So, in this third part of my reports on the Jaeger-LeCoultre and the U.S. market, we have finally reached the watches.
Yes, watches are always the most fun part!
Here a very typical example of a LeCoultre watch during the 1950’s and 1960’s – the LeCoultre reference 3041 Memovox, you can read a more detailed report on the watch here: LeCoultre 3041 Memovox.
The 3041 is a watch with Swiss made movement which were imported into the U.S. as a movement, dial and hands only.
Once in the U.S. the movement got time and assembled into a local manufactured case, here also very typical for the time, a 34.5 mm, 14 Karat gold filled case.
Who decided design and case material I do not know, but I would guess LeCoultre U.S. based on the facts that:
A) The design is very different from what was manufactured at the same time in Europe for the same movements. (I write Europe and not Switzerland as we know that there were local differences between markets with in Europe as well). Often smaller, thinner and thinner lugs.
B) Gold filled cases are not often seen in Europe at this point, but it was quite common in the U.S.
One of the brands manufacturing cases for LeCoultre watches was the Schwab & Wuispard Case Company, “S&W”* which can be seen on the inside of the case back after “10K GOLD FILLED”.
Not only was the cases in different design and material, often they were rather thin in the material. One could think that was a way to cut down costs by using less material, but the cases was also smaller than you would normally see in Europe.
Sizes under 35 mm, often 33 mm – 34 mm, are still popular in the U.S. during the 1960’s while in Europe, the average diameter of a watch are often 35 mm or more.
One or T.W.O millimetres difference doesn’t sound that much, but on a watch we all know that it is…
Here is another example, with a case very similar to the 3041 – the LeCoultre Quartermaster, the only true 24 h movement wrist watch as far as I am aware from Jaeger-LeCoultre, the Calibre K 831/CW.
As mentioned, LeCoultre watches had imported movements fitted into locally made cases. (With a few exceptions like the Deep Sea Alarm, the Polaris and Chronometers which were imported as complete watches).
Reason for this was that the import tax were based on all components of a watch at import. For example, if over 17 jewels in the movement would render a higher tax rate than if 17 or under. Detailed information can be found in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States.
That is why most U.S. sold Swiss watches from this time period have 17 jewels even if the same movement had more jewels in the European version. Same thing, if adjusted or unadjusted.
Here is a shot of how the movements was shipped, photo credit: GregB.
Inside each metal box is a complete movement with mounted dial and hands.
How to recognise a U.S. imported movement: Each Swiss manufacture had their movements marked with a specific U.S. import code.
If we look at the four; Longines-Wittnauer – Vacheron & Constantin – LeCoultre. Longines = LXW, Wittnauer = AXA and Vacheron & Constantin – LeCoultre shared VXN. Why Vacheron & Constantin – LeCoultre shared code I suspect have with the ownership relation of the manufacture in Switzerland…
Here on the Calibre K 814 of the 3041 the “VXN” is located on the arm holding the balance wheel. Clearly stated are also the “17 jewels” and the “unadjusted”.
Some sources say that these U.S. import codes were in use up until 1975, but from my observations, Jaeger-LeCoultre did not use to mark all their movements already in 1969/1970.
U.S. market branding: Not only were U.S. market Jaeger-LeCoultre watches named LeCoultre on the dial and movement, LeCoultre also had their own crown markings and buckles.
Here is an example of the “LeC” crown. Not sure exactly when this type of crown was used, but sometimes between end 1950’s and early 1960’s, later to be replaced with the normal “JL” crown.
Here a typical LeCoultre buckle, signed on the inside of the buckle.
Yes, the LeCoultre U.S. market watches are like a universe of its own… Hard to find solid facts, but a lot of indications of what was gong on “over there” in the 1950’s and 1960’s…
Stay tuned as I will soon continue!
* Edit note: S&W inside a rectangle is the mark of Schwab & Wuispard Case Company, not Star Watch Case Company. Thank you to @vintage_watch_longines for the input.
Both Schwab & Wuispard Case Company and Star Watch Case Company made cases for LeCoultre watches in the U.S. market.