Service + Repair: LeCoultre Futurematic calibre 497

IMG_0742It’s not every day that one of these will land on your bench. Patrick sent it in, and it’s a pretty weird and wonderful beast, as you will soon see.

There is a sub-second hand at 3 o’clock, and a power reserve indicator at 9 o’clock. An unusual set-up for a watch this age. Now where is that blasted crown? Nowhere! You can’t manually wind this watch, and it’s an early automatic. So this is where Seiko got their ideas from ๐Ÿ˜‰

Whoever developed this watch wanted a clean break from tradition, and strived to be as modern as they could be. It’s re-inventing the watch as it was known until then.IMG_0744

Here is the first clue… “Do not lift – slide”. The wheel on the back of the case sets the watch. No winding. If you slide it out, it engages with a wheel on the inside and you can set the time. Slide it back in, and it disengages.IMG_0746

This does not look too good. Terrible amplitude, beat error and beat rate. About time to do something!IMG_0747

This is the inside view of the setting wheel on the case back. Now I do like this. No stem, no winding, just a little wheel that you slide. Very Futurematic indeed!IMG_0749

First inside view. The centre wheel is for setting the time, and that’s where the sliding wheel on the case back engages. At 5 o’clock, there is a left-handed screw with an arrow pointing to it. This is used to let down the power, and my yellow oiler is engaged with the click that you can lift to let the power down. Essential if you don’t want to damage the movement.

As my client points out to me, the hack lever is missing. But I guess you need to know that one ever was there…image

There you go, and now you know!IMG_0750

The dial and hands in all their glory. A bit faded, but considering the age of the watch, not too bad.IMG_0752

The bottom plate is an engineer’s feast. As the slipping mainspring apparently wasn’t invented yet, these guys went completely overboard to tackle the problem of the automatic winding mechanism breaking the mainspring. At 9 o’clock, you can see that the oscillating weight has a little hook, that can engage with a pin. When the mainspring is fully wound, the pin will move outwards, and catch the hook of the weight, thus keeping the oscillating hammer weight locked, until the mainspring winds down a bit again, and releasing it. Mental ๐Ÿ˜‰ If you had a wet dream about making this more complicated, you wouldn’t come up with this construction.IMG_0755

One level down, and things look more normal. We already have a shock protected balance!IMG_0756

The mainspring barrel holds a surprise as well, and we will get to that later.IMG_0759

The plate is as fragile as it gets, as there is a huge chunk carved out to accommodate the “bumper” oscillating weight. The rack and pinion construction at the bottom is the power reserve indicator.IMG_0764

The weirdest centre wheel you will ever see ๐Ÿ˜‰IMG_0771

Never let engineers loose without a budget. Because this is what happens.IMG_0776

No lack of parts for the cleaning machine.IMG_0811

The mainspring in the barrel is pre-tensioned. As this watch doesn’t have a manual wind, the engineers thought it would be a good idea to leave a residual tension in the mainspring, so that the watch will start up instantly when slightly wound by the auto winder. Good thinking, but yet another complication.IMG_0814

Once the mainspring is pre-wound by 1 1/2 turns, two little screws are put into the centre plate. This plate rides up as there is a thread in the middle when the mainspring is wound. This serves to drive the power reserve indicator and the rotor catch pin that stops the auto winder once the watch is fully wound. The mind boggles!IMG_0819

The wheel train is surprisingly normal!IMG_0823

This photo shows the plate on the mainspring barrel in mid-wound position.IMG_0825

For a first go, this is a lot better than before.IMG_0851

One of the screws holding the hook to arrest the weight is broken off, but I manage to remove the broken thread and find a new screw that fits.IMG_0852

On top of that, one of the screws holding the weight is missing, and the thread is damaged. I re-cut the thread, and Patrick manages to find a replacement screw.IMG_1509

Now it’s time for the final reassembly. See how the hook of the weight is almost caught by the pin, e.g. the watch is almost fully wound.IMG_1512

The dial and hands go back on, and I can case the movement again.

Now for a word of warning… Not that this is a cheap watch to buy in the first place, but you have to make sure that the watch you buy is complete and working. There are no parts out there to be had, the movement is fiendishly complex, and is subject to quite a bit of wear and tear. So this is for Sunday best only, and for serious collectors that have time, money and patience.

Nevertheless, a piece of watch history, and one of the maddest designs I have seen so far. Probably the maddest.

50 thoughts on “Service + Repair: LeCoultre Futurematic calibre 497

  1. I have a futurematic 497 black face, gold.
    And I just notice that the main hands are different than the side sweep
    hands that are pointed at the ends.
    The main hands are connected to a round disc shape connection.
    Can these hands be replaced with the original like the side hands.

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  4. I have a futurematic I have a question about. The case has no setting stem in it. no slot for one to be put in it. It looks like all the rest but just a smooth back case no holes. Is it special? Did they forget to put it in?I can send you a pic if you need to see it.

  5. Hello,
    Please I need help finding an indicator pinion #9513 for the power reserve on Le Coultre Futurematic. I tried ordering one from Ebay but it was lost in the mail. And they have none left. I don’t know where else to look. So, please if anyone know where I can locate the item or if they have the part please let me know. Thanks!

  6. My husband has this exact watch which was his father’s. After doing some research, there seems to be at least 2 different face styles of 497 from the 50’s. The “power reserve” written on the left dial (without numbers) was the other style and There was another type of lug nuts: the “tear drop” or “horn lugs”. The lug nuts of the watch pictured above is referred to as “bear claw” or “long lugs”. Does anyone know which 497 face style and lug nuts style was the original or were both made concurrently? Is one more rare or collectible?
    Thanks!

