November 29, 2017
by David Bredan
This, I shall point out early on, will be less of a hands-on about the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Chronograph Ceramic and more of a burst of thoughts about the modern Jaeger-LeCoultre, as we have it today. Usually I have a clear vision on what I think about a watch and its brand, but here I have more mixed feelings of concern and hope than anything else. So, humor me a bit as I try and frame it. Specs about the watch, I’ll get to at the end.
Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of the few Jolly Jokers in the deck of less and more valuable cards of watch brands. It is, because there is such a remarkably wide array of established “Jaeger” references, one of which if you happen to own and wear, you have pretty much removed yourself from any critical discussion. It’s like a cloak that makes you invisible in the critical eyes of watch snobs and “enthusiasts.” In short, a Jaeger-LeCoultre has become a safe choice for reasons that include the brand’s extensive history and vibrant heritage – part of which is some 1,200 different movements and 400 patented inventions, and goodness knows how many others that have not been legally quarantined. However, there’s more to JLC than that.
Here’s the thing, Jaeger-LeCoultre traditionally is not another Vacheron Constantin for it isn’t a “manufacture” (VC would prefer you pronounced that in French) that seems perpetually attracted to its past and sets a foot wrong nearly every time it does something new. Jaeger-LeCoultre, nestled under the Richemont umbrella just like Vacheron, is a ballsy brand not with a lonely quasi-sporty and needlessly expensive watch like the Overseas, but with an extensive history of properly badass watches, produced over an extensive part of its history. I’ve added images of a selection of them throughout the article below.
Deep Sea chronographs, Master Compressors, friggin’ Navy Seals limited editions, Extreme Labs and so on. Come to think of it, if you’ve ever worn a proper Reverso, you’ll know that even that fits in, as it is one of the most masculine dress watches out there… and it was designed over 80 years ago.
What I’m getting at is that I’ve been seeing Jaeger-LeCoultre in recent years as changing or, to be more specific, scaling back from all this noticeably. I understand that a massive manufacture will always have to rely on successful, endlessly regurgitated core products, and there’s nothing wrong with that – but JLC is slowly turning away from a lot of the uniquely cool watches that made it great at least in my eyes and is scaling back to only pushing yet newer (though that’s a strong word) versions of its bread-makers.
One gets the impression – and, like most impressions, this isn’t entirely accurate either – that everything is a tribute to this, an anniversary of that, or an homage to something else. For goodness’ sake, even last year’s Reverso Gyrotourbillon is called a flippin’ Tribute in its official product name! A tribute to what, a 15-year-old invention? Really? How self-absorbed.
What I think I need to feel excited again about Jaeger-LeCoultre, which I very much want to do, are new watches that have an atmosphere to them like Master Compressors with a few too many crowns, Extreme Labs so extreme their movement doesn’t even appear to fit in their case, and Duomètre Chronographs that are so beautiful and over-engineered, it makes most other watches go shiver in an unlit corner of the room.
The watches I have mentioned made their debuts in the ’00s (okay, the Extreme Lab 2 started showing up in 2010), and that was 8-10 years or, in other words, a long, long time ago. I know a fair bit about what it takes to create a new collection and that Extreme Labs don’t fall out of the sky… But, truth be told, I’m not missing high complications nearly as much as I do more attainable everyday Jaeger-LeCoultres that specifically do not appear to have been designed to appeal to insecure schmucks in metropoleis.
To be fair, Jaeger-LeCoultre does have some strong originals in its range, but they are a dying breed with less and less frequent updates and with fresh back-up making it to the fronts even more scarcely. The Master Ultra-Thin Eight Days Perpetual is all the dress watch you’d ever need to keep yourself and others impressed. Any of the Deep Sea Vintage pieces will make you feel like you’re a Roger Moore Bond, and the Duomètre is, in a way, as high-tech as everyday-wearable watches can get. The conflict in my mind comes from these watches being as old as they are, and with the brand apparently not caring as much anymore about nurturing not simply these collections, but the very concept it used to have behind them.
I deeply dislike the new(-ish-ish-ish) Master trio because they offer a blend of flat, uninspiring and historically incorrect looks – the hands with the fallen-out-lume-look objectively should have never happened. They are a design they knew would make many bend over backwards and that, to their credit, they did achieve. But look at the finesse, the confident balance and impressive engineering that appears on and inside a Master Ultra Thin Perpetual or the bonkers, way over the top and yet casually retailed Master Compressors of old… and you’ll probably see how much “more Jaeger” those watches are – in some sense, at least.
I’m not saying those timid, deeply uninspired, quasi-vintage re-releases shouldn’t exist – they do fine for people who just want some watch, preferably with a very, very secure aesthetic and even more secure name on the dial (the worldtimer “Geographic” on the right is the weak exception that enforces the rule). But don’t we have plenty of that already on offer from other Richemont brands – not to mention more distant competitors?