Originally introduced in the early 1930s, Lebois & Co was a brand that flew a bit under the radar for most of its original existence. Based out of France, the brand began making fine Swiss-made timepieces which were used regularly in the military. After going out of business in 1972, the brand sat dormant for 40 years or so, coming back into the world thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. The new stewards of the brand kept much of what made Lebois & Co what it was — quality Swiss manufacturing, and handsome designs. After a few years of crowdfunding, Lebois decided to keep the crowd involved in the design and production in an interesting way. By creating their own “CoLAB” community, fans of the brand can have a direct say in what the next watch from Lebois would look like.
Hands-On: the Lebois & Co Heritage Chronograph
That watch is what we’re looking at now — the Heritage Chronograph, a faithful reissue of Lebois & Co’s original chronograph watch from the 1940s. WIth several options open for voting, the people have spoken, and the watches here are a result of feedback from the community. It is really cool to be able to go back to the CoLAB page and see the number of votes and steps in making the watch. It’s definitely an interesting approach to watch design, but does Design by Committee work? Let’s take a closer look at the Heritage Chronograph and find out.
Thirty nine millimeters is an excellent size for a chronograph, especially when it’s not too thick. The Lebois’ measurements are 39mm x 47.35mm lug-to-lug with a 13.9 overall thickness including the crystal. For me, the proportions are spot-on for a vintage chronograph. It feels compact, yet large enough to remain legible, which is important when you want to make use of those tiny subdials. The case features a mix of brushed and polished finishes pretty much everywhere you’d expect them to be. A polished bezel surrounds the domed sapphire dial, while brushing is found on the sides of the case and top of the lugs. A polished bevel separated the top of the lugs from the sides, adding a nice glint when you move your wrist. On the right side of the case, you’ll find a signed crown, flanked by the chronograph pushers. I really love the shape and finishing on the pushers. They appear rectangular when looking from the top down, but head-on, you’ll notice that the outermost side slopes down. They too feature a polished bevel around the edge that separates the brushed finish on either side.
For a 1940s-inspired watch, the case leans a bit modern. That’s not a bad thing though. Looking back through the Lebois archive, you’ll notice some of the older models have very thin lugs, an anemic looking crown, and less ornate finishing overall. The case on the Heritage Chronograph has some modern touches like the mixed brushed/polished finishing, sharp bevels, and slightly beefier lugs. Overall, the case design never looks out of place with the clearly vintage-inspired dial.
Dial + Hands
There are three dial options in this series of the Heritage Chronograph. A wonderfully executed salmon dial, a vintagey multi-scale off-white dial, and a clean silver sector dial. They share the same blued hand set, which looks right at home across the different variations. The subdials all feature concentric circles within, adding some nice contrast to the dials. While there are some common threads, each of the dials bring a completely different look to the table, while retaining the excellent build quality and case finishing across the lineup. Let’s take a quick look at each individual dial variation and what makes it stand out.
Salmon with Gold Accents
Starting from the outside in, you’ll find a tachymeter scale, a telemeter scale, and an inner scale denoting the standard minutes. The subdials cut into the minute track, but never skew towards the realm of illegibility. Some applied indices for the hours reside inside the minutes scale. While it sounds like a lot, I would say that the dial is packed with information, but remains both charming and aesthetically pleasing. The vintage typeface for the numbers across all three scales looks right at home on the salmon-colored background.
Cream with Multicolored Scales
This is the closest of the three to the watch that sparked the reignition of the brand. The cream dial is decorated with the same scales as the salmon version, but they’re rendered in black, red, and blue. It gives the dial a nice little hint of color, but since the lines are so fine, it’s more of a subtle hint than that “pop of color” us watch reviewers love to talk about so much. The base dial is matte sandblasted, while the silver subdials feature a polished finish — again, it’s a subtle effect, but a welcome one to add some dimension to the dial. This model also forgoes the applied indices for a set of more period correct printed hour markers.
Simplifying things a bit is the Off-White Sector dial, which reads more silver than it does white. The inner sector has a sun ray finish that reflects the light in a pleasing and interesting way. It adds contrast from the sub-dials, using two different finishing techniques to differentiate the two rather than using another color. The next sector houses the printed hour indices and a matte finish. Switching things up again, the minutes scale has the same sun ray finishing as the inside, and it switches up again on the outermost tachymeter sector. While it sounds like the amount of stripes you may find in a Dr. Seuss illustration, it’s a really subtle effect on the Lebois. The sector dial is the most open of the three if you’re looking for something more simple.
