Now, onto the redeeming features. First and foremost, it operates pretty much silently. I personally can’t stand watches that I can hear tick-tock – if I am really keen on it, I’ll just lift the watch to my ear, listen to it for those 5 seconds that my interest lasts, and then I’m ready to not be reminded of the watch performing its base functionality. Better still, the automatic winding is basically silent too. I feel the rotor move perhaps once out of 20 times that I wear the watch and I certainly don’t hear it operate any more often than that either. It works as it should and it replenishes the power reserve just fine, but I’m pretty much never reminded of it doing that. In this sense, this 899 is way superior to the majority of other movements out there and again is a testament to the highly impressive levels of refinement that Jaeger-LeCoultre is capable of aspiring to and achieving.
Legibility, Dial Quality
The dial is a case study of black and white masculine watch design muscle flexin’. Nice, big, bold, proud-looking indexes and badass hands make the time easy to read under all circumstances. Based on the many (…many) images that I’ve seen of the watch before putting it on for the first time, I was expecting the dial to be more difficult to read than it actually is in the real world. The proportions are just right between all the dial element sizes – a horrible pet peeve of mine. The hands are the correct length, the numerals and indices are massive, the text is small and although the date is also tiny, it is made more interesting by its two-tier design – almost as though the designers tried to make up for it after having been ordered to put it there in the first place. One of the few instances where I don’t mind the date at all.
The text is crisp and the font style is unique. All that the dial says is informative, no “Superlative My Arse” boasting. “Jaeger-LeCoultre Compressor Diving 984 ft — 300 m Swiss Made.” That’s all that the dial says. The fact that Compressor Diving sounds rather stupid – although apparently technically correct – doesn’t bother me that much since it’s nicely countered by the 984ft conversion of the 300m depth rating. I also appreciate how there are no little dashes or drops of color anywhere on this watch. It’s all black, white, and silver – the arrow on the compression key turns red, but first, you don’t ever see that, second, it’s functional on those rare occasions when you do. A red logo or seconds hand or some other type of regular l’art pour l’art nonsense would’ve been a step back for this design, I reckon.
Lume is excellent. Although Jaeger-LeCoultre doesn’t specify, I believe the Navy SEALs Automatic’s dial to have a luminescent coating of the BGW9 type, not the more common Super-LumiNova. It’s blue and lasts a lot longer than Super-LumiNova, while ever so slightly less bright during the first 20 seconds after charging. I’ve always preferred this more rarely used lume for the simple reason that it lasts a lot longer than even the best S-LN – and because blue is refreshing after all the different hues of green. Which one remains visible for longer underwater, I confess my ignorance.
The crystal isn’t as glare-proof as I’d like it to be – and I’m no Navy SEAL, not even of the poser sort who wears camo tactical trousers to the supermarket. The crystal is slightly domed for reasons that are beyond my most daring watch design imaginations and although it apparently has anti-reflective coating on the inside, it doesn’t sport it on the outside. I keep hearing brands say “Yeah, but it looks ugly when it gets scratched!” to which I always respond “Yeah, but how come I’ve never had or even seen a watch ever out in the real world with a damaged AR-coating on its crystal?” It can’t possibly be missing from every watch ever and yet, hand on heart, I don’t recall ever seeing a watch that had its top AR-coating damaged. And so while the Navy SEALs Automatic isn’t anywhere near as bad as some others in this field, it certainly could be a lot better under some lighting situations.
All this said, I had to make a short sprint somewhere in town and while doing so I looked at the watch – a proven recipe for imminent lamp-post-hugging – and I remember being surprised by how easily I could read the time from it at this high alert situation. Overall, legibility is really quite good, but could certainly be improved in some areas.
Overall wearing experience
I’ve been wearing the Jaeger-LeCoultre Navy SEALs Automatic a lot. For that to happen, it had to be comfortable, versatile, legible, rugged, and compact – and it’s all those things. Where it goes beyond those qualities is its inimitable looks that I find to be so much more interesting and refreshing than most of its big-brand desk-diver competition (Submariner, Planet Ocean, Fifty Fathoms, etc.). It just looks right, because it’s proportionate, it’s legible, and it’s extremely well made. The fact that most people think it’s a fashion watch doesn’t bother me at all, but I do find it amusing. Newbie watch lovers will have their work cut out for them just the same, as the logo on the dial is unbelievably small and the compression key crown guard sort of blends into the overall design with its grey steel exterior and white arrow. I guess the SEALs got the discretion they wanted in their feedback – just on the battlefield.
I do genuinely enjoy wearing this watch and that’s for a host of reasons that vary to a rather surprising extent. The Navy SEALs Automatic is a good watch as it is, but it enjoys the benefits of further charm, radiated by its neat details like the alternating finishing on the case profile, that F.U. polish, beveled edge on the lugs, as well as the contradiction between its purposeful raison d’être and delicate Swissness that is in its every detail. Superb engineering meets a once great company’s strict adherence to its core values as the manufacturer of luxury products sold to a discerning audience. All these render this watch a whole lot more special than so many other collab’ pieces out there.
Would I trade the few delicate details of this watch (like the polished lugs) for yet greater ruggedness just to get that last few missing % closer to a watch that would fully meet all requirements of the Navy SEALs? I thought a lot about this and I came away thinking “No, I wouldn’t.” I wouldn’t because I wouldn’t trade the finer achievements in the physical reality of this product for a greater fulfillment of the concept that’s behind it. I’ll never know how many of these watches and for how long the Navy SEALs wore or how many swamps it’s been to and how many 7.62 rounds were fired inches away from it while it tick-tocked away peacefully… And, frankly, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Jaeger-LeCoultre had the idea and followed through in some way, shape or form, learned from the experience and created what perhaps is the most wearable, most complete package in the Master Compressor range. Now, imagine how far JLC’s lines of sports watches could have come had they further developed them as opposed to slowly abandoning and quietly killing off not only this partnership but the entire Master Compressor range. All it’d take is a further developed ceramic and a more modern movement to keep up the pace with tool-watch heavy-hitters like Rolex and Omega.
