With vintage watches you will never run out of interesting stories to tell. Like, have you heard of the Jaeger-only chronograph? Did you know about the one where a brand merged with another but kept selling watches under their former name? And the best part is that they were collaborating with even more Swiss suppliers... Let me introduce you to the story of the Jaeger chronograph watches from the 1930s, 40s and 50s...
June 14, 2023
Jaeger Only Chronographs - LeCoultre's French Connection
Marcus Siems @siemswatches
Collector, Author, Data Analyst
With vintage watches you will never run out of interesting stories to tell. Did you know about the one where a brand merged with another but kept selling watches under their former name? And the best part is that they were collaborating with even more Swiss suppliers... Let me introduce you to the story of the Jaeger chronograph watches from the 1930s, 40s and 50s...
The watches and wonders of vintage... A Jaeger - without LeCoultre - signed chronograph from the 1940s. Photo @Goldammer.me.
From a modern standpoint, there's one question that immediately arises: Brand recognition is kinda everything... so why on earth would you stamp a different name on your dial? Or even like here, just parts of the name? For Jaeger-LeCoultre we can find both "simplified" signatures - Jaeger and LeCoultre only. Long story short JLC marked their chronograph pieces for the French domestic market "Jaeger" only.
1) Jaeger the French
Now let's unwind this a tad more. Looking into the history of the brand we see that it was originally founded in 1833 by monsieur Antoine LeCoultre in a small farm house in the Valle de Joux[1-2]. No Jaeger in sight yet.
We do see that the LeCoultre-only branding did exist too... but that's a different story you can find right here.
The name Jaeger, in the form of monsieur Edmund Jaeger, came into play only in 1903. In the beginnings LeCoultre produced mainly movements but no complete watches. Edmund Jaeger on the other hand was a Parisian watchmaker and not just anyone. He was assigned the horologer de l’etat (state-appointed watchmaker). In other words he was one the most influential figures in French watchmaking circles and the entry ticket for LeCoultre to the big-boy table.
LeCoultre started to finally become an independent watchmaking brand - and yes it was still only LeCoultre. Jaeger and LeCoultre were collaboratively releasing the same watches under their respective names until 1937[1-2]. So over 30 years after the relationship started they finally merged into one company.
Handling a 1940s Jaeger vintage chronograph... from movement to dial to beautiful.
2) The name that stuck
Nevertheless, "Jaeger" only watches don't fully disappear after 1937. Actually you'll see watches and mechanical instruments with the Jaeger signature well into the 1980s (even though chronograph watches were most prevalent until the 1950s). The reason is - to some extent - still brand recognition. Bear with me.
Edmund Jaeger was a famous and renowned watchmaker. Working together with Cartier and the likes he and his brand were extremely well suited to sell to and on the French market. A win-win situation to keep the name going.
vintage advertorial from the 1930s for Jaeger Aeronautical Instruments. Photo Courtesy of HIFI archives.
But it's of course also a bit more complicated. France, as well as many other countries at the time, were having high import tariffs for certain goods and watches were one of them. Thus, manufacturing within France for the French market was a strong financial advantage.
3) Universal Geneve, Martel and more names involved
However, that's not were the collaborations stop. At the heart of these chronograph watches is no JLC movement ticking away but arguably one of the most important chronograph movements of the last Century: the Universal Geneve caliber 285 (launched 1932), the first chronograph wristwatch with the two-button (two column-wheel) setup and two sub-dials... the modern Chronograph layout if you want.
Readily stamped as Jaeger and well visible is the cal. 285 stamp right underneath.
However, Universal Geneve may not even have been the source behind that movement. Lore has it that a small company called Martel actually conceived the technology[5-6]. Their caliber 749 was the invention that was passed on to UG... and consequently to Jaeger, too. As an interesting side note, Zenith was probably involved in the conception of all of these movements and bought Martel finally in 1958.
4) A French flavor, yet international
Sooo we have established Jaeger's were predominantly made for the French domestic market, right? Well if we have a closer look at the add I put up just a few paragraphs earlier we can see a very interesting little detail down at the bottom of this ad:
The same Jaeger Aeronautical Timepieces 1938 advertorial from above... Zooming in on the bottom of the page we can clearly see how these timepieces were retailed by Jaeger Watch Co. in New York City, USA. "Timepiece Supplier to the Master Builders of the Motorcar World. Photo Courtesy of HIFI.
"Jaeger Watch Co. - New York" ... like in the NY in the USA. Supplying timepieces to the master builders of the motorcar world. That's indeed a very telling advertorial as it proves to show that the Jaeger was definitely used outside of France. Taking a closer look at our specimen displays the same international roots:
Our Jaeger piece does not only show a special signature at the top but another one at the bottom. This timepiece was originally sold by Astrua from Torino, Italy, an esteemed jewelry and watch retailer since 1860. Photo @Goldammer.me.
Our particular Jaeger chronograph in rose gold was sold by Astrua... a retailer of fine jewelry and watches from Torino - Italy - founded already in 1860.
5) The conclusion
Overall, we can see that the story about the "Jaeger" brand is far from straight forward but let's put all the puzzle pieces together... 1) We got a brand that still existed and produced watches after it merged with LeCoultre in 1937. 2) A brand that had a historically strong standing as being one of The manufacturers for Haute Horologie in France. 3) The produced pieces after the merger consisted mainly of mechanical instruments and chronograph watches - with movements that didn't even come from their movement manufacturing partner. 4) Those pieces were still exported outside of France too and ultimately must have competed with JLC watches to an overlapping clientel.
No matter vintage or modern - watches are made to wear! Cheers.
Or in other words - what a piece of horological history... If you ever seem to run out of conversation at a watch get-together, wear one of these Jaeger timepieces and you will entertain the vintage hungry crowd for hours...
 Manufacture since 1833 - The history of Jaeger-LeCoultre; Jaeger-LeCoultre;
 Jaeger-LeCoultre & the US Market; Marcus Siems, Goldammer VIntage Watches;
 Jaeger Chronograph Cal. 285 18ct. Pink Gold 1945; Vintage Gold Watches;
 History - Universal Geneve; Mr. A, Universal Geneve Info;
 An introduction to the Zenith caliber 146 through a steely A271; Anthony Traina, Rescapement;
 A Short History of Martel Watch Co and Zenith; Sempervivens, WatchUSeek
All Rights on the text and graphics reserved to the Author.