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Review: Celestial Grandeur – The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste

by Frank Chuo on October 28, 2019

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste

In the realm of fine watchmaking, there is nothing more poetic than a tastefully crafted timepiece bearing complications relating to astronomy or the celestial body. Pragmatic, they may not be, but these complications tend to evoke a sense of whimsy and wonderment.

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste is no stranger to those acquainted with haute horlogerie. Available in several variations, the watch is one of the most stunning that the ‘Grande Maison of the Vallée de Joux’ has to offer. This year, in celebration of the 15th anniversary of the partnership between Jaeger-LeCoultre and the prestigious Venice International Film Festival, a new variant of the Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste was presented. And dare we say, this may be the most breathtaking one of the series. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on this latest addition to the esteemed Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition family.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste has a fairly large case measuring 43 mm in diameter and 13.42 mm in thickness. Given the space-hungry tourbillon on the dial, we feel that the large-ish size is justifiable. The 18k white gold case is gorgeous and sophisticated, with an orchestra of expertly executed surface finishes ranging from polished, to sand-blasted, to grained.

The case work on the Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste is immaculate and nuanced.

But as fancy as the case is, it still does not measure up to the beauty of the dial. There seems to be a lot going on, but it’s relatively simple once you break it down into bite size chunks. The most prominent feature of the dial is the flying tourbillon. Not only is it a flying tourbillon, it also orbits around the dial once every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds. Why not just the standard 24 hours? Well, 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds happens to be the length of a sidereal day, which represents the time taken by the earth to rotate on its axis relative to the stars. For regular civilian/mean solar time, one can simply consult the time indicated by the lumed dauphine hands.

The awesome depth of the Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste dial.

Depicted in the centre of the dial is the night sky of the Northern Hemisphere. The constellations of the zodiac are encircled by an outer ring bearing their symbols, as well as the dates/months of the year. A triangular gold pointer inboard of the the 24-hour ring and just beyond the tourbillon revolves around the dial annually, showing us where we are in the year. When the lights go out, the constellations light up, as they – much like the hour and minute hands – have been treated with Superluminova. The result is a mesmerising visual spectacle that isn’t available on previous iterations of the watch.

The view of the dial is no less hypnotising under no-light condition.

The Movement

Driving the Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste is the 35-jewel, 334-part Calibre 946. The manually wound movement has a power reserve just short of two days, at 45 hours. Indeed, the power reserve is fairly short for a hand-wound movement, but given the complexity of movement, it is understandable. Perhaps, Jaeger-LeCoultre could’ve went with a 2.5 Hz beat rate rather than the actual 3 Hz of the Calibre 946. Such a change would’ve improved the power reserve – albeit at the slight expense of precision – and also provided a more relaxed, captivating view of the tourbillon on the dial-side.

The Calibre 946, as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

As expected of a movement from the Master Grande Tradition series, the Calibre 946 is finely finished. The German silver bridges are adorned with sunburst waves, with their edges beveled and polished. The only mild complaint we have is the willful avoidance of inward angling on the bridges, which would have taken the movement to the ultimate level. That said, there are plenty of rounded and outward angles to enjoy. The screws are either flame-blued or polished, while the main plate is decorated with tight and even perlage. Of note is the openworked ratchet wheel sitting on top of the mainspring barrel. Upon closer inspection, one will notice that it has been skeletonised to evoke the brand’s ‘JL’ logo – a discreet, yet expressive way to sign a movement.

Bridges in the Master Grande Tradition (and the Duometre) series are rendered in German silver, giving the movement a much warmer look than if they were crafted in plated brass.

The tourbillon cage itself – which looks like two anchors – has also been afforded some amazing finissage, with a striking combination of polished and matte finishes.

The Master Grande Tradition series of watches has always showcased the highest level of finishing by Jaeger-LeCoultre; with the Tourbillon Céleste and its Calibre 946, this notion continues to hold true.

The tourbillon cage is sublimely finished, with polished surfaces and beveled edges.

The Competitive Landscape

Watches as exquisite as the Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste are in rarefied company. They play on our emotions not just with their complexity, but also with their poetic beauty. To have the night sky on your wrist is a one of a kind experience for any watch collector. Aptly, the new Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste comes in a limited edition of only 28 pieces, and it retails for EUR185,000. That’s a lot of money, but when you consider the market for timepieces of its kind, you will realise that it is more than fairly priced.

The curved, downturned lugs make the Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste quite wearable on the wrist. Just don’t expect to be able to slide this one under a dress cuff.

Perhaps one of the most well-known watches with high-end astronomical complications is the Patek Philippe Sky Moon Celestial Ref. 6102. Like the Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste, the Sky Moon Celestial devotes its dial to a rotating chart of the heavenly bodies. Instead of an orbital tourbillon, the Sky Moon Celestial has an orbital moon phase display. Two skeletonized hands point to the hours and minutes of mean solar time. An ellipse, deposited on the underside of the sapphire glass, frames the portion of the sky visible from Geneva and all other cities located at the same latitude. A crescent-tipped hand indicates the radial date. Suffice to say, the watch is exceedingly beautiful, with finissage that is on par with its Jaeger-LeCoultre counterpart. The Sky Moon Celestial in rose gold is priced well over EUR200,000, so it could be argued that the Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste – with a tourbillon – provides better value for money.

The Ref. 6102 also comes in platinum, with a blue dial instead of black.

For lovers of contemporary design, look no further than the grandiose Bovet Récital 20 Astérium. Nothing is ordinary in this watch: the sloped case; the blue quartz dome with lume-coated constellations; the patented double face flying tourbillon; the fully loaded annual calendar display on the case back; the three-dimensional, pillared construction of the movement – everything is a celebration of excess. At over EUR300,000, the Récital 20 Astérium is the dearest of the lot, but it is also the most avant-garde in design and sophisticated in function. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it will always be a conversion starter – its 46 mm x 18.3 mm size will make sure of that.

The Bovet Récital 20 Astérium is too big to be slid under a dress cuff, but then again it never was meant to be hidden on the wrist.

Final Thoughts

Jaeger-LeCoultre has been one of the most consistent performers in recent years when it comes to novelty releases. The brand appears to have a good sense of its own identity, ensuring that it doesn’t stray into strange waters. At the same time, Jaeger-LeCoultre has been brave with new aesthetics (think the new Master Control with sector dial, or the Master Ultra Thin blue enamel series). The latest Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste leans further towards the contemporary (compared to its predecessors), but very clearly done with traditional values in mind. This conservative approach to design experimentation has evidently served the brand well, and will likely continue to serve it well in the years to come.

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