LeJour Chronograph 7733: The Poor/Smart Man’s Chronographe du Jour

By Henry Margenau

In my collecting travels, online and otherwise, I’ve observed two camps of watch collectors (well, at least in this binary I’m about to lay down): those who enjoy complications and those who don’t. I was actually surprised that there seemed to be a sizeable segment of the #watchfam who were put off by chronographs and, instead, vied for simpler time-only pieces.

I mean, I get it.

Chronograph dials can be very busy and, at worst, oddly balanced aesthetically. Many of us don’t really NEED them (to the same degree that we don’t really NEED any watches). Many of us are not racing cars or timing engine burns or the distance of artillery shells. And then there’s the cost of ownership. Whether you take the side of “a service every five years” or “if it ain’t broke…,” at some point, your watches are going to need some attention. A regular service can already cost you a good chunk of change and, if you have your watchmaker taking apart, cleaning, and oiling a complicated chronograph movement, it can run you into the red.

On top of that, some of us are crazy enough to own vintage chronographs. I wrote a piece about my 1970 Seiko 6139-7000 Speedtimer chronograph a few months ago for the Snobs and, if you’re TL;DR, the piece ended with an anecdote about how I dropped the thing right on the pushers in the first few weeks after receiving it and had to get it serviced. Yikes, indeed.

But, alas, chronographs are just cool. What can I say? They’re interesting to look at. They come in colors, colors, colors. With contrasting or matching sub-dials (with contrasting or matching hands)! And buttons! Did I mention, buttons! Shiny, candy-like, buttons! Who doesn’t love pressing a good button and having it do a thing?

So, while I’m not racing (car sick), running from mortars (pacifist/out of shape), or timing engine burns (plane/spaceship sick), I can still find practical applications for my chronographs (just like my dive bezels!). I don’t need to use my iPhone to time things I’m cooking. I’ve got a Speedtimer! And, for the most part, my chronographs run efficiently and without much trouble (though they do require a bit more know-how to get the best out of the movements).

Funny enough, the chronograph I own that has given me the least trouble is even older than the Seiko. It has a more complicated movement. It’s vintage in every sense of the word and, at times, I feel like I might break the damn thing just from using the pushers. However, it’s solid. I don’t worry about it and am not sure if I ever will. To boot, it’s connected to (I think) one of the biggest names in watchmaking. And I’d find out for sure for you if the S.O.B.’s ever return my e-mail inquiry about it (Editor’s Unhelpful Note: Henry, I’d like to officially welcome you to the Two Broke Watch Snobs editorial team where no one ever returns your emails).


 
 

The darling little chrono I’m referring to is my 1960’s LeJour reverse panda dial chronograph. From what I’ve gathered, LeJour was a French watch company started in the 1960’s which made mechanical watches and chronographs and was a distributor for Yema, another smaller Swiss brand, in the United States. Both LeJour and Yema still exist and they are both still producing watches that hearken back to their brand heritages, though the ownership of the companies have changed hands (a few times, I believe, in LeJour’s case) and they’re really not the same as they were. Kaz and Mike covered some of this history in TBWS Podcast episode #96, the Hong Kong Watch and Clock Fair 2018 Megasode, so I won’t rehash the complete story of LeJour here. It’s interesting, though, and I’d recommend listening to the episode and reading more about it online (Gnomon Watches has some interesting brand history as well).

Perhaps the most well-known vintage LeJour chronographs are the broad arrow (which you can see here) and a Valjoux 7750 chronograph which is regarded as a poor man’s Heuer Pasadena. According to an article from On the Dash, Heuer made some watches for LeJour in the 1970’s or 80’s which LeJour then distributed. LeJour recently came out with the Mark I 001, a new watch that hearkens back to the legacy of the above-mentioned chronograph (so much so, that the Mark I still uses a Valjoux 7750). Ilya from Worn and Wound wrote a comprehensive review of the Mark I which talks a bit about this lineage (and, again, our hosts at TBWS mention it on the “Megasode”).

