Traditionally speaking, a trio of watch brands from Switzerland have been referred to as the "Holy Trinity" of watch brands.
- Patek Philippe (PP)
- Audemars Piguet (AP)
- Vacheron Constantin (VC)
...and the 'plus 1', has always been Jaeger LeCoultre.
But referring to Jaeger LeCoultre (JLC) as a 'plus 1', is not giving JLC the proper respect it deserves. Because in many ways, JLC not only belongs in that group, it could be argued that group wouldn't even exist if it weren't for JLC.
In other words, when it comes to their technical abilities, specifically the designing and making of movements, JLC not only competes, they easily compete and surpass all others.
In fact, it's no secret that all three of the 'big 3' have relied on JLC to supply them with movements and parts over the years. Some to this day.
Audemars Piguet even invested heavily in JLC specifically for those technical capabilities.
One of the results of the AP investment is the movement behind their fabled Royal Oak. In it's most pure form (ref. 15202), it still uses the AP 2121 movement, which is actually a JLC 920.
And then AP sells those movements to Vacheron Constanin who brands it as their calibre 1120, used in their 222 among other watches.
Even the mighty Patek Philippe used the same JLC 920 in their Nautilus for about 10 years until they swapped it out for one of their own in-house movements.
The point is, without JLC, even if the 'Big 3' was able to move on, who knows where'd they be? And that's no 'plus 1'.
So, whats the difference? Why isn't it the "Big 4"?
The reason seems to be because at over $200,000 the 'Big 3' tend to really stretch their legs when it comes to finishing and decorating of their movements.
And that's not to say JLC doesn't do a brilliant job decorating or finishing. They do, just not as good as the other three.
Plus, there is the entry point in which one can purchase a JLC.
Because JLC makes many of their watches in a stainless steel version, it is possible to buy a JLC under $10,000. When it comes to the 'Big 3', you're lucky to find anything under $20,000, let alone under $10,000.
The real standout/exception (worth mentioning) is the Royal Oak 15400 with an MSRP of around $16,900.
In other words, making so many watches in steel, and having lower entry prices, kind of reduces JLC's "luxury" appeal, or "exclusivity" when compared to the 'Big 3'.
But what they lose in exclusivity (even if it isn't that much), they more than gain in market share. Because under $20,000, no one can touch a JLC.
In other words, it's great - not good - business!
Some may argue there are some solid contenders from IWC, Zenith, Glashutte Original... even Rolex. But it'd be a model here or model there, not right across the board... not on so many disciplines.
No, overall JLC is in a league of it's own under $20,000 and competes very well right up to about $200,000.
And for me, the best part is how understated JLC is. You won't see very many arrogant ads, or too many gaudy "partnerships" at JLC, and certainly no diamond crusted bezels.
JLC is classy (for the most part), even as a sport watch.
*As a side note*: if you're wondering how long the reign of the 'Big 3 plus 1' will last, you only have to look north to Germany for the answer: A. Lange & Sohne.
But we'll save that for another day.