180 Degrees Of Perfection

The first machine is a hundred years old; the second is as modern as tomorrow. Each of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s new Master Ultra Thin models features a mesmerizing dial with a guilloche pattern rendered in a deep, luminous blue. To create the dial, a guillocheur uses his or her thumb to press a small engraving machine across its surface. Three lines are required for each one-second space. One hundred and eighty in total. Each done by hand, using a machine which dates to 1920. Speed and pressure must be constant, or the resulting line will waver or vary in its depth.

The result appears perfect, as if it were applied by a robot or some other impersonal means—but it is very much the result of human hands. One set of hands in particular, actually. At the Jaeger-LeCoultre Manufacture in the Vallée de Joux, in the Rare Handcrafts Atelier, only one person can be “master of the guilloche savoir-faire” at any given time. With this work completed, the markers can be attached. This is done using laser welding, a technique that did not arrive in practice until 1992 and is far less automated than the name suggests. Jaeger-LeCoultre uses this technique to ensure that the guilloche face accepts the Grand Feu enamel evenly. It is applied in several layers, again by hand. 

All of this takes considerable effort for the Master Ultra Thin Moon Enamel, which features a moonphase complication with the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture 925/2 movement. It becomes noticeably more complex and time-consuming with the Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel, which uses a separate and distinct guilloche pattern for its date indicator. For the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel, each of the four subdials (for day, date, month/year, and moon phase for both Northern and Southern Hemisphere) receives its own pattern. “You can imagine the time required to finish a complete dial,” Jaeger-LeCoultre Product Design Director Lionel Farve laconically allowed—but even to imagine the time required would, itself, require quite some time. 

Part of a collection of three new models, the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Calendar, gets put to the ultimate test in 2020, a leap year. A perfect example of Jaeger-LeCoultre's Rare Handcrafts, a winning combination of artistry and technical know-how.
Part of a collection of three new models, the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Calendar, gets put to the ultimate test in 2020, a leap year. A perfect example of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Rare Handcrafts, a winning combination of artistry and technical know-how.

Which perhaps explains why all three of the new Master Ultra Thin watches are strictly limited editions. One hundred each of the Moon and Perpetual models will be made, while the Tourbillon will be half as common at 50 units produced. Each is available solely in white gold with blue enamel dial and blue alligator strap. Farve notes that white gold is all but required for the dial since steel can not accept this enamel process and platinum does not produce the same visual result. The case, therefore, is also white gold, for aesthetic unity. 

That same consideration guides the relatively modest dimensions of these watches. None of the three calibers involved require much space, so Jaeger-LeCoultre has chosen to keep diameters tidy, with the Moon and Perpetual at 39mm and the Tourbillon at 40mm. The latter is also the thickest, at a reasonable 12.13mm; the others are around ten millimeters. In an era where sports watches have made inroads all the way to black tie, it’s refreshing to see these subtle and frankly gorgeous timepieces in unashamedly formal dress.

Master Ultra Thin Moon Enamel: Simple Style

The simplest of the Master Ultra Thin series places a fully polished white gold moon in a field of stars. The date ring surrounding the moonphase display is engraved in depth for greater readability, while a subtle “Automatique” on the subdial reminds both owner and observer of the self-winding 925/2 movement within, powered by a skeletonized rose-gold rotor via a single power barrel and 30 jewels.  The hour markers are larger than in previous Master Ultra Thin models, and doubled at the cardinal points. With a case depth of 10.04mm, the emphasis is on easy wear, a cause further assisted by highly contoured lugs. Power reserve is quoted at 70 hours, which is considerable for a dress watch of this size. Retail price is $34,700, which is considerably more than that the standard Master Ultra Thin Moon and likely reflective of the painstaking work involved in the creation of the dial.

Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel: Beauty Through Time

The new polished moonphase design which is the star attraction of the Master Ultra Thin Moon Enamel is joined in the Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel by three subdials for the perpetual calendar functions. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s manufacture Calibre 868A/2 unifies 332 components to vibrate 28,800 times per hour in a 46-jewel movement with a single power barrel. The bezel has a delicate curved step that makes this already reasonably sized watch look even slimmer. At any given time, about a dozen deeply-blued screws are visible through the sapphire exhibition caseback, a nice touch and in this case a pleasant match for both strap and dial. 

The thin white gold case houses the Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 925, an automatic mechanical movement with a 70-hour power reserve. A limited-edition of 100 pieces and a Watches of Switzerland retail exclusive.
The thin white gold case houses the Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 925, an automatic mechanical movement with a 70-hour power reserve. A limited-edition of 100 pieces and a Watches of Switzerland retail exclusive.

Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel.

David Hurley, the charismatic executive VP from power retailer Watches of Switzerland, is particularly bullish on this variant: “A limited-edition of 100 pieces from a manufacture such as Jaeger-LeCoultre is very special indeed…. Adding to that, the beautiful hand-enameled guilloche dial in on-trend blue makes this watch ideal for collectors.” The Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel retails at $53,000. Despite the considerable complication of the movement and the tidy dimensions, water resistance is quoted at 5 bar. 

Eleven years ago, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s new Calibre 978 won the Chronométrie 2009 International Timing Competition, the first such contest in 32 years. The Grande Maison’s team brought about the victory with a stunning average gain of 0.13 seconds per day and a maximum variability of 0.28 seconds per day. This performance was made possible largely by a tourbillon carriage rendered in titanium alloy and machined to exacting specifications. If watch movements were race cars, this one would be a Formula One champion. 

This airy, almost insubstantial-looking complication is at the heart of the Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel, suspended within the Grand Feu dial and encircled by 60 engraved markers. A new and revitalized Calibre 978 focuses on improvements both mechanical and aesthetic. No surface is left unembellished front or rear; the caseback displays Geneva waves on the gold rotor and tourbillon bridge itself. A “sunray” effect on the main plate draws the eye to the center of the complication.

A date counter with a separate guilloche pattern balances out the tourbillon window; it, too, features engraved counters. The 40-millimeter case is 12 millimeters deep; among tourbillon-equipped watches, this is surely one of the easiest to wear and admire. Power reserve is a robust 48 hours, significant for a tourbillon of this size and weight. Price is an equally robust $81,000—but the edition of 50 examples will likely disappear quickly regardless. 

A Rare And Unique Birthplace

All three Master Ultra Thin Enamel watches receive their finishing at the Métiers Rares® (Rare Crafts) Atelier. This workshop, inaugurated in 2016, is located on Jaeger-LeCoultre’s campus in the Vallee de Joux. Approximately 30 artisans are located here, separated by glass panels and focused on their traditional wooden workbenches. Some of their shared tools are more than a century old. 

The Enamel Process Itself

At the Atelier, each Master Thin Enamel dial receives multiple coats of blue enamel. It is polished and heated to 800 degrees C each time. Six to ten layers of transparent enamel are then added to strengthen and protect the color. During the course of this process, the dial can be heated as many as 22 times, with each heating cycle risking a crack or flaw in the existing layers. The payoff is in the striking visual patterns of the guilloche dial and the interplay of light and shade within. This defiantly time-consuming, human-centric process produces a result which a quick glance sees as perfection and a long examination reveals as the result of dedicated individual effort. 

Enameling, a rare handcraft reinstated at the Jaeger-LeCoultre Manufacture in 1996, provides the guilloché blue enamel dial with its vibrant, lustrous color.
Enameling, a rare handcraft reinstated at the Jaeger-LeCoultre Manufacture in 1996, provides the guilloché blue enamel dial with its vibrant, lustrous color.

A Celebration Of Uniquity 

Beyond their beauty and technical accomplishments, the three watches of the Master Ultra Thin Enamel series possess a shared and special quality best described as “uniquity.” Unlike most mass-produced timepieces, and even beyond many of the finest efforts from Switzerland and elsewhere, the considerable degree of hand work put into each of these 250 examples ensures that they will all be slightly unlike each other. Each will bear the marks of their creation, the almost-but-not-quite perfect embellishments of guilloche and enamel acquired during the process. Under a microscope, they would be nearly as different as fingerprints. 

