Vintage JLC - An Untapped Goldmine
Vintage Jaeger Le-Coultres are some of the greatest watches of their era, and they are truly undervalued despite the rising vintage market. It is difficult to find a period in which JLC has had a slip-up in terms of quality. This is even more evident when you compare them to other respected brands in the mid-century.
Jaeger-LeCoultre casemaking, for example, is excellent and comparable to modern quality and precision, despite the lack of CNC machines. I once had the opportunity to compare a vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso as well as a Memovox to a Zenith chronometer of the same era. To be honest, the JLC’s blew the Zenith out-of-the-world in terms of quality. (Oops, that’s one less potential advertiser!) Vintage JLC cases are almost always inspired design-wise, and the original finishing is superb. It is hard to find quality casemaking in vintage watches, especially outside “Holy Trinity” circles.
Moreover, vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre generally feature sublime dial quality. The furnishings are well-polished across a range of JLC watches I’ve seen, and the printing is crisp. It is strange that some people will ignore general quality in favor of originality and condition. Originality and condition are crucial and mandatory, but what is a “clean” watch without quality in the first place?
There is no doubt as to the quality of the Jaeger-LeCoultre movements. They aren’t dubbed the “watchmaker’s watchmaker” for no reason. Many of the movements you can find in vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre are featured in Patek Philippes, Vacheron Constantins, or Audemars Piguets, albeit to a higher degree of finishing.
Another point worth mentioning is the design. Many vintage watches found on eBay look the same — the classic, petite dress-watch with nothing particularly interesting about it. This doesn't hold true with the majority of Jaeger-LeCoultres. In fact, you can easily find watches still continued today such as the Memovox, Reverso, Wrist-Alarm, etc. Many vintage JLC dress watches are quite reminiscent of the current “Master” lines.
Even if this article inspires you to hunt for some vintage JLC, there is a catch! You have to find the right watch! Patience goes a long way; both in hunting for originality/condition and in saving up for what you really want. If you desire a Memovox in excellent condition, don’t settle for one in poor condition. You should also be wary of the usual stuff — unoriginality, franken-watches, condition issues, etc. If you are smart about purchasing, you can get a fantastic watch from. 2-5 grand.