Jaeger-LeCoultre: A Cinematic Love Story

For more than a decade, Jaeger-LeCoultre has been closely associated with the biggest artistic film festivals around the world, including those in Venice, Shanghai, San Sebastian, Los Angeles and New York.

By Kathia Cambron

© Esteban Szczipnyj

© Esteban Szczipnyj

The watchmaker’s support for cinema takes different forms: the Filmmaker in Residence program in partnership with the Lincoln Center; the recent co-production of the exhibition The Art of Behind the Scenes, held during the recent 54th New York Film Festival and featuring black-and-white photographs taken by some of the world’s most accomplished on-set photographers; and the annual awarding of the Glory to the Filmmaker Award, which pays tribute to the creative ingenuity of filmmakers.

Compass

Compass

Perhaps surprisingly, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s involvement with cinema dates back all the way to 1934, when it helped engineer the highly sophisticated Compass Camera. With its 290 components, the Compass Camera was a true marvel of engineering. Launched in 1937 after three years of development, the camera caused a worldwide sensation for its avant-garde design and its numerous functions. To this day, it is coveted by collectors.

© Ghislain Dussart Rapho

© Ghislain Dussart Rapho

The story of this miniature camera begins with a bet by Noel Pemberton Billing, a British businessman and pilot who founded an aviation company in England, a freight firm in South Africa and a casino in Mexico. This poet, writer and engineer is also credited with at least 100 inventions, including an aircraft that would inspire the famous Spitfire fighter plane. One evening in the late 1920s, this passionate inventor made a bet that he could create a camera of unprecedented quality, comprising every possible function and yet small enough to fit inside a cigarette packet!

To win this bet, he enlisted the help of the finest watchmaker of the day. Indeed, by 1934, LeCoultre & Cie (as it was then called) already had hundreds of calibres to its credit, including the world’s smallest and thinnest movements, and the iconic Atmos clock.

When it was launched, the Compass’ features included an exposure meter, a range finder, a telescopic lens shade, built-in filters, an extinction meter, an EV indicator, an angle viewfinder, a device for panoramic and stereoscopic views, and even an ultra-light tripod specially designed to accompany it. In short, quite impressive. Billing won his bet.

Time rolls on, fashions change and technology evolves. But now, as then, we still achieve great things out of passion.