It takes a unique individual, as well, to appreciate the effort involved in the creation of this series. Jaeger-LeCoultre can be confident that it has built the customer base to understand that effort. Their beauty will be obvious even to the brief observer, but it will run deeper for those who know the long hours involved in their assembly and finishing. Flawless at first glance, the uniquity of the Master Ultra Thin Enamels will be in their imperceptible variations. All those moments spent under the artisan’s lens, rendered via 180 lined degrees of perfect imperfection.

A new and original display of the perpetual calendar, the day is at 3 o’clock, moon phase at 6, date at 9 o’clock, month and year at 12. The moon phase illustrates both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.


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The Story of Odysseus

A new watch series from A. Lange & Söhne arrives like a comet: rare, earth-shattering, graceful, and impossible to ignore. The adventurously named Odysseus—five years in the making—represents brand-new territory for the venerable brand: Its first sports watch is a seemingly inconsequential array of brand firsts that add up to more than the sum of its parts. Is it a compelling entry? Or is it too little, too late? 

To understand that sort of significance, it’s worth reflecting what makes A. Lange & Söhne so special. In its modern state, it has only been around since 1994—a time when the industry didn’t know its place for mechanical timepieces, much less the highest-end of watchmaking. In just two decades, A. Lange & Söhne transformed the idea of haute horology with high-end precision, unwavering consistency, and the adoption of a German watchmaking identity all its own. A German company, exemplifying precision? You don’t say—but how many connoisseurs at the time could remember Glashutte, eastern Germany, closer to the Czech Republic than Switzerland, as one of the historic temples of watchmaking? 

“The idea of the watch which you can wear in a more casual environment is almost as old as the company,” said Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange and Söhne, “even [legendary watch entrepreneur] Günter Blümlein had the idea. The watch had no real vision or idea how to execute it. We then took it more seriously again, and by 2014 we had a good idea on how the idea should look like, and how the family should look like, because it’s only the first kind within that watch family. The rest is history. We launched six weeks ago.”

The Odysseus by A.Lange & Søhne. Photo courtesy of A.Lange & Søhne.

A. Lange & Söhne watches usually feature precious metals, colored golds or platinums, oversized date windows with mechanical complications, and some form of crocodile leather band. The lettering is uniform, the case shapes are nearly identical, and the baton hands are thin and delicate. Occasionally the dial erupts into concentric circles, such as on the Richard Lange, and sometimes there is a tourbillon involved—and expect to pay dearly for that privilege. These are almost always dress watches: minimal and austere, yet immediately recognizable.

The Odysseus does away with nearly all of this. For starters, its 40.5mm-wide case is asymmetrical, with an interplay of raised, brushed, and polished metalwork for the date pushers, surrounding the screw-down crown—another first for the brand, which has never before rated a watch to 120 meters of water resistance. The case and its integrated bracelet are rendered in stainless steel. The hands and indices receive Super-LumiNova. That fully integrated bracelet, by the way, is intricately rendered: Across its five links the surfaces are brushed, while the chamfered edges are polished. The L155.1 DATOMATIC in-house caliber is based on the brand’s other automatics but reinforced for robustness. With the same dreamy level of finishing it features 31 jewels, 50 hours of power reserve, and a skeletal rotor with platinum elements, blued screw heads, and a weighty brushed look as if it was hauled off a steam train. 

“The Odysseus is a watch for literally your best time of the year,” said Schmid. “Your free time, your casual time. When you are without a schedule. when you don’t know what’s happening next because you can swim in the ocean or play with your children.”

The Odysseus by A.Lange & Søhne. Photo courtesy of A.Lange & Søhne.

