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Review: Perpetual Blues Machine – The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel

by Frank Chuo on March 11, 2019

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel

Some watches just get all the love – the Lange 1, the Chronomètre Bleu, the Royal Oak, just about any Rolex dive watch, and then of course, there’s the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual. The introduction of a stainless steel, black-dialed variant back in 2016 led to much fanfare from the watch community. Even today, the particular reference is lauded for its sleek design and importantly, competitive pricing. For 2019, Jaeger-LeCoultre switches gears and presents a ‘premium’, limited edition version of the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual. The new Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel is part of a triumvirate of new, opulent timepieces for the manufacturer’s Master Ultra Thin series.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The case of the new Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel is rendered in white gold and measures a dressy 39.00 mm x 10.44 mm. While the new reference has retained the original diameter, its height has been increased by 1.2 mm compared to the regular version of the watch; this has to do with accommodating the thicker enamel dial in the piece. The words ‘Ultra Thin’ may be a bit of a misnomer as well but a height of 10.44 mm is still impressive given a sub-40 mm diameter, an enamel dial, and a perpetual calendar functionality. The case is entirely polished for elegance and plenty nuanced, with beveled lugs and a narrow bezel that affords the dial much real estate.

The case of the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel is crafted in white gold and polished to a sheen.

Where the watch truly shines is in the dial, figuratively and literally. The most striking feature of the dial is its guilloched and enameled surface. The dial is adorned with a sunburst guilloche motif on the main dial and clous de Paris motif within the calendar indication sub-dials. Blue enamel is then applied on top, resulting in a resplendent dial that dances in the light.

For this new special variant, Jaeger-LeCoultre had decided to freshen up the layout and displays of the dial. Compared to the regular Master Ultra Thin Perpetual, the day and the date indicators have now switched places from 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock and vice versa. The same goes for the moon phase and month indicators; they too have swapped places. In addition, the year indicator, which was previously placed at the 7:30 position, is now located within the month sub-dial along with the company marquee.

Two new indications that are present but not seen in preceding Master Ultra Thin Perpetual references are the ‘age of the moon’ and the ‘moon phase for the southern hemisphere’. These are displayed on the frosted track encircling the polished moon phase display. With relief engraving, the various phases of the moon for the southern hemisphere as well the ages of the moon are etched into the track.

The sub-dial at 6 o’clock indicates the northern and southern hemisphere moon phases, as well as the age of the moon.

The Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel also sets itself apart with its lengthened hour markers. In addition, they now resemble blunted arrowheads rather than sharpened. This change helps the markers blend in seamlessly with the guilloche enamel dial. The hands indicating the time remain unchanged. Worth noting are the tiny cut-outs near the base of the dauphine hour and minute hands – they are there so the user can always see the safety indicator (do not adjust calendar when indicator is blue) located just above the centre pinion on the dial.

Our impression of the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel is positive. The enamel and guilloche treatment results in a truly stunning dial. The hobnail pattern in the sub-dials and the red ’31’ add additional flair to watch though at the expense of design purity which the other two new Master Ultra Thin enamel watches thrive on.

The Movement

A re-organised perpetual calendar layout on the dial-side translates to an overhauled movement. Driving the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel is still the mighty Calibre 868 though it would be in its altered form: the Calibre 868A/2. The 332-part, 46-jewel movement is – as one would expect from “the watchmaker’s watchmaker” – completely in-house. It is self-winding and operates at a modern 4 Hz beat rate. Apart from a rearrangement of the perpetual calendar mechanism, the new Calibre 868A/2 also benefits from a power reserve upgrade: 72 hours of autonomy off of just one mainspring barrel. For an automatic watch, this is extremely generous, not to mention convenient, as it allows the owner to leave the watch in a drawer over the weekend and not have to correct the calendar on Monday.

