The Jaeger LeCoultre Amvox 2 should be remembered as the most innovative chronograph of the 2000s. More than its defining chronograph innovation, the Amvox 2 was the high-water mark of the JLC-Aston Martin “Amvox” watch series and a rare example of car-watch branding that didn’t end up a hot mess. Fifteen years after its debut at SIHH 2006, the Amvox 2 remains a singular fusion of ambitious engineering, inspired design, and haute horlogerie opulence.
Co-branding schemes involving cars and watches invariably start with a sound assumption and implode when theory meets application.
The Venn diagram of car nuts and watch nuts resembles a complete solar eclipse, and this prospect of a captive audience for an expensive product is too tantalizing for marketers to ignore. Brands as disparate as a Ball Watch and Zenith have attempted to align themselves with automotive models, brands, clubs, and events. And most of the time, the resulting watch implodes under the weight of contrived car cues, excessive branding, or careless panders.
Blancpain demonstrated the risk inherent in this enterprise with its expansive L-Evolution line.
Despite choosing a blue-chip partner in Lamborghini and funding a dedicated model line to consummate the relationship, Blancpain ended up with a white elephant family of ugly watches. Despite its famously successful sponsorship of the Blancpain GT endurance racing series and serious financial commitment to the L-Evolution collection, the result was a bust.
Lamborghini collectors like watches just fine, but they come to the hobby with prior brand loyalties, and the design quality of the L-Evos wasn’t’ sufficient to overcome drivers’ prior loyalty to other brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Richard Mille. At the same time, the outrageous aggression of the Lambo-inspired watches alienated existing Blancpain clients who prefer the brand’s discreet dress watches and iconic Fifty Fathoms dive watch line.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Amvox 2 succeeded by excelling as a watch first and a car accessory second. First, the design works on its own terms; this is a handsome watch even if your eye isn’t primed to catch the Aston Martin references.
The Amvox 2’s hands, numeral font, case shape, and box-section sapphire actually reference JLC’s own Polaris diving alarm of 1968, so the olive branch to watch nerds is overt and unmistakable. Proportions are handsome; the dial is balanced in detail and symmetrical in layout; the only Aston Martin branding is a ghosted black wing logo at six o’clock. All of that adds up to a feast for wealthy aesthetes who have neither specific watch nor car loyalties. The AM2’s 44mm case is broad in diameter but short from lug to lug; fit is outstanding even on small wrists.
JLC’s genius with the Amvox 2 lay in its use of automotive cues while doing no harm to the watch’s mainstream appeal. Led by young designer Magali Métrailler, JLC’s design team resisted the temptation to turn the AM2 into a pastiche of literal auto parts. A decision was made to restrict the automotive cues exclusively to those that also were organic to precision instrument displays.
Aston Martin cars employed Jaeger dashboard hardware from the 1920s forward, so the Amvox relationship was more real than the shotgun marriages that define this genre (lookin’ at you, Panerai and Ferrari). Elements of those old speedometers, tachometers, and cabin clocks are fashioned into the dial of the Amvox 2, and this blending of instrument and watch is the artistic equivalent of a matched-type blood transfusion.
Nothing that looks at home on the circular sweep of a round speedometer looks out of place on the face of an Amvox 2 chronograph. Inner and outer scales for minutes, seconds, and hours are logical features for a watch and consistent with the layered concentric scales of vintage Jaeger auto displays. JLC even left the bottom of the dial unmarked to echo the unused 90-degree bottom arc of a tachometer, and it presents as natural on a watch.
With the subtle automotive cues in place on the dial, the only overt piece of Aston Martin imagery on the remainder of the Amvox is the oversized and gleaming “gas cap” crown.
As adroit as the Amvox 2’s design is, the engineering is that much more impressive. Jaeger-LeCoultre conceived a race-themed chronograph that could be used precisely even by pit workers or drivers in heavy gloves. While conventional chronographs such as the Rolex Daytona often are marketed as “driver’s” tools, the reality of using tiny screw-down chrono pushers often puts paid to the fantasy. JLC overcame this limitation with a chronograph system that uses no pushers at all.
The Avmox 2 represents the first use of JLC’s articulated-case chronograph system. A multi-piece case design includes a pivoted mid-section that acts via ball-bearings and levers to actuate a column wheel chronograph. Tapping twelve o’clock on the crystal starts and stops the timer; tapping six o’clock resets the chronograph displays. A slider on the nine o’clock side of the watch can lock out the reset for safety or disable the start, stop, and reset commands entirely. With this system, even gloved fingers are able to find the broad top and bottom of the case to cycle the stopwatch. And in the heat of the moment, the lockout features can prevent disaster.
Internally, the Amvox 2 employs the automatic caliber 751E. This movement is based on the caliber 750 that became JLC’s first manufacture automatic chronograph in 2004. Twin mainspring barrels provide 65 hours of power reserve, a column wheel ensures crisp action, and the vertical clutch ensures precise engagement. Durability enhancements such as a free sprung balance and ceramic rotor bearings ensure reliability. Precise setting is possible with a quickset date and hacking seconds.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Amvox 2 family of chronographs remains an outstanding high-value option for watch collectors and car enthusiasts.
Had Richard Mille built a chronograph like this, it would have cost $150,000. Despite even the most basic titanium Amvox 2 retailing for over $16,000 in its day, these watches can be purchased for well under $10,000 unpolished and with full boxed sets in 2021. 750 titanium examples, 500 black DLC titanium units, and 200 platinum Amvox 2 watches were made. Although elaborated follow-on Amvox 2 variants and the similar Amvox 7 exist, they lack the purity and undilute inspiration that powered the breakthrough original.
Car-watch co-brandings generally emerge with all the grace of “The Big One” at Talladega. The JLC Amvox 2 triumphs because it’s a great watch first, second, and third whether the venue is SIHH or Circuit de la Sarthe.