on the position of director of sales in 1965 and later authored official reference books on vintage Patek Philippe pocketwatches and chronographs.
In 1976, the Swiss watchmaker introduced the Nautilus collection after deciding that it was time to also produce an exclusive sport watch with finishes of the highest quality. "The new model had a key role for Patek's overall marketing strategy as it had to refresh the brand image while perpetuating tradition. The target was represented by dynamic business managers of the new generations".
Like other Swiss manufacturers, the company produces mostly mechanical movements of the automatic and manual wind variety, but has produced quartz watches in the past and currently does. The company even produced a prototype for a mechanical digital wristwatch, Ref. 3414 in 1954. Patek were notable for being one of 20 Swiss watch companies to develop the first Swiss production watch the beta 21 used by other manufacturers in watches such as the Omega Electroquartz watches.
Patek Philippe is notable for manufacturing its own watch components. It was also the first Brand that used the Chronifer® M-15 X steel, a new material specially designed for the watch making industry by L. Klein SA.
Patek Philippe timepieces have recorded high prices in auctions worldwide. A small part of the demand for auction pieces is driven by Patek Philippe themselves, as they are purchasing in the auction market to add to the collection of the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.
In 2010, the company produced 40,000 watches. According to Thierry Stern, in 2012, they produced 50,000.
The company has been owned by the Stern family since 1932, and, as of the late 2000s, led by Philippe Stern and his son Thierry Stern, who took over the reins from his father in 2010.
The Henry Graves Supercomplication was made in 1933 for the prominent banker Henry Graves, Jr.. The ultra-complicated pocketwatch (having 24 functions) was the result of Graves' friendly horological competition with James Ward Packard. After Graves' death, the watch was auctioned at Sotheby's in December 1999 for US$11 million to Sheikh Saud Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Thani of the Qatari royal family, at that time the most expensive timepiece ever sold. Most recently, the watch sold at Sotheby's Geneva Auction on November 11, 2014 for a record breaking US$24 million.
On April 10, 2008, "Ref. 5002P Sky Moon Tourbillon", a platinum Patek Philippe tourbillon wristwatch, made the world record as the most expensive modern wristwatch sold at Hong Kong Sotheby's for HK$11.75 million (US$1.4 million). The record was held along Vacheron Constantin Tour de l'Ile wristwatch, which sold at Antiquorum for US$1.4 million in Geneva in 2005.
On May 10, 2010, a Patek Philippe wristwatch became the most expensive to be sold at auction when purchased by a Swiss museum, through Christie's in Geneva, for 6.26 million Swiss francs (US$5.5 million). The chronograph wristwatch, made of yellow gold, has a perpetual calendar and moonphase display, and was produced in 1943 in the Geneva manufacture of Patek Philippe.
On June 7, 2013, a Patek Philippe wristwatch reference #2499 became the most expensive to be sold online at auction when purchased by a California collector, through Auctionata in Berlin, for 471,000 Euro (US$611,000). The chronograph wristwatch, from yellow gold, has a perpetual calendar and moonphase display, and was produced in 1953 in the Geneva manufacture of Patek Philippe.
On November 12, 2016 the Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 in steel took the title as the most expensive wrist watch ever sold at auction. Sold through Phillips Geneva auction house, the piece finally sold for 9,600,000 CHF (11,002,000 CHF including sellers fees). This was the first time this watch, which is one of only four ever made in a steel case, went for auction. This piece was the first of the four made and features a chronograph and perpetual calendar.
Watches owned by royalty
In 1851, Patek Philippe started supplying its watches to Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert. Queen Victoria acquired a key-wound Patek Philippe watch created in a pendant style in November 1851 during the Great Exhibition of London. The queen owned one more exclusive Patek Philippe timepiece, to be worn pinned to clothing. This watch was suspended from a diamond and enamel brooch.
Patek Philippe clientele has included Christian IX and Princess Louise of Denmark (the king and queen of Denmark), Victor Emmanuel III of Italy (king of Italy and Duke of Savoy), Hussein Kamel (Sultan of Egypt from 1914 to 1918).
In 1989, Patek created one of the most complicated mechanical watches ever made, the Calibre 89, created for the 150th anniversary of the company. It holds 39 complications, including the date of Easter, time of sunrise, equation of time, sidereal time, and many other indicators. 1,728 unique parts allow sidereal time, a 2,800 star chart, and more. The Calibre 89 is also able to add a day to February for leap years while leaving out the extra day for every 100 year interval.
In 2005, the company introduced the silicon escapement wheel to the industry.
Patek Philippe's Geneva museum includes watches from as early as the 16th century, 300 years before Patek Philippe began watchmaking, and is an important scholarly resource with its library of over 7000 books and documents.