Watch fans making the pilgrimage to Switzerland to see where the magic happens will have to add one more “must-visit” to their itineraries, as Jaeger-LeCoultre has just announced the opening of its own Heritage Gallery in Le Sentier – a new interactive museum experience that celebrates the venerable Swiss maison‘s 184-year legacy as the “watchmaker’s watchmaker.”
While there’s certainly no shortage of interesting, historically significant watchmakers inside Swiss borders, there aren’t many that actually expend significant resources to preserve their history for future generations to appreciate. Sure, it’s a form of marketing, but there’s still a pretty considerable difference of intent between simply marketing one’s history, and preserving it. The former might help sell watches now, but the latter is a critical means of self-preservation – not just for the brand, but the industry as a whole, which ultimately lives and dies on historical provenance, not practicality. The Omega Museum in Bienne, the IWC Museum in Schaffhausen, and the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva are each noteworthy examples of brands that take this preservation seriously, and thus excellent stops for any seasoned watch fan. It may come as a surprise that despite Jaeger-LeCoultre’s vast contributions to watchmaking, the brand has had no public-facing museum until now.
The museum itself is situated within Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Vallée de Joux manufacture in Le Sentier – a picturesque village with a population that barely eclipses 3,000 people, nestled on Switzerland’s western border with France. Our first trip to JLC’s headquarters was an impressionable one indeed, with Ariel calling it “one of the most impressive watch manufactories” he’d ever visited. Lofty words, but there aren’t many vertically integrated brands in watchmaking who make virtually every component of their watches, soup to nuts. And not only has JLC been at the forefront of the “in-house renaissance,” they’ve quietly been a movement and knowledge resource for many other brands in the industry for the better part of the last century.
The guided tour of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Heritage Gallery offers significant proof of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s unique role in horological history, as it includes stops at the brand’s archives; a veritable library of carefully preserved registers, documents, and antique books never before seen by the public. There are also physical vintage movements here, and examples of fully built competitor watches utilizing Jaeger-LeCoultre movements, including a Patek Philippe pocket watch, working proof that JLC’s role as a “watchmaker to the watchmakers” has been in place since even its earliest days.
As the tour delves deeper into the Jaeger-LeCoultre Heritage Gallery, before being introduced to some 340 of JLC’s 1,200 calibers on display, visitors are escorted through projections of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s many achievements and innovations throughout the years, including the groundbreaking millionometre (an instrument for measuring a micron) invented by in 1844 by Antoine LeCoultre, the thermal/atmosphere-powered Atmos clock, as well as Art Deco icons like the Reverso and more recent mid-century modern successes like the Geophysic.
The tour concludes with a stop at perhaps the most literal example of preservation that could possibly be illustrated for this, or any other watch brand: Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Restoration Workshop. Here, watchmakers work to fully restore examples dating from the late 1920s to the late 1980s – and even original LeCoultre watches dating to the late 19th century, back for another pass over these workbenches. However, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s commitment to restoration is somewhat unique, in that the brand will manufacture, to original spec, any currently unavailable movement or case component required to fully restore a vintage example to working order.
It probably bears repeating that you don’t have to know how to correctly pronounce “Jaeger-LeCoultre” in its native French for an up-close look at this venerable maison’s impressive contributions to both the past and the future of watchmaking. If you’re interested in finding more information on the Jaeger-LeCoultre Heritage Gallery’s openings, tours and more, you can check it out on their site. jaeger-lecoultre.com.