Some people turn their noses up at Valjoux movements (as they do with ETAs and Sellitas) since they were mass produced and a lot of more affordable watches had them instead of in-house movements. Many others, though, recognize the quality and stability of Valjoux movements and the Valjoux 7750, as just one example, was used in some of the most well-regarded chronographs made by Heuer, Sinn, Fortis, and Orfina.

As far as my watch goes, I’m not sure exactly what particular year it’s from, but I can tell by the “T Swiss T” at six o’clock that it has to be the latter part of the 60’s (that’s when they stopped using radium and switched over to tritium lume). And it’s kind of amazing in a lot of ways. The sub-dials are more champagne than pure white with lovely concentric guilloche circles.

The hands on the sub-dials are unique and mismatched. The lume pips around the chapter ring have aged to a creamy color. The dial itself is tropical (if you see it in the right light) and is turning a warm brown hue. The Arabic numerals are applied and have a neat, squared off, mid-century sensibility about them. The pushers still have some snap and life in them and reset perfectly to zero every time.

The case finishing is more function than form. Well done, but not overly adorned. It’s reminiscent, to me, of the Plain Jane charm of something like a vintage Omega Geneve: no frills, no problem. The case size is 36mm with 18mm lugs, a sweet spot in my humble opinion, for any watch. Even vintage divers at this size (and below!) are awesome (trust me). The watch sits a bit high on the wrist at 12-13mm thick (forgive me; I don’t have calipers; I know, I know).

Some people get really wound up (pun intended) about case thickness; watches that sit up high on the wrist are seen as bulky at best and impractical at worst, mostly since they won’t fit comfortably under a cuff. Personally, I think that’s true more of watches that are this thick but also more in the 42-44mm width. The LeJour is a bit tall and a bit bulky but, because of its smaller width, can stay comfortably under the shirt sleeve. And I think the chunkiness gives an otherwise smaller vintage watch a bit of substance and heft which keeps the idea of it as a tool watch fresh in my mind as I wear it.

My LeJour chrono is powered by an older movement, the revered Valjoux 7733 movement, a dependable Swiss hand-wind cam-lever movement (and descendent of the Venus 188) that was put into a number of vintage chronographs in the mid 20th Century. This was common practice back in that time that we affectionately refer to as “the day.”

I have seen many other vintage Valjoux 7733 chronographs with a similar dial layout as my LeJour (Like this one! And this one!) but I’ve seen another other watch, from a more notable manufacturer with a nearly identical dial. I’m not talking, kind of similar, I’m talking a clone.

Who do you ask?

Breitling! Yes, the makers of the famous Navitimer! Yes, the aforementioned SOB’s who don’t return e-mails. I reached out to the company because, while intially researching my LeJour purchase, I found a Breitling that resembled my watch more than any of the other smaller branded watches. The watch is the Breitling 9121, a dual register chronograph with the same reverse panda dial, numerals, pump pushers, case, and movement but with different numbering on the sub-registers. So, barring additional information from Breitling themselves, there’s a good chance I may have gotten a lot more watch than I paid for.

So LeJour sold watches that were, for all intents and purposes, Heuers. Wakmann apparently sold watches that were manufactured largely by Breitling (aside from some final finishes completed by Wakmann) at a highly reduced price. The same is true of Wittnauer which was a brand that had a similar relationship to Longines. These days, saavy collectors know that buying watches from many of these small (and, perhaps, unheard of) brands is actually an incredible value. You’re basically getting a luxury brand watch at a fraction of the price because of the packaging. So what does this have to do with anything?

I petition you to do some research on some of the smaller, quirkier, and nearly disappeared brands of the past, especially the 1950’s to the 1970’s. If you’re not hung up on brand names and provenance (with a capital P), I’m confident that your searching will turn up rich results. I’m consistently on the hunt for vintage chronographs from these smaller brands, not just because they’re more attainable than their luxury brand siblings, but because they are interesting, rare, varied in their aesthetics and, since they share so much DNA with some of the great Swiss watch brands, I feel like I’ve really done my homework and made a smart purchase at a great value.

And if I drop one, fuck it. At least it’s not getting serviced at Breitling prices.


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