Have you ever laid your eyes upon a beautiful women that a feeling much like loves sets in right away - only to be quickly followed by dismay knowing she is so out of your league you might as well be a different species? This feeling of frustrated lust is akin to what I felt when handling the new Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 watch at SIHH 2010 last January. The piece is quite possibly a bona-fide member of the league of extraordinary watches (an group of action hero timepieces that exists in my head). The fantastic timepieces boasts a wild though functional design, appealing features, and a lots of technical merits that only a brand like Jaeger-LeCoultre can think up and execute.
The watch is almost too cool for any mere human. It isn't about being a technical masterpiece or winning a beauty pageant - but the collective feelings of its design and features combined with its mere presence. The watch actually comes in two varieties and has two movements (though they have only one difference each). The first version of the watch is made from a special titanium alloy called TiVan15, mixed with ceramic. That version contains the Caliber 781 movement, while the 18k pink gold version (as handled by me) has the 780 movement. The differences in the movements? The 781 has a special antimagnetic property, while the 780 does not. The rose gold version costs more of course, but not too much more. Though, while I say this, I must temper it with the statement that these are expensive watches. Think, "Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 watch.... or new Jaguar automobile?" So the reason for my frustration is that the watches are not so ludicrously out of the field of affordability that I may never be able to afford one (i.e. a half million dollar Richard Mille watch), but rather that if the time comes that I can afford $60,000 on something, spending it on a watch would more than likely be unwise. And by that point what crazy timepiece will be available that I lust for?
The design of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 watch case is more science fiction that science - though the watch is designed to be worn on the most demanding of scientific expeditions. The case is 46.8mm wide and water resistant to 100 meters. The extremely complex construction has materials sandwiched between other materials, with some ceramic thrown in the mix. The design feels purposeful and reassuring it is quality. Indented areas on the side of the case add to the complexity of the design and a feeling that the watch is a serious device more complex than you ought to understand. The case is actually really light for its size - especially the titanium version. I love the look of it, and the ceramic bezel is a factor that will help reduce visual wear and tear (as ceramic is really hard to scratch). I just love the look of the case - it is masculine, feels sturdy, is totally unique, and gives the watch a fantastic character.
Jaeger-LeCoultre designed the watch with an easy to remove strap. It comes with two straps actually. An alligator and rubber one, and a calf leather strap. The case has a special easy release system for removing the strap. You can't really tell, but the rear of the watch has these little flaps that you pull up and release the strap. It is very easy to use, and ensures that the straps won't come off while you wear the watch. The complex looking buckle has a neat little micro-adjust system in it. This makes is possible to adjust the strap a bit while it is on your wrist. Quite cool, and I have never seen a more complexly engineer buckle on a strap that wasn't a deployment. The buckle uses two pins for added security.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre designed and manufactures Caliber 781 and 780 movements are very impressive. Most of the bridges are in black and the design of the movement is very modern. No more superman watches, with super vintage looking movements inside. Jaeger-LeCoultre knows how to keep mechanical fresh. The movement has a 60 hour power reserve, and some impressive specs that you can learn about below. It also has a ton of functions. Aside from the time (with a subsidiary seconds dial that double as the chronograph hour indicator), it has a 24 hour chronograph with digital minute counter, centrally placed GMT hand, date, and unique peripheral power reserve indicator. The crown also features a unique function selector. The crown is not pulled out, but rather has a built in pusher than controls one of three functions (winding, GMT adjustment, time adjustment). Pushing the button in the crown cycles between the three, and you always know what you are doing because there is a crown function indicator on the dial dear the date window at 3 o'clock.
Even though the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 dial is partially skeletonized, it is easy to read. The Master Compressor style Arabic numeral hour indicators are applied and lume filled, and the hour hands are easy to read. There is a stubby centrally located second time zone hand. It is a bit harder to read, but still is pretty legible. Actually the second time zone is done via two hands. A centrally located 12 hour hand, combined with the subdial at 6 o'clock that is used to indicator the time on the 24 hour scale. It helps by adding an AM/PM indicator, and allowing you to precisely read the second time zone. Really clever design by Jaeger-LeCoultre. The watch has a new type of power reserve indicator that is easy to miss as you won't be used to is placement. Look at the top half of the chapter ring. In the images I took the 0 - 60 scale has a white strip through it as the watch is fully wound. That strip turns to red as the power reserve runs down. Check out the bottom image to see what I mean. It allows an "at a glance" reading of the power reserve, without adding significantly to the dial. Jaeger-LeCoultre calls it a "Radial Power Reserve" indicator.
