If you’ve been keeping an eye on MONOCHROME Watches, and I sort of expect you have, you might have seen this handsome little devil pop up before. It’s the latest model coming from Lebois & Co, a revived historic name closely linked to Airain thanks to its Dutch owner Tom van Wijlick. Reviving a name from the past is never easy but Tom has been steadily building an interesting range of mechanical watches under both brands. We’re already familiar with the Airain Type 20 and Sous Marine for instance, as well as the Lebois & Co Avantgarde Date and Venturist for that matter. So with the Heritage Chronograph being on and off my wrist for a couple of months now, it’s about time I share my personal experience with it.
Lebois & Co is one of those names that ceased operations in the early 1970s, around the time the quartz crisis would come into full swing and wipe out a staggering number of brands. It was originally founded in 1934 by a member of the Dodane family, Raymond Dodane. This family of watchmakers and entrepreneurs is quite well-known in the industry, mainly through the Dodane brand although that was far from all they did (Airain being another example of their work). Production of Lebois & Co watches stopped in 1972 and from then on, the brand remained dormant for almost 40 years. In 2014, Dutch entrepreneur and watch collector Tom van Wijlick thought it was time to venture into the unknown world of watchmaking for himself. He and his wife were already familiar with the Lebois & Co name after stumbling upon a beautiful vintage watch sometime earlier.
Roughly a year after that pivotal decision, the Lebois & Co name was successfully revived through a Kickstarter campaign. By then, Tom had managed to secure the rights to the name and started building his own watchmaking legacy. The first watch was the Avantgarde Date, a modern interpretation of a dressy time-and-date watch. The Avantgarde Date was launched in three crowdfunded editions with a black, silver or blue dial. Following the success of the first collection, Tom stepped up his game and introduced the Venturist in 2018. This automatic Observatoire Chronométrique certified tool watch showed which direction Lebois & Co would be going, but not necessarily in terms of watch designs.
Building a community
Instead, the Venturist came with the option to become a shareholder of the company, which is an unexpected move in the watchmaking industry. Sure, we’re not talking about Rolex or Patek Philippe but giving up a part of your ownership in combination with the sale of a watch is surprising, to say the least. Regardless, it is exactly the type of community-based thinking that Tom has embraced in his work to revive both Lebois & Co and Airain. Following the Venturist, a rendition of the historical Airain Type 20 pilots chronograph was introduced. This was done through a dedicated campaign aimed at getting people involved in the decision-making process. People could vote on several key aspects the watch should have, such as the type of movement or the material for the crystal. The next step would be to vote on specific design elements for instance, or the type of straps. After the design was locked in, people could had the chance to put down a pre-order to make sure they were among the first to receive the new watch.
Tom has also used this inclusive way of thinking for the Lebois & Co Heritage Chronograph. The first announcement was made in April 2021 which showed the inspiration behind the new collection, offered several design ideas to vote on and the choice between a cam-operated chronograph movement, or one with a column wheel. A couple of months later, using the input from the first step in the campaign, Lebois & Co lined up three case designs and a range of dials. At the end of the year, Tom and his team shared the final 3D designs and the technical details, before working towards the prototyping stage in 2022. A few delays along the way, which is to be expected in such a project, pushed back the initial release a little, but by the 2nd quarter of 2023, the first deliveries commenced.
Throughout the entire campaign, there would be regular updates through newsletters, virtual Coffee Catch-Ups and social media exposure. And of course, the occasional story on MONOCHROME kept things under your attention as well. Doing things this way invites people to join at the very earliest possible moment and experience the entire process of designing, prototyping and realising the birth of a new watch collection. And on top of that, people get to have their input on what it eventually looks like! To me, that’s the perfect example of community-based entrepreneurship. Not only getting people excited but getting them actively involved as well!
Experiencing the Heritage Chronograph
Unboxing my personal Lebois & Co Heritage Chronograph was a very enjoyable moment, primarily due to the build-up from the very start. The watch was months in the making, during which I voted every single time and had a clear vision of which one I wanted. Was I as excited about the final result as I expected from the get-go? Would it become a regular wrist companion for me? I can wholeheartedly say yes, and yes. I have gone for Ref. 324.478, the Telemetre style dial in salmon (a favourite colour among the MONOCHROME team). Although I liked all four final designs, this one really struck a chord with me from the beginning.
For me, and I emphasize that it’s highly personal, the proportions are just about perfect. The 39mm wide stainless steel has a lovely profile, striking a balance between vintage and contemporary. At a height of 10.5mm, it’s also not too bulky, although it would have been amazing if Lebois & Co could have pushed it below 10mm. Nevertheless, elements such as the stepped bezel and the domed sapphire crystal give it bundles of vintage charm. Worth mentioning is the shape and finishing of the chronograph pushers. These have a very elegant shape to them, curving downwards at the ends, and finished with a polished bevel. Touching and using them is a very pleasurable experience.
Although I’ve already touched upon the dial, there really is a lot to love here. It’s domed and has different textures for the various segments of the dial. The outer section, used for the tachymeter and telemeter scales, has a circular brushed finish. The centre section is sandblasted, while the recessed subdials have a bevelled edge and a snailed finish. The applied gold indices and blued hands enhance the vintage vibe even more. The leaf-shaped hour and minute hands are blued and contrast nicely against the salmon background. The rest of the hands, including the ones for the chronograph are made to match in colour. The combination of all these elements is what really won me over on which one I wanted.
Turning the watch around reveals the manually wound Calibre LC-450, which is based on the L100 series produced by La Joux-Perret. This has a partially blued column-wheel set-up to have a buttery smooth start/stop/reset sequence for the chronograph. The movement is very nicely finished with blued screws, Côtes de Genève and gold-coloured engravings. Its sixty-hour power reserve is very decent and during my time with the watch, it has performed admirably. The winding and setting of the watch is very smooth and the crown gives a reassuring feedback.
The Lebois & Co Heritage Chronograph is a beautiful and honestly very sensible chronograph watch. I have grown to love it deeply, and very much enjoy checking the watch when on the wrist, to the point I forget to actually check for the time. Sure, the legibility might not be optimal in some circumstances as the Telemetre scale is very fine but that could very well be down to my slowly deteriorating eyesight. I must admit I have swapped out the original dark brown suede leather strap for an alligator leather one (available in the MONOCHROME Webshop) and that has become my go-to choice. That’s just a personal opinion, but I honestly feel it elevates the watch the watch that bit more. Don’t get me wrong, the original suede leather strap looks and feels very comfortable, and with it, the watch already punches way above its weight class! I just prefer this combo for now.
One thing I also want to point out is that following community feedback on the flat double-buckle that comes on the Airain Type 20, Tom and his team have decided to give that double-buckle a curved profile for the Lebois & Co Heritage Chronograph. On top of that, you also get a regular signed pin buckle and an extra keeper so you can fit whatever set-up you like best. The Heritage Chronograph retails for EUR 2,550, which doesn’t make it the bargain of the century but I feel it’s very fair.
Having handled the watch for a while now, I can personally vouch for the level of quality and the attention to detail put into it. I’ve received multiple comments from people this was something from a far more expensive brand. I don’t know what that’s worth to you, but the general consensus was that it looks and feels very good indeed. It’s a more than excellent representation of a beloved vintage style of chronograph watches, with a nice manual wound movement at a reasonable price. And to me, that pretty much sums it all up.
For more information, please visit LeboisandCo.com
This post first appeared on Monochrome Watches - An online magazine dedicated to fine watches.