Jaeger-LeCoultre versus Rolex is an ongoing debate in the watch nerd world. Jaeger-LeCoultre makes nicer watches than Rolex, that’s just a simple fact. Also true: Rolex is a vastly more popular brand. But popularity isn’t always a virtue. In an uncertain world, flying under the radar can be an advantage. JLC is a great way to go . . .
JLC has an ironclad claim on the high horology’s upper echelons. Antoine LeCoultre started the family firm in 1803, some 36 years before Audemars Piguet set up shop and 72 years before Patek Philippe became a going concern.
In the last 217 years, JLC has developed over a thousand movements. They still make uber-complicated pieces of wrist art on a par with AP and Patek’s best. Exhibit A – JLC recently built a trio of special watches featuring an astonishing 55 complications between them.
Not impressed? Head to their catalog and you’ll find no fewer than nine complicated wristwatches carrying a “price on request” label. Fortunately, JLC’s talents are not limited to mega-buck pieces. Here are my favorites from their current line up…
Polaris Memovox – $12,400
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s sportiest watch is also one of it’s most iconic. The Polaris line has a style that harkens back to the beloved super compressor dive watches from the mid-1960’s.
JLC doesn’t present the new Polaris as a dive watch – most of the line is only water resistant down to 100 feet. The modern Polaris is designed as a practical, durable and comfortable daily watch. The 42mm case is a perfect sports watch size, and the subtle vintage style is icing on the cake.
The Polaris line is extensive and you can’t go wrong with any of them. But the best sits at the top of the heap: the Polaris Memovox.
This limited edition piece adds in a mechanical alarm complication indicated by a rotating disc in the center of the dial and operated by the third crown.
That alarm is LOUD – enough to be used as a bedside clock. The caliber 956 movement offers 45 hours of power reserve and an eight year warranty. They supposedly only made 1000 of these, but you can still find a new one if you try.
For many people the Reverso is THE Jaeger-LeCoultre – the beginning and the end. There are few watches as instantly recognizable and long-lived as this JLC classic.
Today we view it as a dressy watch, but it’s fun to remember that the Reverso was originally designed as a sport watch (image courtesy justcollecting.com). The story goes that the rotating case was devised to protect the watch face during polo matches. The closest I’ve ever come to polo is a Ralph Lauren Outlet. Nevertheless, the Reverso is on my “grail watch” list.
The Reverso I covet is the Classic Large version measuring 27 x 45 mm; thin but large enough to suit my ape-like wrist. The rest is a greatest hits of classic Jaeger-LeCoultre.
That classic Art Deco dial with small seconds. A hand-wound Caliber 822 movement to lovingly wind daily. The highly polished stainless steel case attached to a beautifully soft leather strap making it transparent on the wrist. The Reverso is, quite simply, dress watch perfection and the definition of an icon.
Geophysic True Second – $10,400
I noted earlier that Jaeger-LeCoultre’s prowess at making watch movements has been one of their claims to fame since…forever. With the Geophysic True Second, JLC condenses all of that knowledge down to achieve something simple yet remarkable: an automatic watch with a jumping seconds hand.
The R&D and watchmaking know-how needed to accomplish this was significant. JLC designed a whole new movement, the Caliber 770, with a second, centrally-located hairspring and H-shaped “Gyrolab” balance wheel to better manage the mechanical energy needed to jump the seconds hand. This was all accomplished in-house by Jaeger-LeCoultre.
The rest of the Geophysic True Second is beautifully understated. The case measures 39.6mm in diameter with wide lugs and a satiny finish on the sides. The dial is pure simplicity with luminous dagger hands and white gold baton-shaped markers. The rehaut has small luminous plots around its perimeter, and a date window is placed at 3 o’clock. And that’s it.
The Geophysic True Second gives you all of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s DNA – peerless technical prowess, timeless style – in one modest package. I’ll take mine in stainless steel on the bracelet, thank you.
Master Control Chronograph Calendar – $14,500
Introduced just last week during the digital Watches and Wonders trade show, Jaeger-LeCoultre managed to drop a lot of jaws (including that of our founder) with the Master Control Chronograph Calendar.
This watch is JLC’s first to combine a chronograph with triple calendar and moon phase complications. And they managed to do it in a watch that is both tastefully stylish and elegant in size.
The Chronograph Calendar is part of the Master Control line, meaning that Jaeger-LeCoultre subjects the finished watches to a 1000 hour timing control certification. The new movement, Caliber 759, has a 65 hour power reserve and a vertical clutch column wheel.
All this excellence fits in a classic round case just 40 mm in diameter and 12 mm thick. The dial is shockingly legible given all the complications with a bi-compax chronograph layout and date features at the 12 and 6 positions. The movement swings a combination of classic dauphine and baton hands, and the outer chronograph track is graduated for pulsations.
In a world where manufacturers are using new materials, slathering lume all over cases and bracelets and increasingly embracing highly modern styling details this new Jaeger-LeCoultre stands apart. It’s elegant, beautifully symmetrical, and just plain classic without looking old-fashioned. I can’t wait to see one on my (or Robert’s) wrist.