Sports watches aren’t necessarily dive watches, nor are they known for sports timing, though certainly the well-known kings of the genre can be had as chronographs. Rather, they are ready for anything: A morning on the slopes might end with an evening on a yacht, a day of sailing into a gala with the CEO and a bevy of supermodels, or any other sybaritic fantasies. They are reassuringly hefty, water-resistant, and crafted from steel. The most famous dive watches were always intended as tools, but these are too luxurious for such military-issue considerations. 

Perhaps it’s this blend of cachet and ruggedness, this promise of both adventure and adventurous design that has netted such high-end popularity among these timepieces. At the core of this foray into ruggedness is still haute horology: the fine movement finishing and steel casework that comes with its lofty price tag. The Odysseus—whose name conjures long voyages of Homeric importance, where anything can and will happen—joins some splendid company.

“In the category, you have your Rolexes, you have your Daytonas, GMTs, Subs, Sea-Dwellers,” said James Lamdin, founder of the watch retailer Analog/Shift. “In the Patek Philippe world, it’s dominated by the Nautilus and the Aquanaut. Another contender would be the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. They’ve become more popular…it’s no longer six people on the Internet geeking out about these things, nor is it the provenance of the luxury elite consumer. A lot of different tastes are beginning to weigh in…

The Odysseus by A.Lange & Søhne.Photo courtesy of A.Lange & Søhne.

Analog/Shift tends to specialize in Rolexes and Omega Speedmasters, and when a Patek Philippe Nautilus comes in, it doesn’t last long on the site. Lamdin passes through a lot of watches in his hands. “Having handled the watch, it’s an attractive watch in the metal, and it wears very well,” he said. But, he suggested, maybe the engineers and designers at Lange overthought the whole thing: “All they needed to do was to make a steel entry, was to make one of their legacy watches in steel,” said Lamdin. “For example: the Lange 1. If they produced that in steel there’d be a line down the street.” 

It may be unsurprising that Schmid thinks differently. “Quite frankly, we could have made our lives a lot easier by choosing one watch out of every product family,” said Schmid, “put that into a waterproof steel case, and called it a day. Or we could’ve taken a movement like the Saxonia and put that into a steel case and called it a day. That would have been a shortcut. But that’s not what we’re known for. That’s why we developed a movement specifically for this watch.” 

But maybe that’s what the brand would have needed. After all, its cachet is there. Even with its polarizing styling, Odysseus is groundbreaking not just for its manufacturer, but also in such elevated company: Having been around since the Seventies, the Nautilus and Royal Oak have seen few watches—the IWC Ingenieur and the Piaget Polo, namely—compete with its integrated-bracelet, sport-luxury aesthetic. Leave it to A. Lange & Söhne to put its own spin on it.

The Odysseus by A.Lange & Søhne. Photo courtesy of A.Lange & Søhne.

Beats Per Minute

Hit all the right notes with a choice selection of innovative blacked-out watches. Get into the studio, step into the spotlight, and let everything else go dark.



Style & Substance

For all his devotion to timekeeping, the 18th-century master watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet created watches best known for their timelessness. Between pocket watches built in the late 1700s by Breguet himself, wristwatches manufactured 50 years ago by the company he founded, and contemporary dress styles bearing the name of the brand that is furthering his legacy, timepieces produced by Breguet are synonymous with elegant models for the sophisticated gentleman.

And yet when the French horologist opened his shop on the Quai de l’Horloge in Paris in 1775, he was considered a maverick.

“Breguet was not only a watchmaker and inventor who revolutionized watchmaking, he was also an artist who introduced a style that ended the tradition of baroque exuberance of the 18th century,” says historian Emmanuel Breguet, a seventh-generation descendant of the Breguet founder and the head of patrimony for Montres Breguet. “At the time this design was seen as completely new and disruptive. Today we could call it ‘minimalist’ and ‘functional,’ and also timeless and iconic. Every element of it was chosen not only for its beauty, but also to better serve the readability of the watch, its reliability and the comfort of the owner.”

ABOVE: The extra-thin Classique wristwatch in yellow gold, Ref. 5157, a clear descendant to the Phillips reference sold in November. Photo courtesy of Breguet.

