What defines a 1970s dress watch? Is it about lavish materials, impeccable textures or delicate finishing? It appears that during that era the time-telling function of the (dress) watch is only a secondary dimension. The overall design is what matters and shouldn't be distracted by something as profane as time. Never before have we seen so many fancy bezel styles, artisanal bracelets and avantgarde shapes solidified into the foundation of the watchmaking genre of subtle sophistication. It's breaking with convention, a revolution of the classic idea we typically just call - The Dress Watch.
October 18, 2023
Jaeger-LeCoultre - Watchmaker of Vacheron Constantin
Marcus Siems @siemswatches
Collector, Author, Data Analyst
To start off on the right foot: This is an appreciation blog about Jaeger-LeCoultre and one of the greatest watchmaking collaborations of the 20th Century with Vacheron Constantin. Today we think that everything needs to be built in-house - including the movement - but some 50 years ago specialization was still the norm and not the exception.
It's Jaeger-LeCoultre ("The Watchmaker Watchmaker") and Vacheron Constantin (Part of the "Holy Trinity") that together made some of the most spectacular time-only watches (imho). Jaeger-LeCoultre specialized on providing cutting edge base movements (or ebauches) and Vacheron Constantin finished, encased and distributed these remarkable dress watches.
Some of the most mesmerizing mid-Century designs come from Vacheron Constantin and feature a Jaeger-LeCoultre movement. For example this Disco Volante (ref. 4786) with Clous De Paris bezel and cal. 466 (based on JLC cal. 819). Photos from Goldammer Archives.
This collaboration probably started already in the late 1920s[1-2] and lasted well into the 1990s when the Richemont Group acquired Vacheron Constantin. And we need to keep in mind that JLC didn't just provide some movements but rather almost the entirety of Vacheron's output! Which also helped to increase VC's early wristwatch production by about a tenfold. In sum, for over half a Century this fruitful collaboration enabled some of the most unique dress watch designs?
To better understand this relationship and give everyone a peak behind the curtain of the watch industry of the last Century we wanted to catalogue* the JLC ebauches that Vacheron refined and housed in their time-only dress watches[2,4-5].
1960 Vacheron Constantin advertorial: "The prestige of Vacheron Constantin watches rests on their individual character and their uncompromising level of finishing of each movement"... That's the VC dictum - make it your own. Photo Courtesy of HIFI Archiv Werbung.
1) Manually Wound Movements
We'll divide this list into manually wound and automatic watches and take a closer look separately. Overall, we find at least ten distinct Jaeger-LeCoultre manually wound movements that were bought and refined by Vacheron. Different levels of refinement/modulation are often referred by a dash after the movement identifier - for example with caliber 1003 we find: /1 (brass, 17 jewels), /2 (brass, 18 jewels), /3 (gold caliber, 18 jewels). Or caliber 453: /2C (17 jewels, declined rim), /3B (17 jewels), and /3BW (18 jewels, Superchoc).
Examples of manually wound Vacheron Constantin movements - based on JLC abauches - from the last Century. Ordered approximately by age from left to right. Center-Second for cal. 454 & cal. 466; 2-hander for cal. 1003 & cal. 1015; ultra-thin cal. 1001 & cal. 1003. Photos from Goldammer Archives.
- when reading on mobile device: please rotate your phone -
|RA 10'" 105||sub-second||22.5m||1924-40s
|452||sub-second||28.8 x 4m||1930s
|453||sub-second||28.8 x 4mm||1942-57
|454||center-second||28.8 x 5mm||1942-57||JLC 449
|1007||sub-second (Chronometer)||28.8 x 5mm||1953-60s||JLC 453|
|1008||center-second (Chronometer)||28.8 x 5mm||1953-60s||JLC 454|
|458||sub-second||20 x 3mm||1940s-1960s||JLC 818(?)|
|1001||sub-second||20 x 3mm||1950s-70s||JLC 818|
|1014||sub-second||20 x 3mm||1970s-1990s||JLC 818|
|466||center-second||20 x 4mm||1940s-1960s||JLC 819(?)|
|1002||center-second||20 x 4mm||1950s-70s||JLC 819|
|1003||2-hand||21 x 1.6mm||1955-today||JLC 839/849|
|1015||2-hand||21 x 2mm||1950s-70s||JLC 895|
Table 1. Overview over the most common manually wound Vacheron Constantin time-only movements and their JLC ebauche.
2) Automatic Movements
Due to patent restrictions the first automatic Vacheron Constantin in 1951 - the cal. 477 (base JLC 476) - was a bumper movement. Only in 1954 did VC (& JLC) introduce their first full-rotor movement with the cal. 498/499 (JLC 493). Generally we can isolate at least 4 distinct movement generations (based on JLC 476, JLC 493, JLC 920 & JLC 906) over a total of 10 VC calibers.
Examples of automatic Vacheron Constantin movements - based on JLC abauches - from the last Century. Bumper Automatic cal. 477; cal. 1019 & cal. 1071/72 based on same JLC generation (JLC 493); Ultra-Thin cal. 1120. Photos from Goldammer Archives.
- when reading on mobile device: please rotate your phone -
|477||center-second, bumper||27mm||1951-today||JLC 476|
|1072||center-second, date||21mm||1960s-80s||JLC 493|
|1120||center-second||26 x 2.5mm||1967-today||JLC 920|
|1121/22||center-second, date||26 x 3mm||1970-today||JLC 920|
|1096||center-second, date, chronometer||28 x 4.6mm||1973-75||JLC 906|
Table 2. Overview over the most common automatic Vacheron Constantin time-only movements and their JLC ebauche.
3) Conclusion of a Legacy
What do we make out of this? Well, it proves to show that collaboration and ex-house production can go hand in hand with great quality and stunning design. When it comes to Vacheron Constantin they wouldn't be same company today if it wouldn't have been for Jaeger-LeCoultre. This 20th Century joint-venture between two of the most influential watch companies has proven to be the origin of many special timepieces. This trusted partnership brought excellence in both design and technology... when Haute Couture meets Haute Horlogerie.
Great design enabled by cutting edge (JLC) technology. Case and point by this beautiful 1950s Vacheron Constantin with Teardrop Lugs and inner minute track. Photos from Goldammer Archives.
We adore Vacheron Constantin for this symbiosis. And what we shouldn't forget is that there has been a very high level of craftsmanship on Vacheron's end as well. Jaeger-LeCoultre provided the movements but VC modulated, finished and decorated the ebauches to an extremely high standard - really making the most out of their resources! Or to paraphrase a 1960s advertorial:
vintage Vacheron Constantin timepieces have a "unique character and [an] uncompromising level of finishing".
And that's the grand watchmaking legacy of 20th Century Vacheron Constantin.
* This is a first and non-exhaustive list. We tried to make it as complete as possible and will implement every information we have missed so far. So please let us know in the comments!
 Jaeger-LeCoultre and the US market - Part 1; Blomman Watch Report;
 Collector Guide Vacheron Constantin Time-Only Movements of the 20th Century - A Complete Catalog of Serially-Produced Large-Format Round Calibers; Allen Farmelo, Beyond The Dial;
 Opinion - Stop the "In-House" Frenzy; Marcus Siems, Goldammer Vintage Watches;
 Vacheron Constantin Kaliber; UhrenWiki;
 Faszination Uhrwerk; Antonios Vassiliadis;
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