  7. I have one of these 479 movements and need a case – if anyone has one for sale?? The movement will be disassembled, cleaned and rebuilt. Thanks to the article you have written I am a bit more confident that I can do this. CHeers
    opals100@yahoo.com

  8. I’ve disassembled the Futurematic 497 and have all parts except for the two screws that go into the barrel cover. I have two sets of screws that I can convert to fit but don’t know the height of the screw heads. Can you give me a measurement of the head height and a some info on setting up the stop works and how it functions? Thanks so much for any help you can offer.

  9. Thanks Christian.
    In my case the reserve indicator winds down, normal movement doesn’t seem to rewind the watch and increase the power reserve…

    • Hi Christian, as I haven’t yet been successful in fixing an appointment with you, I have a Q, while waiting!
      My futurematic is running & keeping time but the power reserve indicator dial dosen’t go up beyond 8 o’clock, what could be the diagnostic?
      Could it be an earlier inadapted “winding spring” replacement…
      What could you suggest?
      Thanks for your reply
      Cheers Anthony

      • It’s very hard to tell without opening the watch… the power reserve indication mechanism is a bit of a nightmare, and not the best construction in the world. In order to make it work, the engineers decided to hook the bumper weight into a locked position when the mainspring is fully wound – that’s got to be one of the worst auto winder constructions ever made ๐Ÿ˜‰

        • …is my theory about the mainsping plausible?
          You’re a “chic” watch guy for replying so quickly…
          may be just got to hang on until more serious problems appear. Any way I’ve already bought a brand new “old stock” mainsring on the ebay in the states in reserve!
          PS the mainsring never seems to get fully wound & “hooked” according to the indicator, may be not such a bad problem? From a time keeping side the precision is brilliant, to a few seconds a day without, apparently, an old service in the past? Cheers, I’ll be patient for a service.

          • If the mainspring is too short, this could limit the power reserve, but the the weight would never get locked, and the auto winder would work against the hook of the mainspring …
            But it’s pretty impossible to tell you what’s wrong without having opened the watch I’m afraid.

  10. Thanks Christian.
    In my case the reserve indicator winds down, normal movement dosen’t seem to rewind the watch and increase the power reserve…

  11. Hi Christian, did you replace the Hack lever, is it essential.
    A watch without one, does it have less value?
    Thanks for your reply.

  12. Friend, thank you so much for your detailed pictures above, but I have a question….. You say “If you slide it out, it engages with a wheel on the inside and you can set the time. Slide it back in, and it disengages.” But isn’t the opposite true? The wheel slides inward to set the time? I just picked up one of these and unless there’s something terribly strange about my Futurematic, you need to slide that wheel inward to engage and set the time….

  13. This is the most information article on the FutureMatic. Mine has been working fine for the last 3 months since I purchased it used on eBay and now the movement seems to have ceased. “Winding” it causes the second hand to move 10-15 sec at a stretch, but that’s about it. Could this be an issue with the mainspring? I’d love to book an appt to bring the watch in, but I’m located in SF :(. Would appreciate any help I can get from you on this, since there’s not much help here in SF on old school Jaegers.

  14. Great article! I just bought a porthole version from an antique dealer. As far as I know it’s working but -2min per day. How much do you charge to service the 817 caliber? Or would it make more sense for me to send this to JLC in Switzerland?

    Thanks,
    Ethan

  15. I just found one of the early ones at a yard sale. Serial range 744,xxx. Watch is with box, paper, and price tag. Sent the watch to a FUTUREMATIC specialist to be serviced. I did wear the watch for a few days and enjoyed every minute. As a result of reading this article, I just can’t wait for the return of FUTUREMATIC. Thank You, I learned a lot.

  16. Hi,
    We just took one of these in on consignment. I will be listing it tonight for 99ยข with no reserve. The watch will run for 30 seconds or so and then stop. I can move the slide button back and forth and it will run another 20 or 30 seconds before stopping. The glass is cracked at about the 2:00 position on the face. The dial and hands look virtually new.
    Thanks,
    William

  17. Something with a power reserve has been on my wish list for a long time. I don’t think I’ll ever find something quite as exquisite as this though.

    • I’ve also sent Christian another JLC bumper automatic with a power reserve indicator – so look out for that. It’s a bit more conventional than this one though.

  18. What a great watch and special design. Again you managed to get my full attention and teaching me something about watches ๐Ÿ™‚
    Greetings, Louis.

  19. I like this watch, especially the name ‘FutureMatic’. Did Jaeger Lecoutre mean this watch was the future? The way forward, where others would follow….

    I note that the watch was “cased and timed in USA”. Wonder if there was a Tiffany tie-in with this model.

    • Most Jaeger LeCoultre watches sold in the US was also cased there to avoid import taxes. These are labeled with only LeCoultre hence dropping the Jaeger part of the full name.
      Movements are Swiss but the cases was normally US made. Some collectors claim the Swiss made cases are of a slightly higher standard than the US ones, and prices will normally be higher for the all Swiss watches with the full Jaeger LeCoultre logo on the dial.
      I would take either any day!
      Great watch and funky complication;-)

  20. Sunday best only? Surely it’s now good for another 60 years?

    One thing you didn’t mention – the reason for the huge cut out in the base plate is that the rotor is suspended from both sides. It’s all so complicated that apparently Jaeger LeCoultre lost money on every one they made.

    This is a US cased gold filled version – badged ‘LeCoultre’. It appears to be quite a low serial number and has obviously been though the wars a bit! The Swiss/European cased Futurematics are badged ‘Jaeger LeCoultre’, tend to be stainless steel or solid gold cases, and are quite a bit rarer. In the 50s Europe was still recovering from WWII and the major market for fancy watches was the US, but import duties made it more cost effective to assemble Swiss made movements and dials into US made cases within the US. There is also a rarer Cal 817 version with portholes in place of the power and seconds dials.

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