The chronograph is a big deal on the watch, and I love it. It is column wheel based, and used a vertical clutch for fast activation time. The chronograph runs for 24 hours and the left subdial switches from telling the time subseconds to the chronograph hours when it is activated. The chrono seconds are indicated via a central hand, while the minutes are displayed through a jumping digital counter located at 12 o'clock. Very slick, and makes using the chronograph a breeze.
On the left side of the watch case is a peculiar slider. I wondered for a while what it did until I found out. It is a manually operated stop seconds lever. You know when you adjust most mechanical watches and the seconds hand stops when you pull out the crown? This watch doesn't do that because it can screw up the time when you need to adjust the watch. But Jaeger-LeCoultre wanted to give you the ability to do that if you need to adjust the watch with precision. Thus, when you are setting the time, you can slide the lever down to stop the seconds, and slide it back up again to start them. Again, a pretty nifty feature in an already "packed with glory" timepiece.
It is already clear that I love this watch. I will more than likely never get the chance to get one. In addition to my lack of being able to shell out either $53,700 for the titanium version or $67,400 for the pink gold version, the watches are limited to just 300 and 200 pieces respectively. So I can lust, and I can dream - and I can hope that one of you out there gets one of these and brags to me how awesome it is.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 Technical Specs from Jaeger-LeCoultre:
Mechanical automatic Calibres 780 und 781, developed and manufactured by Jaeger-LeCoultre
Parts: 569 (Calibre 780), 566 (Calibre 781),
Diameter: 33.8 millimeters,
Height: 9.8 millimeters,
Power Reserve: 60 hours with one barrel,
Base plate made of nickel,
Antimagnetic up to 240 Gauss (Calibre 781),
Test: Jaeger-LeCoultre’s 1000 hours test
Hours, minutes, and small second’s hand (as function indication),
Second time zone (with 24 hours counter) adjustable in hour-steps, date,
Independent second’s stop,
Chronograph with digital minute display,
Semicircular radial power reserve indication
Digital jumping minute counter with two discs,
Central second’s hand,
Accuracy: up to 1/8 of a second,
Counting up to 24 hours,
Column wheel mechanism,
Vertical clutch system,
Two pushbuttons with rubber-covered, L-shaped security arms
Ceramic crown with integrated pushbutton to select three functions via column wheel:
1) winding; 2) setting of date and second time zone; 3) setting the time
Beat rate: 28,800 half-beats per hour,
Large balance wheel with a moment of inertia of 1.5 mg cm2 and variable inertia screws,
Balance bridge: fixed to two support points, stud held by two screws,
Protection device for limitation of the hairspring movement,
Escapement made of amagnetic silicium (Calibre 781)
Unidirectional automatic winding to up to 60 hours of power reserve, depicted by semicircular
radial power reserve indication,
Rotor: mounted on lubrication free ceramic ball bearings,
Shape: rotor mass made of platinum, held by three arms
Dual-Ring-Case: Sandwich structured case with carrier-chassis and movement container,
Black zirconium ceramic bezel,
Sapphire glass on front and back,
Movement-container made of TiVan15 (exclusively used by Jaeger-LeCoultre),
Chassis materials: TiVan15 (Calibre 781) or 18 carat red gold (Calibre 780),
Diameter: 46.8 millimeters,
Height: 16.5 millimeters,
Pushbuttons with L-shaped security arms and rubber cover
Dial and Hands:
Open worked dial with bridges in black PVD coating and different areas highlighting specific functions,
Newly formed skeleton hands,
Hands antimagnetic (Calibre 781)
Strap and buckle:
Double Alligator leather strap,
New integrated system to change the bracelet,
New adjustable double pin buckle fixed in two positions,
Strap secured through two attachment points with further adjustment in three positions
TiVan15 version (Calibre 781): Q203T470 - $53,700
Red gold version (Calibre 780): Q2032470 - $67,400