Guest post – Carl’s vintage LeCoultre

Well, after a bit of a delay (sorry for that – life took over) I’m delighted to publish another guest post – this one from my mate Carl (“Feelingtheblues” on The Rolex Forum) in which he muses about his gorgeous vintage LeCoultre from the 1940’s. Thanks, Carl!

Vintage Watch Review: 1940’s Jaeger-LeCoultre manual winding watch in stainless steel

Since its creation in 1833, Jaeger-LeCoultre has been a synonym of haute horlogerie and high quality timepieces. For some, this may be nothing more than mere marketing and many would be able to say the same about a lot of other brands but in my humble opinion there is an important detail that makes it different if compared to others… Jaeger-Lecoultre is not only a company, it’s a manufacture of watch movements.
Same thing, different name? I would beg to differ! With about 1 200 calibres and 400 patents, the manufacture has played a very important role in watchmaking, whether we are talking about technological advances or performance increases. Surprisingly, despite its collaborations with Patek Philippe, Cartier and many other brands (to which it has sold a great amount of movements and ébauches), it seems like this name isn’t one that comes to the mind of enthusiasts when we talk about collectibles (unless we are talking about a Reverso from the 1930’s, some Grandes Complications or an original Memovox Deepsea). A lot of those watches can be found on Ebay, especially the LeCoultre’s sold to the American market, and with a bit of patience one can get a pretty good deal on them.

My Watch

There are some of those purchases that, even if you had been thinking about them, just seem to come up and surprise you. In all honesty I have to say it’s exactly what happened with this one! I had read about Jaeger-LeCoultre and learned a lot of things that made my watchmaking student self admire the name but didn’t really get into shopping for one. It was quite a good timing that, upon lurking ads on a watch forum, I came across one selling a small model in stainless steel and decided to let curiosity get the better of me.

The first thing that I noticed was, obviously, the dial; a champagne-coloured, very simple round one with applied arrow markers and Arabic numerals for the four quarters that match the gold coloured hands. Not only was the contrast with the stainless steel mesmerising but the patina that had developed on it made the whole face of the watch look a tad darker. I found that the watch had aged very beautifully and that the minute ring, along with the brand name (the shortened form of which indicates that this watch had been made and sold for the European market), remained very crisp looking; I had been warned by the seller that it may be an old refurbishing job but under my loupe it didn’t look like it. Alas, it happens that such information gets lost as the watch goes from one owner to another so I cannot confirm that the dial has never been touched or that the case and lugs have not been polished, but as far as I’m concerned if such things were done to the watch they haven’t ruined it like many other poorly done jobs I’ve seen around.

The 32mm round and mirror finished case would make a lot of people cringe; nowadays this would be considered a woman’s size but one could be surprised as I know a lot of ladies who would prefer to have a bigger timepiece on their wrists. Some would be able to settle down to such a size should the case be a cushion style as the corners would make it wear bigger but neither its shape nor its very small crown help this timepiece to look bigger. Yet, this is one of the things that made it ever so attractive to me. Its elegant and subtle size makes it a wonderful dress watch as well as a good size for a casual one (in my humble opinion, of course), the wrist surrounds it in a beautiful way and in my mind there’s no doubt that this is a vintage man’s watch. You may also notice the tear drop lugs, a classic among details on Jaeger-LeCoultre’s watches.

There’s no doubt that the external look of the watch is a very important thing to look at when shopping, however, in this case the interior of the watch was just as important to me. I have many lower end timepieces that I have bought because I found them beautiful but for this one I knew that I was also getting a well built and beautifully finished movement. The brass bridges make the whole movement pop out when you open the case back and their finishing is outstanding: côtes de Genève stripes, beveled edges and elegant yet sharp forms… everything makes you think that they’ve paid a lot of attention to details whilst producing this calibre.

All in all, for a lot of people this watch would look like a mere small accessory made to tell time, this is something that made this watch a great purchase to me. Its simplicity makes it an elegant timepiece, yet, as a vintage watch enthusiast and as a fan of companies with a great historical background, the gears and parts inside this small case make me understand why Jaeger-LeCoultre is such a respected brand in the world of haute horlogerie and make me want to fully agree with that statement. To me it’s more than having a watch with a fancy name, it’s knowing what this name really represents, whether a lot of people know it and agree with it or not.

Guest Post – Eddie Ardanza’s 1675

I’ve been chatting for awhile now with Eddie (who I know from Watchlords, one of the watch forums I pop into now and then) about a rather lovely GMT from the late 1960’s. When he offered to write a post about it I was delighted to oblige 🙂

This particular 1675 “landed” on my wrist when I inherited it from my late Father-In-Law; it’s a late ’60s GMT Master 1675, housing the great 1575 movement. Whist in all-original condition it was in a poor state aesthetically and also had an issue with the setting lever. The watch was actually kept unused in a safe for a number of years and, of course, was lacking any kind of attention (or, indeed, a service).

