January 27, 2023
It’s no secret that the watch industry loves vintage designs. After years of growing interest in vintage watches and countless reissues and heritage pieces, a number of brands are now starting to dip their toes into the vintage market and sell restored classics from their own archives. The idea itself is hardly revolutionary; certified pre-owned programs exist in many different industries, and arguably no one is better equipped to properly restore a watch to its factory-intended specs than the manufacturer who originally built it. This is especially true when many brands more-or-less already do this on the after-sales service side of the industry. That said, there is something undeniably a bit special about being able to purchase a watch that is half a century old directly from the manufacturer who created it, and the latest brand to start selling vintage examples of its watches is Jaeger-LeCoultre, which just announced The Collectibles program.
Described as a capsule collection of emblematic vintage pieces that represent high water marks for both Jaeger-LeCoultre and 20th-century watchmaking, The Collectibles will be a continuously evolving selection of rare and highly sought-after vintage timepieces that will be offered alongside Jaeger-LeCoultre’s contemporary lineup. In addition to being fully serviced and restored, each of the watches sold as part of The Collectibles program will come with an extract from Jaeger-LeCoultre’s archives along with a complimentary copy of The Collectibles coffee-table book, which details 17 of the most significant models produced by Jaeger-LeCoultre during the “golden age” of 20th-century watchmaking. Additionally, while all of the watches will come fitted with fresh new straps, the original strap or bracelet plus the original box and papers will also be included (whenever available), which is a nice touch for collectors who are looking for a full-kit example of a specific vintage JLC model.
Among the first watches to be offered as part of The Collectibles program are a Geophysic, a Memovox Parking, a Master Mariner Deep Sea, and a Shark Deep Sea (among others), but Jaeger-LeCoultre has made it clear that additional models will be added in the future, and this continuously evolving collection will be a permanent offering in the brand’s catalog. In addition to having models available for purchase on the brand’s website, Jaeger-LeCoultre has also stated that The Collectibles program will consist of capsule collections that will travel around the world. While we do know that more models will be added in the future, there hasn’t been any mention of what timeline we might expect or how frequently new additions will be added to the collection. Additionally, since the watches sold as part of The Collectibles program are all single vintage examples, their availability will be exclusively determined by however long it takes someone to buy that one watch, which means that some have the potential to be quite fleeting offerings.
Before being sold as part of The Collectibles program, every single vintage watch is thoroughly vetted by Jaeger-LeCoultre’s own team of historical experts, in addition to being fully serviced and restored by the expert watchmakers who work in the manufacturer’s specialized restoration workshop. Currently consisting of ten highly experienced individuals, the restoration team has full access to the brand’s archives, which includes the blueprint for every single piece ever made. Whenever possible, original spare service components will be used in the service and restoration process. However, should no spare components be available, the restoration team’s watchmakers have all of the necessary materials and equipment to completely fabricate an entirely identical replacement component, due to the fact that Jaeger-LeCoultre is a fully-integrated manufacturer.
With that in mind, despite completely overhauling the watches featured in The Collectibles series from a mechanical perspective, Jaeger-LeCoultre has explicitly stated that restoration of the case and dial will be kept to an absolute minimum in order to preserve their historical nature. Since extensive cosmetic restorations are clearly not the objective here, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s heritage team will only seek out watches that are as close as possible to their original condition. This means that while they are all in pristine shape, the timepieces sold as part of The Collectibles program are still true vintage watches, rather than being historic models from the archives that are made entirely from modern-day service replacement components. The unique patina that naturally forms on a dial over the course of many decades is one of the main reasons why people enjoy vintage timepieces, and it’s nice to see that Jaeger-LeCoultre recognizes this and refrains from trying to make its vintage watches look completely brand-new again.
Heritage pieces and modern reinterpretations of vintage watches are fantastic, but sometimes collectors don’t want a vintage re-issue piece; they actually just want the true vintage original. While this isn’t always possible due to pricing or availability, programs like Jaeger-LeCoultre’s The Collectibles ultimately offer the best of both worlds, as the pieces themselves are guaranteed to be in top mechanical shape and above reproach when it comes to authenticity, yet they still are true vintage watches and have the wonderful intangible character that accompanies something that has existed for half a century. At the time of writing, prices for the various watches featured in Jaeger-LeCoultre’s The Collectibles series range from $16,300 to $60,000 USD, and they are generally quite a bit more expensive than what it would take to purchase the same vintage model from most third-party sources. That said, you can’t really compare one of these fully restored and vetted watches from The Collectibles program to a random vintage watch with an unknown service history, and it’s reasonable to say that the timepieces being sold as part of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s The Collectibles program are some of the finest examples of their respective references that are currently available. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.