2015 sees Jaeger-LeCoultre releasing a new titanium and blue ref. Q203T541 (203T541) version of its most impressive sport watch. Timepieces like the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 are why I continue to find myself in love with the world of watches. If it wasn’t for an Extreme Lab 2 or similar type of watch coming along now and again, I’d probably go off and find something else to write about, because writing about three-hand vintage style dress watches bores me most of the time. This Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2, however, is modern, technical, functional, meticulous, over-engineered, comfortable, and interesting – all words that deeply apply to what this mega high-end sports watch is all about.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 is a watch that originally came out about five years ago – at least that was when it was debuted. In many ways, it was a major step up from Jaeger-LeCoultre’s original Extreme Lab 1 watch. The brand took a while to finally get the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 to market because it was so complicated technically with oh so many parts in the movement and the case. Between the original 18k red gold and TiVan titanium alloy versions, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 was originally a limited edition of 500 pieces total (200 in gold and 300 in titanium). The 2015 Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 in titanium with blue colors accents marks a return of the Extreme Lab 2, and is actually not a limited edition – which I hope is a positive sign for the future of Jaeger-LeCoultre as a complicated sports watch maker.
As the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 is easily on my short list of grail watches, I went hands-on here last year in 2014 with both the gold and titanium versions of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2. In that article, I attempted to explain what made the watch special even a few years after it was released and demonstrated what was so cool about the in-house made Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 780 automatic movement. In this article, I’ll point out a series of little details about the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 which I hope will help illustrate why a timepiece like this is so desirable for watch lovers like me.
In a nutshell, I feel that Jaeger-LeCoultre is offering a fantastic value (even though this is by no means a cheap watch) with all that goes into the movement and case of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2. Further, so many elements of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 watch are completely and wondrously over-engineered. By that, I mean Jaeger-LeCoultre has included rather complicated ways of doing things in this collection that only add minor benefits. That’s what I call over-engineering. Not counting the strap and buckle components (which, surprisingly, aren’t insignificant) the Calibre 780 movement and case of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 have a total of 712 different parts.
Let’s be honest for a second about the Calibre 780 movement in the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2. While I haven’t personally spent a long time living with it, it does represent the biggest double-edged sword of the watch. On the one hand it is beautiful, complicated, and laden with fantastic features. On the other hand, it took Jaeger-LeCoultre extra time to get the fancy chronograph system to work, and because it is so complicated, you more-or-less know that it is going to have mechanical issues and/or need service at regular intervals. It is sort of the Italian sports car owner’s dilemma – “I know it is going to look and perform amazingly when it works, but when it breaks we, will be apart for a long time and our reunion will be expensive.” I don’t have any specific evidence to suggest that the Calibre 780 is a movement prone to repair, but rather, that almost all complicated movements of this nature with so many moving parts are fallible.
Why harp of that inevitability? Probably because I’d love to fantasize that the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 is capable of being a daily wear for years and years and perform like a reliable Toyota. I suppose you can’t have everything. I can say that compared to many other highly complicated mechanical watches, at least the titanium version of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 comes with an agreeable retail price to begin with – and the Jaeger-LeCoultre service center in Switzerland tends to receive high praise from its customers. With that said, let’s explore a bit more of the interesting and probably over-engineered elements of the 569-part Calibre 780 automatic movement.
When watch collectors think of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2, the first thing that comes to mind is the fun chronograph system. L-shaped chronograph pushers are designed for an excellent tactile experience and topped with piece of rubber for a precise “grip.” Jaeger-LeCoultre wanted to develop a chronograph that was extremely legible at a glance, so the minute counter is actually digital (it looks like a big date indicator) and is placed under 12 o’clock. This combined with the central seconds hand allows you to easily and precisely read the chronograph minutes and seconds (down to 1/8 of a second). The chronograph also has a full 24-hour counter, which is very welcome for those who want to time things more than 12 hours. Jaeger-LeCoultre designed the chronograph hours counter in a pleasantly legible manner as well, and the inner part of the chronograph hours indicator subdial is a disc that operates as the running seconds of the time.
