October 6, 2015
by Ariel Adams
OK, I will admit that this Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater watch doesn’t really need to have a small protruding plaque on the dial that informs the wearer of the “Sonnerie” element of the movement. (SEE UPDATE BELOW). In person, this feature really isn’t terribly distracting, but I don’t know that it is very important. I bring this up now because it is really one of the only obvious downsides to this otherwise amazingly wearable high-complication watch from Jaeger-LeCoultre. Ignoring this odd little design element, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater is almost pure horological lust.
UPDATE: So Jaeger-LeCoultre was kind enough to explain the purpose of the small “tab” on the dial of the watch, and graciously admitted that they were not effective in communicating the nature of this element before. Essentially, the “plaque” on the dial is part of the minute repeater system. It is actually “welded” to the sapphire crystal and uses the crystal as a resonance device in order to help amplify the sound of the minute repeater while the watch is being worn on the wrist. This is how the Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater contains Jaeger-LeCoultres “Crystal Gong” system which normally uses the rear sapphire crystal. Apparently in order to help diminish the “muffle” which can occur while activating the minute repeater when the watch is on the wrist – this watch uses the front sapphire crystal (versus the rear). Jaeger-LeCoultre explains that with this smaller 39mm wide case it was necessary to engineer the Crystal Gong system in this manner, and this design element might also be due to the fact that the watch is an automatic and the design of the caseback is different from other manually-wound watches with the Crystal Gong technology. Thus, the “plaque” on the dial of the watch is part of the “loud speaker” for the minute repeater. This plaque was actually never intended to have print on it but since it looked “empty” they decided to insert the term “Sonnerie.”
While aBlogtoWatch debuted the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater here, it was not until later that I got a chance to check out this watch for myself. In a nutshell, you have a sublimely elegant 39mm-wide dress watch with a super legible dial that also happens to have a thoroughly modern, in-house made automatic movement. This is one of those very rare minute repeater watches that you can wear on a daily basis.
39mm wide is actually quite small for a modern minute repeater. They’ve come smaller, but men’s minute repeaters at this size are almost unheard of in today’s watch market. This is actually smaller than I prefer for most watches, but at 12.1mm thick, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater really doesn’t feel too small, even though it also works on more slender wrists.
The case also appears slightly larger because of the minute repeater pusher system. And it is a pusher, versus a slider. Jaeger-LeCoultre engineered out the more traditional (and not as safe) “all-or-nothing” minute repeater slider system for a pusher that works much better. The system is also designed using Jaeger-LeCoultre’s proprietary “Crystal Gong” system which helps the chimes sound richer and louder. Unfortunately, you can’t view the minute repeater gong and hammers from the rear of the watch, but the sounds from the minute repeater are impressive and “rich,” as advertised – watch our hands-on video by clicking on the Instagram window just below.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater dial is an example of good watchmaking ideals in practice. It isn’t just the legible and clean design of the dial which works, it is the careful attention to choosing the correct textures, colors, and polishes for all the elements. The “bumpy” face helps the hands and hour markers contrast well, and the applied gold indicators and hands are carefully polished to prevent legibility-killing light reflectivity and glare. Even though there have been other minute repeater watches in the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition collection before, this ref. 5092520 is by far the cleanest and easiest on the eyes.
The deceptive simplicity of the watch is really part of its appeal, isn’t it? In fact, that ugly little plaque on the dial feels like a result of some designer feeling as though someone might forget that the watch has a minute repeater. I am pretty sure that big pusher on the side is reminder enough, but I do understand how the simple cleanliness of the dial might confuse regarding the actually complicated nature of the in-house made Jaeger-LeCoultre caliber 942 automatic movement.
Operating at 4Hz with 40 hours of power reserve, the caliber 942 is produced from a whopping 437 parts which is about 300 parts more than your simple manually-wound time-only watch. The automatic rotor in 22k rose gold has that cool new JLC-style logo, set deep within the case which is designed for maximum chiming resonance. Movements like this which combine utter practicality with enthusiast-oriented high complications are a particular specialty of Jaeger-LeCoultre.
There really isn’t too much left to say about this deceptively simple high-end timepiece creation. Clearly, the refined 18k gold case and purist dial make for a desirable dress watch. Thankfully, even this element is unique such that consumers will not confuse the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater with other more simple Jaeger-LeCoultre watches. That is something important to note because I don’t think I would have been as into this watch if it simply looked like other Jaeger-LeCoultre dress watches with a “secret” minute repeater. That it is simple and yet also distinctive is a major plus-factor for this watch and a hint at how carefully calculated even “basic looking” watch designs can be. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Traditional Minute Repeater ref. 5092520 has a price of $169,000. jaeger-lecoultre.com