I understand that what matters to big brands is not shifting 1,500 obscure, expensive-to-make watches, but to sell by the boatload. So, why not take these obscure exercises and turn them into something that would resonate well with the larger market? Legibility, wearability, and the levels of technical refinement that were achieved here make this an incredibly impressive product. Leave the Navy SEALs for this limited edition run but take the rest and sell it as the strongest alternative to a Submariner. Didn’t want to sign up for a 2-year waiting list? I’m baffled how JLC can justify not readily offering those who want a modern luxury tool watch a continued production of a watch based on this. Instead, tens of thousands in the world are lining up on waiting lists for the usual lot of entirely unchanged, age-old tool watches because they don’t know any better from major brands like Jaeger-LeCoultre. And how would the first-time watch buyer know any better if me, someone who’s been more or less part of the industry for long, needs to look back 9 friggin’ years to find a good alternative? Not everyone wants a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none vintage inspired quasi-dress watch with a tool watch heritage. I’ll spare you now, but trust me, I could go on another 1,000 words on how the Submariner is, yes, based on a vintage design but people don’t love it for that, but for its timeless appeal. And therefore how the Submariner’s lasting design success is based on something entirely different than Rolex flipping through an archive and picking something from 1968 – which is what Jaeger-LeCoultre has been forced to do lately.
A Word From Jaeger-LeCoultre…
I feel I should add that this isn’t a self-centered, teary-eyed look back at something that I liked and I missed because it is gone. Jaeger-LeCoultre being apparently entirely absolved in the many drawers of its archives for an extended period now isn’t a personal loss, it’s a loss to the industry and to all watch lovers. We lost a competitively priced, big-brand MB&F who had (and technically still has) literally everything from talent to manufacturing needed to be as creative and bold as few can afford to be. Such brands should spend the majority of their design / concept / manufacturing / marketing efforts looking into how they can improve on who they are – and not just dwelling on who they used to be. Can you imagine them today re-launching Master Compressors from the ’00s? No! You’d say “They’re living in the past, can’t they do anything new?” So why is getting pretty much fully drawn into 50-85-year-old achievements is somehow more acceptable? Want a piece of their past in a modern presentation? Sure, let that be an attainable part of the brand, let it be proud of its past. But why let it replace its unique, confident creativity that got it to where it is today? Around the new millennium, Jaeger-LeCoultre didn’t climb to its peak years by doing what Zenith had done under Dufour, i.e. breathing life into the brand’s past. No, JLC got there by speaking to us men with masculine, toys-for-boys stuff that was designed, engineered, and executed at the sort of level people who have for long been able to afford a luxury product expected.
Jérôme Lambert, CEO of the brand between mid-2002 and 2013, said this about the brand in 2012 in an interview with us:
“About the philosophy of Jaeger-LeCoultre: it’s a long tradition, but even if it’s a long tradition and [a watch] is inspired by a model from the fifties, we manage to bring something new in the movement of a chronograph or the design of a diving watch. And I love that philosophy for Jaeger. Because when it’s done it’s not enough. And if it’s been done, for us it’s a base so we can create a step further. I love to create that surprise. We want, I would say, that Jaeger-LeCoultre lovers come to Jaeger-LeCoultre to have that surprise. So that’s our philosophy.”
Well, for me, a Jaeger-LeCoultre made for, or at least with the Navy SEALs is a surprise. A Reverso that you flip around to see a cool set of attainable complications is a surprise. A vintage-looking diver chronograph in Cermet is a surprise. Yet another (mind you, awfully disproportionate) tribute-jubilee-anniversary-homage-vintage watch year over year is not a surprise – certainly not a pleasant one, anyway. If I were to have a wish from the horological fairy, I’d wish she let the others play that game and give us the bold, daring, surprising and competitive side of the attainable Jaeger-LeCoultre back!
When that will happen is anyone’s guess. Since Mr. Lambert’s 2013 departure from the brand onto Montblanc – where he stayed until 2017; he now is the CEO of Richemont – there have been multiple executives at the helm of Jaeger-LeCoultre. And for such a complex brand, there clearly needs to be a certain vision and stability to foster the true spirit of Jaeger-LeCoultre that allowed it to bravely invent and re-invent… And to protect it on its path as the favor of
competing sister brands within the Richemont Group try and cut the wings of its creativity.
Until then, fortunately for many of us, there are more than a handful of amazing and bold Jaeger-LeCoultre watches to choose from for men and women alike, including, but definitely not limited to the Jaeger-LeCoultre Navy SEALs Automatic. A nice example of the 1,500 ever made have been steadily trading for around $7,500 on a full set, with this €1,960 articulated rubber bracelet included – as many were purchased without it. jaeger-lecoultre.com
>Model: Navy SEALs Automatic Q2018770
>Price: Around $7,500
>Size: 42.00mm wide, 12.75 mm thick.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: I’d be happy to wear it in the long run, on a daily basis.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: The one frustrated to be on a 2-year waiting list, looking for an excellent luxury tool watch.
>Best characteristic of watch: A charming exercise in blending the ruggedness of the Navy SEALs with Jaeger-LeCoultre’s apparent attachment to refined luxury watch details. Excellent wearing comfort.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Had it seen further development over the years, I’d have loved to see longer power reserve, more durable ceramic, and AR-coating on the outside of the crystal.