Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Small Seconds with blue dial
To design of a great time-only dress watch is deceptively difficult. The simplicity of the dial does the designer no favours. On the contrary, it lays bare and amplifies any mistakes that dare linger. As such, seasoned manufacturers take immense care so as to ensure every element that is to make up a watch’s visage is in the right spot. Some of the best time-only dress watches to grace fine watchmaking include the likes of Patek Philippe’s Calatrava, Philippe Dufour’s Simplicity, Vacheron Constantin’s Traditionelle, and of course, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Ultra Thin, or more specifically, the Master Ultra Thin Small Seconds. The look of the Master Ultra Thin Small Seconds is very much ingrained in the minds of watch enthusiasts, not because of its opulence and grandeur, but its devastatingly simple good looks. Over the years, the Le Sentier manufacturer has presented several iterations of this faithful model. Here, we take a good look at the 2017 interpretation of the Master Ultra Thin Small Seconds, which comes with a dashing blue dial and is a favourite of ours from recent years.
The Case, Dial and Hands
The case of the Master Ultra Thin Small Seconds with blue dial is rendered in stainless steel. While not exactly a posh material, stainless steel is favoured in dress watch cases today because of its likeness to unplated white gold and platinum, and importantly, its accessibility. Measuring 40 mm in diameter and 8.8 mm in thickness, the case is modern in proportions but will still slide under a tight dress cuff with ease thanks to its thin profile. It features an overall austere design with a thin bezel and an entirely polished finish for added refinement.
But as nice as the case is, it is the dial that is the real star of the show. With its charming blue hue and sunray finish, the dial exudes youthful energy and is well in line with current market trends. Not something the purists will like, but for everyone else, the blue dial will be a winner. It also serves as the perfect backdrop for the other elements of a time-only piece. Marking the hours are dart-style appliques that have been gorgeously faceted to catch light. They contrast well with the softer-looking dots that mark the minute. Indicating the hours and minutes are a pair of dauphine hands that also interact with light plentifully thanks to their faceted design. Meanwhile, the seconds are displayed on a sub-dial at 6 o’clock, indicated by a lancet hand with the four main cardinal points of the sub-dial marked by dots.
Driving the Master Ultra Thin Small Seconds is the 223-part, 32-jewel Calibre 896/1. The movement, used exclusively in Master Ultra Thin Small Seconds models, has a power reserve of 43 hours running off of one mainspring barrel, and operates at a modern 4 Hz frequency. It has no complications, and only tells the time in hours, minutes, and seconds. Its thickness at 3.98 mm is what makes the ultra-thin profile of the case possible. But judging by its diameter relative to the case, the watch could definitely be made much smaller if the manufacturer wanted to. As it stands, the movement does not fit the case too well.
In terms of finissage, the movement impresses especially considering that this is an ‘entry-level’ calibre. The usual suspects such as the Geneva waves, heat-blued screws, and perlage can be seen clearly through the sapphire crystal case back. Also unmissable is the golden skeletonised winding mass that features the manufacturer’s ‘JL’ logo. While the Calibre 896/1 isn’t going to win any beauty contests, it has indeed been finished far, far and above functional requirements.
The Competitive Landscape
The ‘time-only dress watches’ segment of the market could not be more competitive today. From a technical perspective, it is the easiest type of watch to manufacture. But just because everyone’s doing it, doesn’t mean they’re all doing it well. Only the very best deserve plaudits from the watch community. Which is why the Master Ultra Thin Small Seconds receives so much love, not just from fans of Jaeger-LeCoultre but from all watch enthusiasts. It is worth noting that there is now a new version of the Master Ultra Thin Small Seconds. While we like its slightly smaller case (by 1 mm) we don’t fancy the ‘AUTOMATIQUE’ script scrawled across the seconds sub-dial. Overall, we think the 2017 version remains superior in design. What further sweetens the deal is the fact that the watch is also fairly priced, at around CHF7,250.
Should you have a few more coins to spare, look no further than the Blancpain Villeret Ultraplate 6605 in stainless steel. Perhaps our favourite feature of the watch is the delightfully nuanced case. The double-stepped bezel adds plenty of visual and tactile appeal to an otherwise simple timepiece. Blancpain has also chosen to go with stylised Roman numerals as hour markers and skeletonised leaf hands to indicate the time. The Villeret Ultraplate 6605 is essentially the same size as the Master Ultra Thin Small Seconds, though it is thinner by 1.41 mm. If you flip the watch to its back, you will not only see the Calibre 11A4B, but also its power reserve indicator, which is always something pragmatic to have on a manually wound piece. The price of the Blancpain is slightly greater than its Jaeger-LeCoultre counterpart’s, at around CHF9,500.
Likely our all-time favourite piece for value is none other than the A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin. Let’s address the elephant in the room: the Saxonia Thin, at EUR15,500, is over twice the price of the Master Ultra Thin, so how could it be “value for money”? Well, value is more than just about price, it’s about how much you get for the price – and with the Saxonia Thin, it turns out that you get a lot. Lange timepieces are as handcrafted as it gets when it comes to ‘mainstream brands’. The movement that drives the Saxonia Thin, the Calibre L093.1, is hand-assembled not once, but twice, and is entirely hand-finished. In spite of being the literal entry-level timepiece of Lange, the Calibre L093.1 is finished to the same standard as Lange’s most upscale movements. In fact, bar several independent brands, no manufacturer can claim to have better movement finishing. A quick glance into the case back of the Saxonia Thin says it all: German silver three-quarter plate, gold chatons, hand-engraved balance cock, blued screws, and a mirror polished swan neck regulator. Oh, and the watch case is made of gold. Ultra-high end brands are not known for great value, but the Saxonia Thin, in the grand scale of things, provides amazing value and is worthy of consideration by anyone who is in the market.
The Master Ultra Thin Small Seconds with blue dial is the kind of watch that you just can’t dislike. It is sleek, elegant, and fitted with a well-finished, reliable movement. In the Master Ultra Thin Small Seconds, Jaeger-LeCoultre has a flawless time-only dress watch, granted its design is fairly safe.