Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg
Vintage Watch

Is This the Very First Jaeger-LeCoultre Watch Ever Made?

An unassuming watch could well be a missing piece of horological history.

Jaeger-LeCoultre is a key member of the pantheon of modern watchmakers, producing a healthy mix of easy to wear pieces, high complications, and gem-set watches, almost entirely in-house. This tiny perpetual calendar may be the first watch it ever made.

Antoine LeCoultre opened his eponymous watch manufacture in 1833 in the Swiss village of Le Sentier, itself founded by a member of the LeCoultre family in the 15th century. French watchmaker Edmond Jaeger didn't enter the picture until the turn of the 20th century, when he began licensing his designs for ultra-thin movements and for the legendary Atmos clock to LeCoultre. Eventually it made sense for the two to join forces, and Jaeger-LeCoultre was born in 1937.

This might actually be the very first watch branded Jaeger-LeCoultre.

This could be the first watch branded Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

In the company's official history, a footnote mentions a unique watch made around 1937 to celebrate the merger. All we know for sure is that it was a piece-unique rectangular calendar watch. When the perpetual calendar watch now being offered showed up at the Fellows auction house in London, the specialist popped open the caseback and realized that it was probably the historic watch.

First things first: There is no way to prove that this is the watch, unless Jaeger-LeCoultre officially confirms it. The company will have kept the original watch's movement and case numbers in its archive, along with notes on the watch's appearance and features. While the brand has not commented on this watch's history, it has confirmed that it is genuinely unique and in proper order. The watch comes with an official certificate (an "archive extract" in watch parlance) from Jaeger-LeCoultre.

You can clearly see the brand's signature on the movement, even though the dial has no branding at all.

You can see the brand's signature on the movement, although the dial has no branding whatsoever.

Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

The watch itself is small, solid gold. It has a rectangular shape with an arched crystal over the top. Packed onto the dial are day-of-the-week, date, and month indicators, in addition to the large seconds dial with the moonphase tucked in the middle. No brand name is marked; only the words "perpetual calendar" curve across the top. On removing the caseback, you see the lozenge-shaped movement (based on the movement in the original Reverso) engraved with the bold Jaeger-LeCoultre signature.

During the period leading to World War II, almost no one was making perpetual calendar watches. There are a handful from that era, from a few brands such as Breguet and Patek Philippe, but they are exceedingly rare.

Then comes the strange complication name on the dial—that it's in English indicates that this was probably for the UK or U.S. markets—and the name of the newly formed brand hidden on the movement. Whether or not this is the merger watch, it's a special watch.

At first glance, you might not realize this watch is anything special at all.

At first glance, you might not realize that this watch is special.

Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

You're probably wondering at this point why Jaeger-LeCoultre confirms that this is watch is real and unique but won't confirm or deny that it's the special 1937 piece. The answer is simple: The company probably wants this important piece of Jaeger-LeCoultre history. If it hopes to acquire the watch for the company museum, it would be a bad idea to tell the world of its value before the bidding is resolved. Whatever the truth, I'd wager we'll find out after the hammer falls.

This unique Jaeger-LeCoultre perpetual calendar, possibly of historic import, is Lot 168 in Fellows's Dec. 1 sale in London. It carries an estimate of £15,000 to £20,000 (approximately $22,850 to $30,465). 

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