More remarkable than Breguet’s unconventional ideas about 18th-century watchmaking is the fact that his inimitable style has endured nearly 250 years of trends, fads, and fickle tastes. The visual continuity that links Breguet timepieces past and present is a testament to the watchmaker’s monumental reputation as history’s finest watchmaker.

Consider the yellow gold Breguet wristwatch (Ref. 3229), manufactured in 1957, that sold in November, at Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction X, for $40,500. Not counting its dainty (for modern wrists) 34 mm case or its seductive yellow gold dial, the piece has a doppelgänger in the current collection: the 38 mm Classique 5157, an extra-thin yellow gold dress watch with a silvered gold guilloché dial that retails for $17,800.

“The similarities are very clearly visible,” says Emmanuel Breguet. “The main difference would be that today we equip our watches with escapements using the latest silicon technology that makes them anti-magnetic, and we introduced sapphire crystal casebacks to showcase the beautifully crafted movements. We also tend to use white or rose gold for the cases and silvered gold dials instead of yellow gold dials.”

ABOVE: A portrait of Abraham Louis Breguet. Image courtesy of Breguet.

Besides these modern-day flourishes, the 1957 piece—which, according to the auction notes, was sold in 1962 “to a French gentleman for the sum of 1,600 new French Francs,” and returned to Breguet in 1970, when its owner, Monsieur Combescot, wanted to replace the silver guilloché dial originally fitted to the watch, with a flashier gold guilloché version—has all the hallmarks of a Breguet original: an engine-turned dial, satin-brushed hour chapters with Roman numerals, a fluted case, and hollowed out hands made of gold or blued steel (arguably the watchmaker’s most recognizable and widely borrowed feature).

Not visible but equally as important are all the features that distinguish the interior of a Breguet timepiece, such as a balance spring endowed with what’s known as a “Breguet overcoil,” a 1795 innovation that continues to be used today. (A.L. Breguet was responsible for no fewer than ten horological inventions, from the gong springs that give striking watches their harmonious tones to the showy tourbillon mechanism, a staple of high-end watchmaking.)

Alex Ghotbi, head of watches for Continental Europe and the Middle East at Phillips, says the Ref. 3229 is unusual for two reasons: One, it was manufactured at a time when Breguet was still a French firm (the Biel, Switzerland-based Swatch Group acquired the watchmaker in 1999), lending the watch “a very cool, Parisian design,” he says. And two: “It has an amazing Peseux observatory movement: It’s like having a Formula 1 engine in your car. The best, most accurate movement you could hope for.”

ABOVE: A rare gold Breguet pocketwatch, part of Breguet’s historical collection acquired for their museum in 2014. Photo courtesy of Breguet.

The vintage wristwatch also boasts another, harder-to-pinpoint allure: “It’s the rarity,” says Ghotbi. “They were hardly making any wristwatches around that time, just a few handfuls every year. They were mostly doing repair work on older pocket watches. So Breguet wristwatches from the 1920s to the ’60s are ultra-rare. When they pop up, you have to pay the price.”

Guilloche, engined-turned decorative finishing, first used in watchmaking in 1786 by Abraham Louis Breguet, has become a signature trademark of the house. All roads lead to Breguet, some of the most essential and lasting watchmaking innovations are traceable to Breguet’s remarkable ingenuity. Photo courtesy of Breguet.

Shock & Awe

Here’s the story: A leading manufacturer releases a new stainless-steel variant of a basic tool watch that has existed for decades. Demand vastly outstrips supply, leading to the immediate creation of a secondary market in which examples trade hands at triple the original MSRP. The manufacturer then releases a new variant in a rare metal that sells for even more. You’ve heard this story before, usually with Rolex as the protagonist—but in this case, the watchmaker in question is Casio, and the watch in question is… a G-Shock? 