Flip the watch over and you’ll be treated to a view of the Caliber LC-450 movement made by La Joux-Perret. If that movement manufacturer doesn’t sound familiar to you, there’s a pretty good chance that it will in the future. Making movements for brands like Armin Strom, Hublot and Tag Heuer, LJP has some serious horological background. After selling to Citizen in a massive multi-brand deal, the movement manufacturer has been cranking out all sorts of new movements, and being that ETA has locked down a lot of their lineup to third-party watch brands, it comes at what appears to be a good time. Their movements appear to be high quality, featuring all the Swiss finishing techniques you see in the industry — Cotes de Geneve, heat blued components, and perlage on the bridges.
Lebois is using what appears to be the highest grade L113 bi-compax manual wind chronograph movement. It’s regulated in five positions, but no mention of accuracy is claimed by either Lebois or LJP. The movement features an impressive 60-hour power reserve, a 30 minute counter, a small seconds subdial, and a central chronograph seconds hand that starts and stops with the pusher at 2 and resets with the other one located at 4. You’ll also notice that the movement features a column wheel, which provides a more precise start/stop with a satisfying mechanical click when pressed. It’s an interesting choice in movement, but it makes sense. I appreciate that Lebois went for the higher end movement with more decoration and better regulation, especially since you can see it through the caseback.
Straps + Wearability
The Lebois Heritage Chronograph ships on a slightly tapered leather or suede strap. There are stitching details up by the lugs and a nicely finished brushed/polished signed clasp. For a watch in this price range, I’d like the stock strap to be a little nicer. The midnight leather was a little creaky from the sides of the strap rubbing the lugs. That’ll probably go away in time with some wear. It felt a little bit plasticky, but was overall a fine experience. Not great, not terrible. I found the suede offerings to be much nicer to the touch, and I think the fine nap of the suede fit the aesthetic of the watch better. These watches are definitely at home on a two piece strap, whether you opt for a nicer leather or perhaps even something in canvas. While you could throw the watch on a mil-style strap, it doesn’t really look or feel right. The mounting hole for the spring bar is high up on the lug and tight to the case, so a one piece pass through strap doesn’t sit so well.
On the wrist, the Lebois is excellent. 39mm for a chronograph is a nice size, not too big and not too small. The higher up lug holes I mentioned earlier actually keep the watch anchored down to your wrist nicely. Since the strap mounts up a tiny bit higher than others (I’m talking a millimeter max here), it does pull the lugs down closer to your wrist, keeping things as slim as they can. The manual wind chronograph was a solid choice here as well, because there’s no additional self-winding mechanism that often vaults a chronograph into 14-16mm thickness territory. One thing that you may want to take note of is how Lebois lists the specs of the watch on their site. They say the height of the case is 10.5mm, but that does not include the 3.4mm domed sapphire crystal. Just know you’re not getting an ultra slim watch. However, the 3.4mm of crystal does a good job of disappearing visually, and the 10.5mm case is still on the thinner side. The watch definitely wears well and never felt too thick on my 6.75” wrist.
While the first two watches from the rebirth of Lebois (The Venturist and the Avantgarde Date) didn’t really grab me, I think they nailed the Heritage Chronograph. While I always applaud brands for doing something new and interesting with their designs, sometimes you just want to hear them play the hits, and that’s the case with the Heritage Chronograph. It’s more than just a reissue from the back catalog, and the more modern case design highlights that. I absolutely love the salmon dial variant. The dial design, color, typeface and proportions really speak to me and have turned me on to salmon dials as a whole. While the other two variants are no slouch, I think this one is the standout. The Heritage Chronograph from Lebois retails for a hair under $2600, which is right about where it should be. Quality Swiss construction and finishing on the case, dial, and top-grade movement help to justify the price. In the $2600 range, you’re looking at watches like the Hamilton Intra-Matic Auto Chrono, the Longines Record Chronograph or Heritage Classic Chronograph, or even the Farer Chronograph Classic.
There’s a lot to consider in this price range, but the Lebois separates itself from the rest with their quality execution of a vintage styled chronograph. If you’re looking for a salmon dial, the market gets much more sparse, and that’s why that particular model really stood out to me. If you’re looking for a vintage-inspired chronograph but don’t want the headache and potential service bill of an old chronograph movement, then this watch is definitely worth a look. Since receiving these three watches for consideration, Lebois has added two new dial variations and a collaboration with Indian Motorcycles. It’ll be fun to see where this rejuvenated brand heads in the future, I’ll definitely be paying closer attention. Lebois & Co