Review: The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Date, Is It Worth the Price?

A less obvious option, but worthy of your consideration.

Henry Phillips

Whiiiizzz. Whiiiz. Whiiiiiiiizzzz. “Huh, that’s strange,” I thought to myself. Every time I moved my arm I was hearing a faint zipping sound, quiet enough to go unnoticed at first but loud enough that, now that I’d heard it, I couldn’t stop hearing it. “It can’t be the watch, can it?”

It was. More specifically, it was the little solid-pink-gold rotor inside the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Date I had been testing; every time I moved my arm, I could hear the watch winding itself. A quick Google search suggested that this is a common quirk of JLC watches using the brand’s stalwart caliber 899 movement. So, good — I hadn’t done something to ruin a $5,700 watch.

But that’s the thing: it was a $5,700 watch. Not exactly chump change, and certainly enough money to demand the Swiss watch industry’s ideal of perfection, right? That price tag put it in competition with high-end time-only watches like the Rolex DateJust and Omega Aqua Terra, which are the kinds of all-purpose, all-around watches that, if you have the money, are great day-to-day wrist wear.

But, loud rotor and all, the JLC might still be a better buy. The only reason it sticks out on the Master Control Date is because everything else about it just seems so right. Much has been said about the Master Date’s retro aesthetic since it debuted at SIHH earlier this year, but see it in person and you’ll really start to see how it’s pretty much unlike anything else you can currently buy.

Mostly, it’s how it looks. The “sector” dial — made of concentric circles divided up into sections by elongated hour marks — is a design relic from the earlier half of the century used by watchmakers like Omega and Longines. With the industry’s current vintage revival, it was bound to make a comeback, though it’s still fairly uncommon. On the Master Control, the brushed finish of the silver middle ring really pops out at you against the matte cream background.

There are other little things. Instead of thick, lume-coated hands, the JLC’s are essentially an open frame. It’d be a wonky look on plenty of other watches, but it’s a perfect fit here — matching the vintage aesthetic while allowing the brushed parts of the dial to remain (mostly) unobscured. Those hands point to black printed numerals and faint blue hour markers along the outside of the watch.

The case itself is equally magnificent. At 39mm in diameter and only 8.5mm thick, it is perfectly proportioned — not too small, not too thin. It’ll easily fit under a shirt cuff, but it won’t have the fragile feeling of an ultra-thin watch. The reduced height also makes it light and comfortable to wear. You might forget you’re wearing it. Until you hear the rotor, anyway.

So where does this put the Master in comparison to its other Swiss peers? Well, it’s worth noting that this version of the Master Control is currently Jaeger-LeCoultre’s most affordable mechanical watch, no doubt in an effort to reach a larger customer base who are looking at similarly priced Rolexes or Omegas. Watches from these blue-chip manufacturers seem great because there’s both brand awareness and marketing to describe how anti-magnetic or tough or accurate they are. They aren’t just crafted, they’re “engineered.” And that’s to say nothing of the sort of social baggage that can come with being the guy with the Rolex.

But Jaeger-LeCoultre? It’s not so obvious an option. Outside watch-loving circles, not many people know the brand or understand how significant it is. Thus there’s a feeling that you’re paying for more than just a brand name, a feeling bolstered by the incredible detailing on the watch dial and movement. And that rotor? You get used to it. If anything, it becomes a quirky character trait more than an annoyance. You won’t find that in an “engineered” watch.

Buy Now: $5,700

Meet the Brand: Jaeger-LeCoultre

There’s a lot of intricate work happening at the factory of a watchmaking legend. Read the Story

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