Watches I Love by Tim Mosso – Part 2: The Jaeger-LeCoultre Years
by Tim Mosso
This is a sequential reminisce, so if you haven’t read “Watches I’ve Loved, Part I,” take a moment to absorb the first installment. My oddball tale won’t make any more sense, but at least you’ll be up to speed on my watch collection as we open the second chapter below.
2013 marked the end of my U.S. Navy years and the beginning of something that started as more than a hobby but less than a career. My first high-luxury Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC) watch from 2010 had inspired an insatiable appetite for more knowledge – and more watches.
Since I was 28 and transitioning back to civilian life, the “more watches” part of the equation had to be left in terms of “X.” However, I was determined to gain “knowledge” while “ownership” was on hold.
As a watch literate writer and former press guy with a military portfolio, I had a plan to enter the watch business by way of Manhattan’s 47th Street. Yes, that 47th Street. It was wild.
The strip had industry “insiders” and “outsiders,” clients and dealers, huge amounts of money basically changing hands on the sidewalk, and more watches than I’d ever seen in the windows of shops. Watch prices were insane and geared towards international tourists with seemingly bottomless budgets.
Multiple shops would advertise the exact same watch online – each vying to sell it first. Aftermarket gem-setting seemed to run non-stop around the clock. People I’d never met hustled up to offer cash for watches and gold – just before they were told off by cops or merchants; “Don’t Feed the Hawks” signs abounded.
I arrived in the middle of a boom in used watches. Families and vendors long entrenched in the jewelry and diamond industries were jumping on the preowned watch bandwagon in a big way during the early 2010s, and they – mostly – had the routine down by 2013.
Newly minted youthful watch dealers who couldn’t afford storefronts at the road level rented offices or suites several floors above the Diamond District’s main drag. Entrepreneurial types from local colleges and New York finance saw watches as their ticket to the District’s mainstream.
Family and close friends – some overseas – were the preferred resource for almost all needs.
But actual knowledge of watches was a surprisingly rare commodity in this exploding market. If nobody in your immediate family or circle of friends could explain an ALUSiC Richard Mille RM009 sufficiently to market it, outsourcing web copy – with great reluctance – was a necessity.
I entered the picture as a freelance copywriter and spent most of 2013 and 2014 writing website copy and ghost-writing articles for vendors on and around 47th Street.
If you think you’d like to work in the watch industry, consider this: one vendor paid me $15 for each full-length article like the one you’re reading. He wanted a high update rate for his website blog, and I obliged. I handed him an itemized $1,500 invoice about two months later. His jaw dropped, but he paid the bill.
If you don’t feel like writing 100 articles in eight weeks for just one of many low-paying clients, this business might not be for you. Years later, I learned that established writers in the watch business were getting fifty to seventy-five cents a word for freelance work on web journals and magazines.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering when I start talking about my watches. By 2014, I had a rule: no new watches until you’re in-house and done with freelance.
After a famous New York-based watch blog blew me off in the early spring, I found a South Florida preowned vendor with a job notice for a copywriter posted on its “blog” page. The president of the company was in NYC vacationing with her family, and we put an interview on the calendar.
Naturally, I spilled coffee all over her white clothes within minutes of meeting. After much dabbing and cold water applied, you can probably imagine how that interview went down…
… it went well! I got the job, moved myself down to Miami, and started fulltime with Watch-u-Want.com in July of 2014. The resulting access to watches and 24-hour exposure to the industry was the ultimate enabler. I returned to watch collecting with a vengeance.
I’d saved a war chest for watches during my Navy and freelance years. The year 2014 – my 30th – marked the start of three years of “revenge” spending after several years of living light. Fueled by prescription-strength rationalization that a credible watch collection was a path to credibility in my new profession, I sought multiple JLC models long on my radar.
I’m often asked, “why JLC?” Honestly, it was due to the writings of James Dowling more than any other source. Although he’s literally “Mister Rolex” to the watch world, his philosophy of collecting emphasizes focused themes to avoid misguided “accumulation” rather than studied “collecting.” Guided by that minimal guardrail, I hit Chrono24and eBay with a vengeance.
The first purchase was my longest-lasting grail watch of all time. It was the Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre a Chronographe in white gold. While I had the admired the dual drivetrain concept of the original yellow gold and platinum variants, it was the later white-hot white gold chronograph with black dial that seared itself into my retinas.
