Jaeger-LeCoultre and the U.S. market: the U.S. reference system, part 1

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Previously I have started to describe some of the different reference systems that Jaeger-LeCoultre have been using through the years.

This report will focus on the U.S. reference system, or actually – case code system and the reasons for different systems and the challenges collectors will face…

Most likely the Vacheron & Constantin – LeCoultre Watches Inc had a central reference system to keep track of all different references. Problem is that so far no one has been able to find such information…

Documentation and reference material are hard to find – what’s left are all the watches which are on the market. Through them it is possible to back track and draw a picture…

As you know, I have started to report about different Jaeger-LeCoultre U.S. market references here. It’s a bit hard to see a pattern so far – so many different variations of references exists…

While working this topic, I remembered that some five years ago, I picked up some Longines – Wittnauer documents and I also remember seeing LeCoultre mentioned in these documents…

After a deep dive into some of my drawers I found the document I was looking for: Longines – Wittnauer – LeCoultre Case Code Catalogue: purpose for this catalogue is to identify crown and crystal to go with a specific case.

Longines – Wittnauer – LeCoultre Case Code Catalogue

When I received these documents, I only briefly looked at them before they ended up in a pile of other documents… In my Longines drawer – that’s why I didn’t think about this document earlier!

Anyway, this is a great starting point – looking into the document there are several references I recognise, like the “625” I reported about last summer: LeCoultre Mystery dial

Reference 625-688, Calibre K 480/CW, ca. 1959, case made by “D&A” – DiVincenzo & Arienti Watch Case Company.

D&A uses both a case code (625-688) and a case number (nnnnnn).

DiVincenzo & Arienti Watch Case Company – 625

DiVincenzo & Arienti Watch Case Company, made several different cases for all three brands.

Here is another example of a LeCoultre watch with DiVincenzo & Arienti case – the LeCoultre Baron.

Calibre “L” = Longines, “LeC” = LeCoultre and “W” = Wittnauer.

Longines – Wittnauer – LeCoultre Case Code Catalogue – 625

What can be seen here is that the case code is not a unique key shared by all three brands, actually not even within the same brand – if you look, 625 have one LeCoultre Calibre, LeC-480 and T.W.O different Wittnauer Calibres listed, W-5D and W- 11BG.

This indicates that the code is not unique for the combination of Calibre and Case which normally is the base for a unique reference.

The case code is only identifying the case itself and as we know there are several movements which share the same measurements and crown positioning which would make it easy to have the same case for, let’s say one sub-seconds watch and one central seconds watch or a Memovox with date and a Memovox without date.

Why would the U.S. market have this system while the Swiss reference system is per unique combination of Calibre and Case?

Remember my earlier report, U.S. market, part 3, where I pointed out that in most cases, movements were imported into the U.S. without a watch case due to taxes?

This way LeCoultre in the U.S. could order a stock of a specific calibre and only later decide for how many different watch cases they would use the calibre, or vice versa, order different cases which could fit several different Calibres and only later chose with Calibre to use.

This is only my interpretation, I have no hard facts to back this up with but several indications which I will elaborate in reports going forward

Looking closer into this document I can also see that there are several references missing…

Based on the references in the list, my guess is that this document is from 1969-1970 and that it only contain case codes from some of the case manufacturers that Longines – Wittnauer – LeCoultre used in the U.S..

Anyway, this is a great starting point – here is another example, the 2406 I reported about earlier this summer: Jaeger-LeCoultre 390 / LeCoultre 2406.

Reference 2406, Calibre 438/4CW, ca. 1961-1962, case made by the Star Watch Case Company.

Star Watch Case Company – 2406

The Star Watch Case Company also uses both a case code (2406) and a case number (nnnnnnn).

From observations, I don’t think the case numbers is a joint number series between the different case makers. More likely, each case company had their own number series.

Longines – Wittnauer – LeCoultre Case Code Catalogue – 2406

So far it’s rather straight forward – one code for the case type, one number for the unique case.

But all case companies did not use case numbers, like this example – “L&K” – Lutringer & Kammerer Case Company.

Reference 8661, Calibre 438/4CW, ca. 1935-1936. Here is only a case code, no case number. That is why I find it very unlikely that the case number series was shared between the different case companies that LeCoultre used in the U.S…

In the document list there is a big gap of case codes, between 8501 and 9001 which makes me believe that all L&K cases are not included in the list.

Lutringer & Kammerer Case Company – 8661

There is also an issue of same case code used for different cases within the same brand.

Here is a “S&W” – Schwab & Wuischpard Case Company made case, reference 3041, ca. 1963-1964, Calibre K 814.

Schwab & Wuischpard Case Company – 3041

Now looking into the list again, we find 3041 LeC-840.

The Calibre 840 is a small shaped ladies watch movement while the Calibre K 814 is a rather large round Memovox movement. Either there is a typo or there are several types of cases with the same code 3041 within LeCoultre!

Most likely is that all S&W cases are not included in the list and that some other case company also made a different case with the same code, 3041.

Longines – Wittnauer – LeCoultre Case Code Catalogue – 3041

In this report I showed only four examples of different case companies used by LeCoultre – there were several more companies that was used by LeCoultre during the period 1930’s – 1960’s.

The reason for using different case companies one can only speculate in… Changed over time? In parallel to push down prices? Different companies used for different type of cases? Or because non of the case companies had the capacity to deliver all?

So, yes – this is start in trying to uncover the LeCoultre reference system in the U.S., but still a lot of unknown and unexplained…

Will elaborate more on this topic going forward – stay tuned!