Internally, the chronograph uses not only a column-wheel, but also a vertical clutch transmission system. Together, these elements make for a chronograph that should last through a lot of starts, stops, and resets, but one that also starts very precisely when you activate the pusher. For me, this is one of the coolest chronograph systems around, next to the somewhat similar (as well as more expensive and limited) Porsche Design P’6910 Indicator watch from several years ago. The easiest to miss complication on the dial is the linear power reserve indicator that begins at 9 o’clock and goes to 3 o’clock on the periphery of the dial counting out “00” to “60” for the full length of the Calibre 780’s 60 hour power reserve.
Jaeger-LeCoultre doesn’t stop there! Let me next talk about a “hidden” complication which is the stop seconds feature (hacking seconds) designed to make it easy to set the time precisely. Pulling out the crown of the movement resets the seconds indicator disc but allows the minute hand to continue moving. The idea is to allow you to set the time as precisely as you can without having to wait. Most people don’t even know that the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 has a seconds hand reset feature. The dial also contains a date window located at 3 o’clock – which is useful but the least “interesting feature.”
People continue to get confused by how the crown works on watches like this, where the crown does not pull out. Owners of some of the more complicated Richard Mille watches will be familiar with how the crown works on the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2. Why not a pull-out crown? Well, in the most strict of senses, each time you pull out the crown you do in fact allow water or dust to be introduced into the case, even if there are protective gaskets. Crowns like this have a pusher built into them, and when pressed, cycle through the functions that the crown is able to do, such as setting the time, setting the second time zone (GMT hand), setting the date, winding the watch, as well as what appears to be a “neutral” position. The function selector window is placed next to the date window. As I said before, the Calibre 780 also has a GMT hand over 6 o’clock which has a disc colored to represent the day/night cycle and offers a handy second time zone to the already feature-packed Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 watch.
Unlike the previous TiVan 15 (a titanium alloy that, according to Jaeger-LeCoultre, is more scratch resistant than standard titanium) ref. Q203T540 (203T540) Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 with black and red color accents this new for 2015 ref. 203T541 has black and blue elements, offering an additional flavor. Other than the new colors, all that appears to be different is that the 2015 Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 Blue is not a limited edition. Again, I think that is interesting and speaks to the enduring popularity of this model (and hopefully that Jaeger-LeCoultre will revisit the high-end luxury sports watch in a more serious way soon. I’ve always felt that JLC was so good at being a sport watch maker, but as a company, they feel that their corporate identity should focus more on talking about their dress watches and Reverso models almost exclusively in their marketing materials and advertising.
Around the dial of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 is a black ceramic bezel, and the case is a large 46.8mm wide by 16.5mm thick. That is not a small case, but it does wear comfortably on most any wrist because Jaeger-LeCoultre designed the lug attachment system to easily wrap around wrists. Of course, the case has a unique quick release system for the straps as well as a micro adjust for “short” and “long” in the actual strap buckle. This means quick strap changes if you need them, as well as a setting for making the watch a bit looser if you need (more precise than using a different hole in the strap). Again, here is another element where you see over-engineering. Most watch makers would just assume that owners will just take off the watch and put it back on with the buckle in a different hole if they feel the watch is too tight because of wrist expansion. Not Jaeger-LeCoultre with the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 – they needed to design a complicated micro-adjust in the buckle itself, adding just a little bit of precision and a lot of effort. That is the type of over-engineering I love and appreciate when it comes to insane purchases such as this.
With 100 meters of water resistance and at least some shock-resistant properties, I think the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 watch is certainly more “sporty” than many other complicated “sports” watches. Having said that, each owner needs to decide what abuses they want to subject a watch like this to. I continue to love the back of the case as well as the bridge design of the Calibre 780 movement. It is all just so technical and contemporary but also traditionally mechanical… the entire composition is a perfect horological romance for me, as the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 is just my type.
With a price of about $55,000, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 exists as one of the “less expensive” super watches, just broaching the mega watch territory. In my opinion, there is very little else out there that boasts this type of pedigree and complication for this type of price. In fact, perhaps the only watch maker producing similarly themed and complicated movements is Richard Mille – and good luck getting a Richard Mille with this type of complexity for anything under a few hundred thousand dollars. There are other little details about the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 that I was not able to cover, but trust me that there are more little secrets to discover about this timepiece. Jaeger-LeCoultre has really created something special here for enthusiasts, and I am happy to see this new-for-2015 blue titanium model as an non-limited edition. Price for the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 reference 203T541 in titanium with blue accents is $53,000 (a bit lower price than the similar limited edition model). jaeger-lecoultre.com