When Jacques Cousteau first invented the aqualung in 1942, it revolutionised diving. Bulky suits that had to be completely sealed were no longer necessary, continuous air feeds were a thing of the past and the Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) was born.
This revolution meant diving was no longer expensive, giving would-be divers a chance to fulfil their dreams. Diving as a hobby became extremely popular, and so the need for dive proof watches boomed. Although water-resistant watches were available, none could stand up to the increasing water pressure a diver would experience the deeper they went.
All the major manufacturers got on board the dive watch train, spending huge amounts of money developing cases that would cope with a diver’s requirements. As well as water resistance, divers needed timing bezels and good luminosity, and the cases needed to be able to resist the corrosive properties of salt water. For Jaeger-LeCoultre, their first step was not to develop their own case, but to invest in a company run by a little-known man called Ervin Piquerez.
Ervin Piquerez SA (EPSA) was developing a patented case that, rather than resisting the water pressure, used it to compress the case back and crowns, making the seals tighter and water-resistant to a greater depth. EPSA provided cases for many manufacturers, including IWC, Longines, Hamilton, Blancpain and of course, Jaeger-LeCoultre, until they went bankrupt in the mid-70s.
The compressor case was very distinctive—it usually featured two crowns, one of which operated the internal bezel. Because of the compressor technology, screw-down crowns were not necessary, so the winding and operation of the internal bezel were still possible when submerged.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s 1959 E857 Memovox Deep Sea was the company’s first venture into diving watches and used the EPSA super-compressor case.
The E859 Polaris Memovox Diver followed the Deep Sea in 1963, after limited runs of diving watches with the names, Shark, Dolphin and Barracuda, and incorporated a triple-backed case to stop the alarm being muffled by the diver’s suit. A third crown at the traditional three o’clock was added for the alarm functionality.
Fast-forward to 2002 and, due to improvements in material technology, the compressor case was no longer required to provide credible water resistance. Jaeger-LeCoultre, however, decided to continue the compressor technology with their crowns. Because screw-down crowns are fiddly and the seals perish with time, a different method was engineered to allow both superior sealing and easy use. The trademark compressor crown features a twist-to-lock switch that has become synonymous with Jaeger-LeCoultre.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor range expanded to include sports and diving watches, some with impressive complications. The Diving Pro Geographic not only featured a second time zone indicator and quick selection for twenty-four time zones, but also a mechanical depth gauge. Following the success of the diving collection, a recent collaboration with the US Navy Seals has produced some adjustments to the range to meet the force’s demanding requirements.
Jaeger-LeCoultre diving watches are unique and sturdy pieces of design, and are a perfect match for someone looking for a more left field choice for their collection, particularly if they want a watch suitable for diving.
- On June the 30th, 2005, Patrick Musimu dived to a depth of 209.6 metres without oxygen wearing his Master Compressor Diving.
- At the Master Compressor Diving’s maximum rated depth of 1000 metres, it will be experiencing 890kg of pressure from the water above it.
[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]