The original idea was simple enough, though it was as inherently Japanese in concept and expression as a kendo match: “Triple 10.” Create a digital watch that could endure a ten-meter drop and ten bars of water pressure—while also offering a ten-year battery life. Casio’s Kikuo Ibe developed nearly 200 prototypes that didn’t meet the requirements. The one that did had a unique construction in which the quartz module floated in a urethane cradle. It went into production in 1983 as the square-bodied screwback DW-5000C, labeled “G-Shock”. 

In the 35 years since, Casio has greatly expanded the G-Shock line into hundreds of models. The diversity of shapes, sizes, and display types defies any but the most patient accounting. G-Shocks are made in Japan, China, and Thailand. They are priced between $30 and $70,000. The brand’s exclusive boutiques can be found in Singapore (a short walk from the Marina Bay Hotel) and Soho (don’t miss the mini-museum on the second floor), while the more upscale models are now sharing space with the heavy-hitter Swiss brands both online and in Beverly Hills jewelers. 

ABOVE: The 20th Anniversary limited-edition model of the Casio G-Shock MT-G, the sold-out MTG-B1000RB inspired by a lunar rainbow, a rainbow formed by the light of the moon. Collage Illustrations by Adam Brierley.

A fervent subculture of G-Shock collectors has appeared in recent years, and although there are fans of every variant from the “Baby-G” ladies’ models to the oversized analog-digital “MT-G” flagship efforts, it is the square-bodied descendants of the original DW-5000C that evoke the greatest passions. To be blunt, the “squares” are Casio’s Submariner, or perhaps its GMT-Master. You can join the club for 30 or 40 dollars with a plain plastic-bodied DW-5600, which meets the “Triple 10” requirements—but very few enthusiasts stop there.

In the past few years, square-mania hit an all-time peak with the release of the limited-edition GMWB5000TFG-9. This stainless-steel reimagination of the DW-5000 was ion-plated in gold and offered a laundry list of features: Bluetooth pairing, solar power, instant time synchronization from global radio signals. Retail was $600. It sold out immediately and now trades online between $1500 and $2500 depending on condition. Buoyed by this reception, Casio released a broad range of stainless-steel models, some of which also sold out immediately. An attempt to calm the waters by releasing a more modestly priced variant, the GM5600, only sent those same buyers scurrying back to their authorized dealers with cash in hand. At the same time, the firm went full-throttle with a solid-gold G-D5000-9JR. Thirty-five were made; price was 70,000 dollars. Two were sold to American customers. 

ABOVE: Marking the 35th anniversary and inspired by the first iconic G-Shock model, Casio released the G-Shock GMB5000FTG-9, the Full Metal 5000, an upgraded all-metal timepiece. Collage Illustrations by Adam Brierley.

Even today, Kikuo Ibe claims the “squares” as his favorite watch: “It’s like my son, the first model.” And while he admires the Swiss manufactures, he remains steadfast in his own beliefs: “G-Shock is kind of…to forge your own path. You should be trying to do the things that only you can do.” Which perhaps explains Casio’s creation of a very different G-Shock that is currently fetching well over retail in the secondary market: the analog-faced GA2100-1A1. Dubbed “Casioak” by collectors for its Genta-esque octagonal case, it features new “Carbon Core” construction that takes water resistance to 200 meters while decreasing weight and thickness to negligible levels. The price: 99 bucks. Well-heeled watch collectors who are dipping their toes in the G-Shock waters have any number of desirable choices available, from the attention-getting rainbow-ion-hued MTG-B1000RB-2A to the newly-released titanium-and-sapphire-glass GMW-B5000TB, which retails for a robust $1,550. The connoisseur’s choice, however, is arguably the GW-5000-1JF  square. It offers all the modern features in a traditional resin square case with a DLC-coated screwback, and it’s made in Japan. Unfortunately, it’s also mostly sold in Japan, a difficulty that is easily remedied by a few online sources. Think of it as a brand-new manual-wind Speedmaster; the old wine in a new bottle. Which is a rare thing for a brand, and a concept, that generally shies away from focusing on the past too much. As Kikuo Ibe says, “I want to tell the customers… that we will never stop evolving.