The Calibre 868A/2 as shown through the sapphire crystal case back

The finishing applied onto the movement is neat and aesthetically pleasing. At the entry to mid-range level where the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual sits, Jaeger-LeCoultre movements tend to be machine finished to a larger extent than, say, a watch from the higher-end Master Grande Tradition line. This is not to say that it is devoid of hand-finishing. And of course, there is nothing wrong with machine finishing. It’s just the manufacturer’s way of offering more in other aspects of the watch while keeping prices in-check.

The Competitive Landscape

Though still one of the most sophisticated types of calendars in watchmaking, the perpetual calendar is rather ubiquitous in watches today. Most serious brands, regardless of where they sit in the hierarchy of watchmaking, would have one or more perpetual calendar timepieces in their catalogue. As alluded to previously, the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual is one of the more celebrated watches from Jaeger-LeCoultre and for good reason. For one, it is fantastically designed and legible. For another, it is equipped with a solid, respectable movement. Let’s not forget as well that it represents good value for money (at least for the steel variant). The new Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel brings the manufacturer’s mastery of rare handcrafts to the table. Unsurprisingly, the watch was a hit when it debuted at SIHH back in January. Of course, its decadent adornment comes with a price. The 100-piece limited edition Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel in white gold retails at USD55,000. It is USD20,000 pricier than its non-enameled white gold sibling. In fact, you could purchase both the regular white gold variant and the steel variant for the same amount of money (with a bit of haggling). Whether the upgraded movement plus enameled/engraved dial is worth paying a USD20,000 premium is ultimately up to the prospective buyer’s discretion. But for further comparison, here are two top-of-the-range perpetual calendar watches:

The watch sits elegantly on the wrist and will clear any dress cuff with ease.

The first has to be sister brand A. Lange & Söhne’s brand new Langematik Perpetual in honey gold. First introduced in 2001, the Langematik Perpetual is Lange’s prototypical perpetual calendar timepiece. It features the usual layout of a perpetual calendar watch but with the brand’s signature outsize date at 12 o’clock. The latest variant, presented in January at SIHH, sees the Langematik Perpetual rendered in honey gold, a special proprietary alloy reserved for the brand’s most exclusive pieces. Another key aesthetic difference found in this new variant is the evocative guilloche on the hour track. Driving the Langematik Perpetual is the tried and trusty Calibre L922.1 which is equipped with not just a perpetual calendar mechanism, but also a zero-reset mechanism for the seconds hand for more precise time-setting. The movement is also incredibly well-finished and decorated, at a level not seen in the watches of other “mainstream” watch manufacturers. Also limited to 100 pieces, the Langematik Perpetual in honey gold is priced at EUR85,000. The main difference between the Lange and the Jaeger-LeCoultre is simple, and that is finissage, with the former being superfluously superior. It is the reason for the Lange’s higher pricing, and also part of the reason why the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual is considered to be the most ‘value-for-money’ perpetual calendar watch in the current market.

Unlike the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel, the Langematik Perpetual utilises an off-centre rotor for winding.

Moving a little closer to home, there’s the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Ref. 5320G. Perpetual calendar watches are considered a quintessential part of Patek Philippe’s modern collection and the launch of the Ref. 5320G in 2017 helped ensure its continuity. Its most distinctive features include the three-tier lugs, as well as its lacquered cream dial and syringe hands. A noteworthy difference between the Ref. 5320G and its Jaeger-LeCoultre and Lange counterparts is its ample but judicious use of apertures. This makes it the most legible watch of the three, a quality that is often overlooked in contemporary watchmaking. Its movement, the Calibre 324 S Q is endowed with finissage worthy of high horology, though the Langematik Perpetual’s Calibre L922.1 is still more meticulously finished. Retailing at USD82,800, the Ref. 5320G sits between the Lange and the Jaeger-LeCoultre in pricing.

The hands and hour markers on the dial of the Ref. 5320G are all coated with luminescent material for visibility under low- or no-light conditions.

Concluding Thoughts

The Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel is a winner. It is essentially an upscale (and slightly upgraded) version of the ‘regular’ Master Ultra Thin Perpetual. In spite of the premium pricing, the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel is still bang for buck in our eyes for what it offers.

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