It was the full package: dead sexy, the ultimate version of the ultimate chronograph, birthed by an all-time-great factory, and possibly the only Swiss chronograph with a caseback to put a Lange Datograph back on the shelf.
I placed myself on all kinds of notification lists, instant alerts, and learned to scrape the pages of major vendors on a daily basis. Kids, remember to shop around. In the space of 24 hours, one U.S. grey market vendor quoted me an eye-watering price for immediate delivery; an Italian AUTHORIZED DEALER quoted me $13,000 less and won both my business and my heart the next day.
The white gold Duomètre a Chronographe first entered my consciousness in 2010, and by late summer of 2014, it had entered my collection. There was zero remorse. It was everything I’d hoped and everything JLC had claimed. It ran +1 second per day regardless of chronograph usage, and the foudroyant 1/6 second hand became the most observer-commented feature on any watch I’ve ever owned.
Its maillechort (German Silver) movement had Lange-quality charisma, and I soon came to realize that JLC reserved a higher level of finish for this watch than anything else priced below the six-figure level. Given a retail around $50,000 at the time, this decoration imparted incredible inherent value to the Duomètre.
That would have been a good time to pause, reflect, and enjoy the honeymoon. Hell no! Pent-up dreams and years of living simply took a toll on my judgement, so I just kept adding from late 2014 through 2017.
Of the multiple JLC watches I bought after the Duomètre, the Amvox 2 was the most satisfying. Once again rationalizing, I noted that the white/black/red color combo matched the Watch-U-Want company colors, so, as I reasoned, it was practically a required part of the uniform. I never regretted that watch.
Although I already owned one JLC chronograph in the Duomètre, the delightful Amvox 2 was completely different. Its Aston Martin-inspired design ranks in my judgement as the best-ever car-watch co-branding effort in a generally star-crossed genre.
Unlike almost all other car brands that have slapped their names on watches, Aston had an actual decades-long link to its partner via Jaeger automotive gauges.
And JLC designed the Amvox series as a freestanding lineup rather than a badge job on existing products.
The Amvox 2’s brilliant pusherless chronograph system relied on an articulating case with ball-bearing pivots, no visible chrono pushers, and viability even with thickly gloved hands. Unlike say a Rolex Daytona with its screw-downs, the Amvox 2 chronograph was operated by pushing on the top or bottom of the crystal. It could be fat-fingered with success by a crewmember in racing gear.
There was a lockout to disable partial or all chronograph functions if desired. Nobody really needs a thing like this to go racing, but the handsome design and rifle-bolt precision of the chrono system was a winning combination.
If Richard Mille had designed and built the Amvox 2, it would have cost six-figures and carried the name of a compensated Formula One driver or tennis star. I bought mine used for ten grand, and it became my most-worn watch for years.
But I also had a classical craving in me, and only a Reverso would slake the thirst.
The Reverso is the heart and soul of Jaeger-LeCoultre, and it stands alongside the Memovox alarms as one of the two pillars of the company’s model line. I’d harbored serious reservations about the Reverso in my 20s. The rotating case seemed like something that could rattle, work loose, or break easily. My mind changed prior to boot camp in 2008 when I took my great aunt out for ice cream at Long Island’s Roosevelt Field Mall.
There was a Tourneau boutique at the mall with a used Reverso Duo in stock. Frankly, I was blown away by the precision of the pin snaps, operation of the slider, and solidity despite so many moving parts. It felt every inch the luxury product it was, and I finally “got it.”
But Reverso hunting is a long journey. Prior to the 2011 “Grande Reverso Tribute to 1931,” there was no real “core” model the way Audemars Piguet has the Royal Oak Jumbo and Omega has the Speedmaster Professional. Having decided that I wanted a white metal case and a black dial, I was drawn to a late 1990s model called the “Reverso Night and Day.”
It was the Grande Taille case size, which was perfect for my wrist. The black dial popped with the colors of its titular complication, and it incorporated the verso-side second time zone that had impressed me so much in 2008. It became my travel watch.
The heritage of JLC ultra-thin watches held huge appeal to me. I was impressed by stories that the company’s thinnest calibers were routed to senior watchmakers who generally focus on complicated mechanisms. From the pocket watch caliber 145 of 1907 to the AP/Vacheron caliber 2003/1003 of the 1950s to JLC’s own caliber 849 of the early 90s, ultra-thin watchmaking seemed sufficiently intrinsic to the brand that I needed to own one.
My choice was the 90s-era Master Ultra-Thin 34. While tiny and quaint, it was a little giant with movement finish superior to many more expensive JLC models in my own quiver. The fact that JLC subjected it to the same multi-position testing and Master 1000 Hours trials as more robust models impressed me. Caliber 849 measured only 1.85mm thick, and the 34mm steel case was only 6mm thick in total.
Of course, I wore this watch with a tee-shirt and shorts, because South Florida… and I can tell you, it’s liberating to wear a tuxedo-grade watch in bathing shorts.
Regrettably, this diminutive model was responsible for two unique setbacks in my collecting journey. The first time I bought an example, it was from an eBay listing with what I believed to be reasonable photos of the article. Wrong! What appeared to be a reflection in one seller photo turned out to be a mark from the minute hand repeatedly contacting the inside of the crystal.
eBay’s phalanx of buyer protections bailed me out, but I learned a lesson; accept nothing but perfect photos of any watch you buy remotely.
Second, that Master Ultra-Thin was the only JLC I owned that suffered damage from handling. A client who shall remain nameless did… something… to stop the watch while I had left him alone with it. Of course, you can’t go in hot against a client of your business, so this wound up being on me. The fix involved moving a pivot jewel that had shifted enough to reduce a train wheel’s endshake to zero, but only angels and demons know what the client did to inflict that injury.
If the Reverso is flagship, and the Memovox alarm is second in the van, then – to continue our naval analogy – a calendar watch would be third in line. Since at least the caliber 412 of the 1930s, LeCoultre and Jaeger-LeCoultre have offered a model with some kind of complex calendar that’s more than just a date. I chose a lovely little Master Moon in steel to fill this column on my ledger.
At 37mm, it was a refugee from the 1990s, but I loved its punchy black dial, colorful details, and useful complication.
Despite the nomenclature, the Master Moon is a full calendar watch with a pointer date, vintage-evocative red-on-white calendar wheels, and, of course, a moonphase. The quality of this little watch was fetching. Its 90s-era movement bore clear evidence of hand finishing, six-position adjustment, and a 22-karat winding mass.
Each of these features would lapse on mainstream models as I followed the brand into the 2010s and beyond.
This anthology of memories ends with several big pieces. The first was a watch I didn’t know I needed until I encountered it at work in the fall of 2014. It was the Master Grande Memovox in platinum. That model, launched as a limited edition in the early 2000s, used the alarm/perpetual calendar tandem first employed on JLC’s 1989 Grand Reveil.
But while the 1989 watch looked like a warthog, my circa-2001 Grande Memovox was dead sexy with a platinum case and a blue sunburst dial.
Add a hanging bronze alarm gong, IWC maestro Kurt Klaus’ programmed sequential perpetual calendar, plus a massive folding clasp, and the result was sublime. Seriously – until you’ve worn a large platinum watch with a platinum clasp and full platinum caseback, you don’t know what decadence is. At over half a pound (over 200 grams) unpolished, the Grande Memovox inspired awe.
I let my sister’s groom wear the watch at their wedding, and the look on his face when I handed him the Grande was one of shock and terror. Shock, because he couldn’t believe how much it weighed, and terror, because he almost dropped it when he took hold.
Still, the Grande Memovox was a friendly everyday practical platinum watch, which isn’t something I write very often. The leap year of 2016 was a blast. Its alarm was sufficient to wake me on trips or adventures. I wore that watch to Dollar Tree, and nobody batted an eye. It was the epitome of “stealth wealth.”
Granted, I wasn’t testing my luck in the London or Paris of 2024, but I learned that you can wear an insane watch almost anywhere as long as it’s not some kind of hype model or brand. Try that with your Lamborghini Aventador or Rolls-Royce Cullinan. The Grande Memovox would have been the ultimate sleeper had it not been for my other Reverso.
That’s right; I had two Reversos. The second was platinum by name, and platinum by nature. “Platinum Reverso No. 2” sounds like something a German brand would concoct, but even the name of this French-Swiss time machine reflected its stunning subtlety. Launched as a limited edition in 2003, the No. 2 was tailor-made for retro grouches like me who deplore dial-side tourbillons.
Its dial was composed of ruthenium-coated 18-karat white gold with Breguet Arabic numerals painted by hand in a silver-powder paint. A co-axial power reserve indicator sat under the hands at center.
The No. 2 gets hardcore when you flip the reversible case. Solid 18-karat white gold caliber 848 packs splendor in spades. Modeled after the layout of the 1940s JLC model 170 trials tourbillon, the caliber 848 had stunning architecture to match its coruscating level of finish. It also linked the No. 2 to the similar aesthetic of the first Reverso Tourbillon of 1993.
For a package roughly 26mm x 42mm, the mass-density of this watch’s feature set rivaled any neutron star. To this day, the Platinum No. 2 remains the only watch I sold without losing money, the finest watch I’ve ever owned, and, along with the Duomètre, the JLC I miss the most.
For those still with me, bravo! Your reward is to learn about my oldest watch. The only vintage LeCoultre or Jaeger-LeCoultre I’ve ever owned is my reference E877 Snowdrop Memovox. Notice that I used “is” rather than “was”; the Snowdrop is the only part of my JLC collection still in my possession! There’s a reason for that.
Vintage Memovox models from the 70s are rare. In many cases, total production of any given model amounted to hundreds or low thousands of examples built. For those interested in knowing more, Zaf Basha’s “Jaeger-LeCoultre: A Guide for the Collector” is excellent reading. But my broader point is that these old watches were fabricated on a much smaller scale than the modern Richemont-owned Jaeger-LeCoultre factory.
And wrist alarms were considered mid-priced watches at the time – not haute horlogerie. The result is a low survival rate of things that were made in small volumes in the first place.
Finding the perfect example of a vintage watch can take years. Unlike all the other watches that I sold, the Snowdrop is the one I couldn’t easily replace with money alone. This quirky Memovox was on my radar almost from the time I started collecting in earnest during the second half of 2014. But the black dial Snowdrop – my favorite – evaded my radar scan like a B2 stealth. Silver dials, blue dials, trashed examples… I saw them all.
Amid my multi-year hunt, a Romanian vintage dealer posted a black dial E877 in late 2017. It was gorgeous with intact tritium, a dial that appeared untouched, crisp caseback engravings to indicate gentle use, and correct factory finish on the topside.
After a few buying-a-watch-from-Eastern Europe precautions, I was reasonably confident that my money wouldn’t vanish. Boy, did that gamble pay off. The Snowdrop arrived in need of a service but otherwise beautifully preserved. The dial and case were sharp, clean, and clear.
My new E877 thrilled me with all the quirks that I’d admired from a distance. Lugless construction meant the 43mm diameter also wore 43mm lug-to-lug. Its monoblock construction created a seamless, almost organic profile. Due to the monoblock construction, everything loads through the front when the screwed-in bezel is removed.
The challenge of removing that unconventional access hatch might have accounted for the dial and hands’ virtually untouched condition. If my Snowdrop’s quirky dial looks familiar to you, it might be because JLC quietly revisited the design with the 2016 Master Memovox Blue Boutique Edition.
I took my Snowdrop to a Blue Öyster Cult concert in late 2018, so I’d have a chance to bond with the watch and form at least one good memory before sending it for service. Later, I acted against my own advice and sent the watch to the JLC factory restoration department for a mechanical overhaul. Despite hearing horror stories about factory restorations, my experience was seamless.
I asked for zero refinishing of the case, and JLC complied. Its dial returned untouched with the original tritium hands intact. The previously gummed-up movement ran like a precision instrument, and the quaint rattling alarm rediscovered its voice.
It’s been said that a person’s love for a house, a dog, or a car is proportional to the number of photos taken of the subject. I shot reams of photos of my JLC collection. Each watch had a certain appeal to me that inspired its purchase, and each wrote its own story during our time together.
At the peak of my collection, I owned ten Jaeger-LeCoultre watches, but chance encounters, travel, and fellow collectors brought me into contact with more desirables than I could ever afford. The third installment of “Watches I’ve Loved” delves into flights of fancy, daydreams, and JLC watches I could only “date” but never “marry.”
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