I had the watch packed and ready to send to Rolex Service (in Dallas, Texas) when I had an epiphany of sorts and dropped Tony a note [*good move*], in doing so saving the watch from potentially being butchered by the wise guys at the Rolex Service Center.

Admittedly, my vintage Rolex restoration knowledge is full of voids …enter Tony, who basically guided me through the process on what was desirable to leave as-is and what needed help, and he recommended ABC Watchwerks in Los Angeles, California… the results are all credited to his advice and expertise [*happy to help, mate*]. Summarising, the movement was service/overhauled including renewal of the mainspring & gaskets, replacement of the faulty setting lever, pressure testing to original specs and – finally – regulation to COSC specs. Aesthetically, a new plexiglass crystal was installed and both the case and bracelet were sympathetically refinished, in a “light vintage fashion”.

And here’s the result, now on my wrist and enjoying a new lease of life more than 40 years after it left the Rolex factory!

I think that’s a great story, and anyone who takes the time and trouble to bring an old classic back into daily service deserves to be applauded. Nice one, Eddie!

Guest post by Mark McArthur-Christie

Slow Bikes, Old Watches and Soul

It had been quite a day. We’d only ridden just over 160 miles, but through winding, high-banked lanes, over moors and finally down a flaky, clacky shale track that would have given a mountain goat vertigo. And now we’d made it. Tintagel. I climbed off the bike, helped Pip out of the sidecar and leaned back to drink in the view from the clifftop over the Atlantic. The bike ticked and pinged as it cooled in the breeze off the sea.

As I usually do on a trip like this, riding done, I unrolled the Ural’s toolkit on the ground beside the bike, opened a beer and started checking the machine over, part by part. This is therapy and my favourite part of the day. Miles covered, supper and another beer earned and in view and a chance to tinker with the bike as the sun goes down over the sea.

The Ural – my bike and sidecar combination – rewards care. Without it, she’ll sulk, get upset, run badly. With it, she’s happy and runs with the same unstoppable precision as a vintage caliber 1560. She’s a high-maintenance girl. But she’s far from sophisticated. An antique horizontally-opposed 650 pushrod twin, barely making 40 horsepower. Carbs, not injectors. Cable brakes, no hydraulics. Plenty of milled steel and no plastic at all. She’s slow, needs fear-assistance to make the brakes work, struggles on hills and gets out-dragged by pizzaboys on mopeds, but she’s a proper motorcycle. A motorcycle with soul.

What on earth does that mean? What’s ‘soul’? How can an inanimate machine have ‘soul’? Plenty of people talk about it – in Watchland as well as Bikeland. A 1964 1016 Explorer has soul. A G-Shock doesn’t. A classic Laverda Jota has it, a new GSXR600 doesn’t. But perhaps soul is more about time and our relationship with something than the thing itself. For a start, we make the inanimate animate; petrol and a kickstart for a bike, our own movement for a mechanical watch. A watch that only ever needs a battery every five years doesn’t allow that interaction. A hyper-efficient Japanese superbike that is only ever serviced by a computer-wielding white coat is far more competent than its rider, but that very competence keeps him at a distance.

My most competent watch is easily my Breitling Aerospace. It’s gained just three seconds in six months, so it never needs setting unless I’m feeling more OCD than usual. It can wake me up, precisely measure my morning run (and subsequently accurately time my breakfast eggs), tell me the exact time in Tokyo and its titanium case keeps it waterproof to deeper depths than I’ll ever plumb. I hardly ever wear it.

Instead, I’ll pick up my old Explorer I, a Timefactors PRS3 or my favourite – my IWC Mk XII. They’re all less accurate. All they’ll tell me is the time-ish (although the Rolex is frighteningly accurate for a 40-year old watch) and that’s it. They’re heavier, clunkier, less accurate and much simpler. But they allow me a level of interaction that the Aero simply doesn’t. When the Aero dies, I have to buy a battery. When my mechanical watches stop, they need movement – mine – to make them live again. I need to interact with them to re-set them once the energy of the mainspring has lapsed. And I like that, because that interaction gives me a sense of relationship that the Brietling and its quartz cousins just doesn’t.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

And maybe the very lack of precision and presence of faults is part of this relationship, this attribution of soul. We’re not precise animals. We don’t always do the same things in the same ways, react consistently and we change our minds. Something more organic, more flexible just fits us better than something with the hard edges of absolute accuracy. It’s why a Cotswold village’s higgledy architecture and meandering lanes is more comfortable than the ruler-edges of the town planner’s gleaming flats and open boulevards.

For me, there’s a lesson here. And that’s that human beings are best when they’re allowed and left to be human. Because we’re designed to harness our imprecise, organic, chaotic humanity and turn it into creativity. And the more precise, hard-edged and controlled we’re made to be, the worse we run. So I’m finishing this here so I can bugger off and do something irrationally human, like go and check the valve clearances on the Ural. After all, I haven’t done it for at least a week.