February 3, 2018
by David Bredan
Inspired by the iconic… God damn it… Although I am not surprised, I must say I am still strangely disappointed that Jaeger-LeCoultre did not last longer than 3, as in three words (title notwithstanding) before using the i-word in their official description of the new Polaris collection. Before this turns into a feature article on how the i-word has been shackling most major brands into their as-yet-tamest approach to watch design, I’ll move onto our hands-on look at the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Automatic and Polaris Date – I’ll leave room for our colleagues to express their thoughts on the Polaris collection in other hands-on pieces.
Jaeger-LeCoultre. What a glorious, glorious name. Not even the most ambitious marketing guru would in their wildest fevered dreams imagine a brand name so cool. I mean, it looks great in any serious typeface with its seemingly random capitalized letters and the self-imposed hyphen. It’s just the right length, and it gives the average French-speaking person that much desired fake sense of passing superiority as he or she ushers all these zhshsh‘s and cltr‘s through their teeth.
Stick it on any watch dial and suddenly the critics quiet down and everything is amazing and impressive and iconic. Just look at the Polaris Automatic. It isn’t until much later, I imagine, that artificial intelligence will be able to design this exact watch based on a few pictures of 1960s vintage watches and a knob that goes from sleep-inducing-stale to movingly exciting – said knob would remain glued to its base setting, of course.
I keep having my eyes go up and down the Polaris Automatic looking for anything – any detail, small or large – that I wouldn’t find just breathtakingly boring. Even the two hands are the same shape, not to stir you up too much. The bracelet, the dial, the virtually useless and not very legible, dotted rotating flange ring, the tiny “Automatique” (for goodness sake…) script in the most boring font style hitherto discovered in typography, the short and stubby lugs… It’s a boring watch described over the phone to someone who recently discovered he likes sketching watches. Admittedly, the trapezoid indices are JLC-specific.
Jaeger-LeCoultre goes on and on: “Today’s man is someone who does it all. Always open to the new and untried, he finds surprising and innovative ways to make the most out of his life. For him, it’s about the journey, not the destination, and the experiences along the way. Today’s man doesn’t have a schedule he has to keep; he makes his own plan. For his lifestyle, he needs an elegant yet sporty [PRODUCT] that can do it all, one that keeps up with his active pace: the new…” [INSERT PRODUCT NAME].
That above description is so vague, it could feasibly be the sales pitch for literally anything. Washing machine, car, online casino, or, you know, a watch inspired by another watch from half a century ago.
My issue with all that above actually is not with the vagueness, but rather that I get the distinct impression the text was born much after the product had been finalized. A watch with a 40-hour power reserve (that drops to a whopping 38-hours for the $7,750-$8,700 Polaris Date) and a finicky, and again, not very legible inner bezel may have been impressive in 1968, but they aren’t in 2018, when a Baume & Mercier for literally 40% of the price of this offers 5 days of worry-free autonomy. I imagine today’s man must at times live his successful life with to-the-minute accuracy and, with the base Polaris Automatic starting from $6,600, just as a sort of reassurance, I’m sure he would have appreciated a COSC chronometer certification.
It’s about time that both the brands and us, the buyers, realize that for $7,600 an utterly disappointing 40-hour power reserve and finicky overall design just don’t cut it, even if the dial says God Almighty on it. And who, if not the Grande Maison can we expect to lead the way in that? Not Baume & Mercier, who in recent memory has been essentially tightrope-walking on the verge of bankruptcy and disinterest. Sure, the 1000 Hours Control of Jaeger-LeCoultre is impressive, but the brand has not been doing much in the way of communicating what they actually do in comparison to, say, Rolex and Omega – both of whom have recently advanced their in-house quality control procedures.
I feel safe in saying that, come 2038, the then-executive and marketing and watch designer people of Jaeger-LeCoultre will be making a full hula dance performance when they realize the brand has actually had some 21st century designs at the dawn of the century, not just past-evoking exercises. They’ll certainly appreciate the fact that there are going to be some watches (namely cool Master Compressors and thoroughly JLC-specific Duomètres) that they can pay 20th or 30th anniversary tributes to.
If it weren’t for those – momentarily either entirely discontinued or largely neglected – collections, the brand would find itself in a position where it has to make a 30th anniversary version of the 50th anniversary version watch.
Jaeger-LeCoultre likes to call itself the Grande Maison. Sure, watch design need not be turned inside out come every SIHH, but the Big House has been far from asserting its greatness in recent memory. I know the vintage watch revival trend is a truly comfortable position for every brand that has fallen for it – you can’t go wrong by cherry picking your safest “icons” that other people thought up 50 years ago – but I refuse to accept the fact that the carefully chosen and I’m sure impressively talented watch designers and engineers at Jaeger-LeCoultre couldn’t come up with something properly awesome and contemporary, had they had the support of their brand. What’s grandness worth if you can’t humor yourself with a bit of creativity or controversy?
Arthur Miller was quoted saying “The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.” Sure, all major markets have at last matured beyond the point where they will buy any nonsense as long as it’s expensive enough, so experimental projects may or may not sell well – but it’s time the Grand Maisons start trading their current slow death for some mild punches that could only hurt their egos.
I’d have to go back a good number of years to recount Jaeger-LeCoultre taking things to the verge of embarrassing itself, and that really shows in recent years’ ADD-curing collections. I understand the brand needs safe, mainstream collections to keep itself in business – and I’m sure the Polaris and especially the somehow more handsome-looking Polaris Date will sell well to those who want a name long before any technological or comfort advancements over watches made in 1968… But it’s been a good few years now that I have been crossing my fingers for JLC to return to, well, what I discussed here.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Automatic comes in a 41mm-wide, 100m water-resistant steel case with the in-house Caliber 898/1 with 40 hours of power reserve, while the Polaris Date is 42mm wide, with 200m of water resistance, and the Claiber 899/1 inside with 38 hours of power reserve. A variety of straps as well as a 3-link steel bracelet is available for either. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Automatic is priced between $6,600 and $7,600, while the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Date retails for between $7,750 and $8,700. jaeger-lecoultre.com