You Are There: Jaeger-LeCoultre Hits Rodeo Drive With Heritage Display In New Boutique
One of my highlights of Watches and Wonders 2022 was renewing a longstanding tradition of visiting the Jaeger-LeCoultre booth to see the year’s new introductions. It was great to be back! I thought JLC had a very solid showing this year, including one of my favorites of the year so far, the Rendez-Vous Star with its whimsical star traversing the heavens across the top of the dial at seemingly random intervals.
As is also traditional for me, I wore a watch from the brand to our meeting: in this case my 1950s Futurematic “Jumbo” in stainless steel with its “bumper” automatic winding system that gives a satisfying clunk each time the wrist is turned and the weighted hammer inside swings to one end or the other of its arc, adding power to the mainspring.
As it turns out, that was a fortunate choice on my part as it gained me an invitation to drop down to Los Angeles a few weeks later for the opening of the brand’s Rodeo Drive boutique and a promised “special surprise” that turned out to be a lovely exhibit of heritage pieces drawn from Jaeger-LeCoultre’s vault.
One small move for the boutique, one giant step for Jaeger-LeCoultre
JLC has had a retail presence in Beverly Hills for quite a while now on the so-called “Richemont Row” of small retail shops that extends down a side street off Rodeo Drive behind the Cartier boutique. The new location is perhaps 100 yards away and still occupies a relatively narrow swath of sidewalk but is considerably deeper and more lavishly appointed than the former shop and, of course, benefits from the prestige and natural foot traffic flow its Rodeo Drive address confers. To my way of thinking, it also sends an important signal about JLC’s intent to complete its transition from what I’ll characterize as a value-priced innovator to being a fully credible high-luxury brand.
That doesn’t mean that JLC is abandoning its heritage, though – as we’ll see, if anything the brand is taking steps to remind existing and prospective retail customers of its fabled status as the “watchmaker’s watchmaker.”
I didn’t want to be the first to arrive, but I needn’t have feared: by the time I showed up 10 minutes into the scheduled event the room was already jammed with JLC fans and followers. As you can see in the photo above, it’s a fairly traditional watch retail space, with discussions taking place across counters and desks rather than on sofas and in private nooks but is still welcoming and provides ample opportunities to see and handle watches.
It also includes clever features such as a “strap bar” that allows round and rectangular Jaeger-LeCoultre watches to be slid on rails, with potential strap choices positioned on each side to give a sense of what each strap will look like when mounted on the watch.
One sign of the importance JLC places on its newest location was the presence at the event of both Americas chief Anne-Laure Ritter and Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Catherine Rénier, both of whom mingled with the group and gave short welcoming addresses stressing the importance of the boutique as a gathering place for enthusiasts.
Soon enough, I was able to make my way to the compact but impressive display of vintage and neo-vintage watches that led to my invitation in the first place, and I was not disappointed. First up, as you might imagine, was a 1950s Futurematic with the same functionality as mine but quite different dial aesthetics including characteristic “porthole” apertures for the power reserve and seconds indications and a futuristic (at least for the 1950s) Futurematic logo. It was fun to compare my piece with this one before moving on to the rest of the exhibit.
The center (and center of attention) of the display was a set of three gorgeous enamel-dialed pocket watches, starting with a calendar watch with retrograde date hand along with a day of the week indicator visible deep within an oval aperture in the dial.
I particularly liked the clean look that the retrograde date display gave the dial, and the Sun on the date hand was killer, too.
Next up was the first of two repeating perpetual calendars, this one with an outer scale dividing each minute into 300 sectors of one-fifth second each. This seemed to indicate a chronograph complication, but as with the other watches on display a full catalogue of features and elements such as the specific ebauches used and case- and dial makers is not yet available.
The third pocket watch unfortunately showed a bit of crazing on the enamel dial but was nonetheless a lovely example of a repeating perpetual calendar that I’d take any day.
More recent pieces included a very interesting Memovox world timer and a Shark Deep Sea, each with some interesting choices of locations to represent some time zones and several archaic spellings. Seeing how something as “timeless” as a watch can at the same time reveal the era of its origin is one of the more interesting elements of vintage pieces for me, and world timers are one class of watches in which the clues are quite evident.
There were several other relatively rare JLC pieces on display in the case including some limited-edition Reversos from the 1990s, but the final heritage display piece I’ll feature here is something I’ve never seen before: a Jaeger-LeCoultre complete calendar with a black dial and red highlights. The triple calendar is of course a traditional complication for JLC that we’ve seen from them in multiple forms, but there was something about this example with its teardrop lugs, black dial, and colorful and patinaed markings that I found mesmerizing.
Chiming in and meeting friends
Given the vintage theme of the evening, I didn’t arrive empty-handed but came prepared to contribute to the fun with several Jaeger-LeCoultre pieces from my wife’s and my collections.
Shown from left above, they included a first-generation Géographique in yellow gold that I bought new at the Brussels airport in the 1990s, my Futurematic, a limited-edition (one of 500 made) Reverso Répétition Minutes in pink gold, one of two prototype JLC watches from the 1970s that I bought as part of a pair, and my wife’s charming LeCoultre dress watch in white gold. As with many enthusiast gatherings, once people started opening their watch rolls and emptying their pockets things became much more animated!
Some of the cooler vintage items brought by others included a his-and-hers pair of dramatically shaped dress watches, the “his” example shown above, and a delightful shaped small Memovox pocket watch (the alarm arrow is partially hidden behind the hour hand in the image) with its original fitted leather pouch.
In addition to the full line of Jaeger-LeCoultre watches from the current catalogue on display, collectors brought some very tasty contemporary pieces along to share as well. It was my first chance to see the Reverso Tribute Nonantième in the metal, and it certainly makes a statement with its significant size and unconventional hour, minute, and day/night displays.
And as far as striking (pun intended) watches are concerned, it was hard to beat one attendee’s perpetual calendar minute repeater with vivid blue dial.
Time will tell whether JLC is successful in completing its march up-market with continued updates to its product lineup, including an array of major complications, and changes to its market strategy with initiatives like the Rodeo Drive boutique. But they certainly seem to have a plan in place and are working hard to put all the building blocks in place.
For me, doubling down on the Manufacture’s heritage seems an obvious leverage point and an area in which the modest beginning I saw on Rodeo Drive can be multiplied many times over. I could always be wrong, but I don’t see Jaeger-LeCoultre becoming a lifestyle-centered brand; its strengths lay in a product-first strategy and market positioning, and the wealth of historical calibers and references at JLC’s disposal provides a rare asset that can, and should, be a cornerstone of the brand’s storytelling, customer engagement, and community-building for decades to come.
You may also enjoy: