PARIS — As Jaeger-LeCoultre is preparing to celebrate its 190th anniversary in 2023, its next launch won’t be a new watch design.
In fact, it’ll be a raft of rather vintage ones as the Swiss watchmaker revealed Wednesday the launch of The Collectibles, an ongoing offering of its most striking models of the 20th century, fully restored and refurbished.
“Each is a tribute to a specific moment of traditional watchmaking in the last century,” said Jaeger-LeCoultre chief executive officer Catherine Rénier.
“We went back through the last century and decided to cater to a period that is considered the golden age of watchmaking, specifically between the 1920s and the 1970s,” she explained.
With the former marking the beginning of wristwatches and a fruitful period of innovation and the ’70s as the time when “traditional watchmaking was then hit by the quartz crisis,” 17 models made the cut for inclusion in The Collectibles. In time, that selection may grow to include other talking points.
Product marketing and heritage director Matthieu Sauret said that some of these designs are “part of the history of Jaeger-LeCoultre but also the greater history of fine watchmaking as a whole.”
Among them are the Duoplan, born in the ’20s with a layered movement to offer a more compact and therefore discreet model; the crown-less Futurematic, all the rage in the ’50s due to its automatic movement that charged with the movement of the wrist; the anti-magnetic Geophysic, presented to the captains of the USS Nautilus, the first American submarine that crossed under the North Pole, and the Polaris, used by divers in the ’60s and the beginning of sports watches.
Researching what models might make the cut also turned up a wealth of information that provided the material for a book that explores each model, its origins, its name, the calibers and variations that were done as well as the context and background stories.
Beyond a catalogue, the watchmaker believes “it can be a true reference into understanding Jaeger-LeCoultre but also the traditional watchmaking of that time,” explained Rénier.
Two years in the making, The Collectibles collection stemmed from collectors’ appetites for these models growing ever stronger, as is the interest of a younger consumer base in its ’20s and ’30s designs looking for unique items.
“We’ve always had questions from collectors and they’re always on the lookout for such pieces but obviously, it is difficult for us to recommend anything when we don’t know the origin or we don’t have the pieces on hand,” said Rénier.
One factor that tipped the scale in favor of The Collectibles is the long-standing vertical integration of Jaeger-LeCoultre, where all components have been manufactured in-house since the beginning, when it provided movements for others.
Pieces sourced for the collection will pass through the hands of the house’s 40-year-old restoration workshop, fully equipped in knowledge and spare parts to retrofit and restore its timepieces — and those of other houses they’ve produced for.
This should find resonance at a moment where interest in vintage items comes with sustainability in mind. Taking timepieces that are 80 years old and giving them a whole new life is “a beautiful message of timelessness,” said Rénier.
But the watchmaker had no plans to go further in the secondhand market for its contemporary pieces, considering that its collaboration with specialists Watchfinder covered that need, said the executive.
At launch, there will be 12 of the 17 models available on the dedicated platform, with new variations added as they come out of restoration, which can take up to a year, particularly if components need to be manufactured anew. Watch case and face are not touched, to keep intact the character of each piece.
Intended as “a very different experience to purchasing yourself on any other platform,” each watch will come with a new box, a new strap, a copy of The Collectibles book as well as an extract of the archive. Any material from the previous owner, be it the box or paperwork, will also be transmitted to the new one. A two-year warranty will also cover the timepieces.
The Collectibles will make its debut online and in Geneva before being showcased at Jaeger-LeCoultre boutiques around the world.
Prices in the initial selection will range from $16,300 for a Memovox Speed Beat GT to $60,000 for either a Geophysic or the Memovox Polaris models. Among the oldest models is the Duoplan Secret from 1935, priced at $41,200.