Jaeger-LeCoultre Compass Camera

Normally when we see the name Jaeger-LeCoultre at Fellows, we are looking at a beautiful watch. However, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Compass miniature camera is something a little different.

Noel Pemberton Billing

Born in 1881, Noel Pemberton Billing was a man of many talents. Not only an inventor and aviator, he also served as the Member of Parliament for Hertford during WWI.

Pemberton Billing’s ambition was legendary. When he decided to become a pilot, he earned his licence within a day of getting in a plane . He had taken a bet that he could do so before breakfast.

A decade later, another wager would lead him to create one of the most celebrated cameras of its time.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Compass Camera

The story goes that Pemberton Billing bet he would be able to produce a camera working on 35mm film that could be fitted inside an empty cigarette packet. Never one to back down from a challenge, Pemberton Billing set up Compass Camera Ltd. and set about finding partners for manufacturing and engineering.

Le Coultre et Cie (as Jaeger-LeCoultre was known until 1937) had developed an extremely thin watch movement for their Reverso watches. They made the perfect team and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Compass Camera was born.

It was marketed as being “Built Like a Watch” to indicate not only its small size but also its capability.

Jaeger-LeCoultre and Compass Camera Ltd. produced just 4,000 cameras and had to stop production during WWII. It was never resumed. We don’t know how many still survive.


Jaeger LeCoultre Compass Camera (front)

The leading compact camera at the time was the Leica III. The Compass camera is less than half the size of Leica’s offering making it a very attractive piece of kit.

Despite the fact that it is extremely compact, it contains 290 components housed in a case machined from a block of aluminium. 

Jaeger-LeCoultre Compass Camera at auction

Jaeger LeCoultre Compass Camera (back)

The camera operates on a 35mm film and this example has a roll film magazine back.

Luckily, given its intricate nature, this model has an operator’s booklet and case.

Lot number 175 has an auction estimate of £500 to £800.

Wednesday 14th September 2022 9 am

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