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Thread: So what is the relationship between Smiths, Jaeger, Lecoultre and Jaeger leCoultre?

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    So what is the relationship between Smiths, Jaeger, Lecoultre and Jaeger leCoultre?

    I just added this to my post on the Spitfire's clock, but I thought it was both interesting and chunky enough to post as a separate post here:

    At the heart of the absolute confusion that tends to exist about the relationship between Smiths, Jaeger, LeCoultre and Jaeger LeCoultre there is a single man: Robert Lenoir.

    Lenoir, while qualified as a watchmaker, worked for Jaeger on the development of instruments for cars. In 1921, he was sent to London to work with Rotax, then an agent for Jaeger, to try to improve disappointing sales. Lenoir was charismatic and competent and popularised Jaeger instruments in motorsport and with several major British manufactures. However, the relationship with was never satisfactory for Jaeger as Rotax appeared a lukewarm agent.

    The reason for this was simple: Rotax were covertly developing links with Lucas (a major competitor). When this became clear, in 1923/4, Jaeger passed the agency to a distant relative and in 1925, to work around a patriotic and increasingly effective ‘buy British’ campaign, opened a factory to manufacture Jaeger instruments in the UK. Lenoir became the works manager of Ed. Jaeger London. The factory was an instant success and in 1927, Smiths made Jaeger an offer they couldn’t refuse which resulted in Smiths purchasing a more than controlling 75% share in Ed. Jaeger London and making Lenoir, as works manager, a Smiths employee.

    However, there was still one fly in the ointment: escapements. Jaeger had almost exclusively been using parts and escapements from LeCoultre in their car and aviation clocks and had very close relations, while Smiths had been using clock escapements from Tavannes. Smiths made it clear that they desperately wanted to build up their clock business and to produce car and aircraft clocks that were entirely British. With the British market increasingly hostile to foreign products, the temptation to make a quick buck helping Smiths to do something they would eventually do on their own must have been overwhelming, in different ways, to both Jaeger and LeCoultre.

    In 1928, with significant, and independent, technical support from LeCoultre, the All British Escapement Company was formed. At conception, this rather pointedly named company was committed to exclusively supply Smiths with escapements for almost two decades. Finally Smiths had it all: their own instrument manufacture, run by Lenoir, which also made instrument panel clocks based on Jaeger’s designs and a vast modern escapement factory producing homegrown escapements developed with the help of LeCoultre.

    To put it another way, with the no doubt coincidental help of government policy Smiths appears to have comprehensively outmanouvered both LeCoultre and Jaeger to get what they really wanted: the capacity to mass produce entirely English clocks without the outlay of starting from zero. How different from the seventies when Smiths watches was allowed to fail while money was shovelled into the stainless steel coke habit of Johm Delorean.

    In 1931 Smiths founded Smiths English Clocks Limited and, while the manufacture of instruments continues to this day Smiths found themselves with the capacity to mass produce high quality clocks and eventually watches. Lenoir eventually became technical Director of Smiths Industries Clock & Watch Division and died in late 1979, which by coincidence is when Smiths finally stopped producing watches. Jaeger and LeCoultre finally merged in 1937.

    So, to return to the Smiths Clocks found in the Spitfire, they may well be Jaeger, and certainly have designs and design elements from both Jaeger and LeCoultre, However, they were made either by Smiths or by a wholly owned subsidiary of Smiths. Rather than coming from Switzerland, they, like the Goodies, hailed from the slightly less foreign Cricklewood.

    Likewise, the watches designed and made by Smiths were entirely British and at the time of design, the closest connection with Jaeger LeCoultre was that Smiths happened to employ an ex Jaeger employee as the technical director of their clock and watch division. He’d worked for Smiths since 1927 and hadn't worked on watches as part of his job since prior to WWI.

    I have no evidence that he actually did any of the design work on any Smiths Watch. Speedometers certainly, clocks, especially for car and aircraft most probably, but watches. I don’t think so. By the time Smiths were designing and making watches he was the director of the entire division and had spent the vast majority of his career as an inspirational and talented manager and ambassador, not a watch designer.

    Not so Swiss after all:

    Sorry the spitfire thread is taking so long, ill kids and Christmas obligations.
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