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Review: Spin Till You Win – The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel

by Frank Chuo on April 15, 2019

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel

For 2019, Jaeger-LeCoultre ups the ante and presents a ‘premium’, limited edition version of the Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon. The new Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel is part of a triumvirate of new, opulent timepieces for the manufacturer’s Master Ultra Thin series. We bring you the details and our thoughts on this critically acclaimed SIHH novelty.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The case of the new Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel is rendered in white gold and measures a contemporary 40.00 mm x 12.13 mm. While the special reference has retained the diameter of the original Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon, its height has been increased by 1.43 mm; this mostly has to do with accommodating the thicker enamel dial. The ‘Ultra Thin’ designation may be a bit of a misnomer as well with its case thickness of 12.13 mm but at least the watch is proportional in size and more than wearable on most wrists. 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 Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel is crafted in a svelte white gold case.

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. It is adorned with a sunburst guilloche motif on the main dial and a contrasting, concentric motif inside the date sub-dial at 12 o’clock. Blue enamel is then applied on top, resulting in a resplendent dial that dances in the light.

Indeed, in the regular version of the Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon, there is no date sub-dial. The dial of the Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon is therefore exceptionally clean. Of course, this is not to say that the new Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel has a messy dial – far from it. The addition of the date sub-dial makes the watch much more interesting while still retaining balance and order on the dial. In addition, the dates are relief engraved onto a frosted track, not merely printed on – a real special treat for the would-be buyers amongst us. The same treatment is afforded to the seconds track that encircles the tourbillon aperture at 6 o’clock.

The tourbillon features a newly designed cage that is, in our opinion, much more appealing than the one in the old Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon and Master Tourbillon series. It has a fine satin finish on the top surface and edges that have been chamfered and polished. Even more impressive in execution, is the new tourbillon bridge. The task of rounding and mirror-polishing the bridge is anything but simple; in fact, it’d be tedious and time-consuming. This is a detail that is usually found in the watches of brands on the highest rung of the pricing ladder – Vacheron Constantin, for example.

The new tourbillon design is a significant improvement in terms of looks over the old one.

To avoid leaving empty real estate on the dial, the 3 o’clock position is occupied by the company marquee with the applied ‘JL’ logo, while the 9 o’clock position is filled with the term ‘AUTOMATIQUE’. This also serves to balance the dial.

The Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel also sets itself apart from its predecessors with its lengthened hour markers. In addition, they resemble blunted arrowheads rather than sharpened ones. This change helps the markers blend in seamlessly with the guilloche enamel dial. The dauphine hands indicating the time remain unchanged. Meanwhile, the date is indicated by a baton hand.

The Movement

Driving the Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel is the Calibre 978F, a technically and aesthetically reconceived version of the chronometry competition-winning Calibre 978. The 302-part, 35-jewel movement is self-winding and has a water resistance of 5 bar. It maintains a respectable power reserve of 48 hours off of just one barrel in spite of a 4 Hz tourbillon.

The Calibre 978F as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

The finishing applied to the Calibre 978F is captivating. The top surface of the bridges is decorated with a sunray pattern that emanates from the tourbillon. The edges are also beveled and polished. The gold rotor has been skeletonised so that the rest of the movement is only minimally obstructed from view. It is adorned with a stunning frosted finish that is contrasted by a polished outer rim and ‘JL’ logo.

The Competitive Landscape

The new Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel is a limited edition of 50 pieces. Priced at USD88,500, it is about USD18,000 dearer than the regular Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon. The premium is there not just because of the special aesthetics on the dial but also the added date functionality. All things considered, the watch could still be considered “value for money” on the grand scale of all things luxury watchmaking.

The Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel sits elegantly on the wrist and will slip under a sleeve with no issue.

The Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel is indubitably a unique timepiece, combining a sublime movement with several rare crafts on the dial. Watches like it are hard to come by, especially at below 6-digit pricing. As a comparison, one watch that comes to mind is the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst from the year 2014. The watch, limited to just 20 pieces, was presented to celebrate 20 years of the rebirth of the manufacture and brand. Apart from the tourbillon, the Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst also displays the date and the power reserve on the dial. The dial is made of black enamel that is as immaculate as the black polished cock that secures the tourbillon. The Calibre L961.3 that powers the watch is opulently finished and decorated – significantly more so than the Calibre 978F. While Lange’s usual practice is to apply Glashütte ribbing onto the three-quarter plate, here, it is done without, allowing the hand-engraved cocks and bridges to stand out even more. When the watch first debuted, it was priced at over USD200,000. Needless to say, you could probably only obtain the piece through an auction today, or if you can convince one of its lucky owners to part with it. Our guess is, you’d have to cough up way more than USD200,000, unfortunately (for the buyer).

The Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskundst, released way back in 2014.

At this point, you may be thinking that tourbillons are only a means for manufacturers and marketers to jack up the prices of watches – in other words, mostly hype. After all, a good chronograph requires way more skill to assemble and adjust than a tourbillon, and they usually cost half the price. The Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon Grand Feu proves this point to some extent. As shown in the photograph below, the Marine Tourbillon Grand Feu in blue comes with a blue enamel dial with fine waveform and concentric guilloche motif. The flying tourbillon at 6 o’clock features a cage that is satin finished on the top surface with chamfered and polished edges, not unlike the Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel. On the opposite end, the watch displays the power reserve. The Calibre UN-128 within the watch is in-house produced and also self-winding. Here’s the real kicker: the watch is priced at an unmatched CHF28,000. And yes, it comes with the flying tourbillon and the enamel dial. Sure, the movement isn’t nearly as adorned as the Calibre 978F, but at CHF28,000, that can be easily forgiven. One would be tempted to expect flaws to be present on the enamel at such prices. But no, the dial is made by famous enamel dial specialists Donze Cadran whose reputation is always on the line – a flawed dial would be unthinkable. The watch is built with quality, and is genuinely beautiful, which begs the question: is the Marine Tourbillon just too aggressively priced, or have we all had wool pulled over our eyes over the true value of a tourbillon timepiece? The answer probably lies somewhere in between.

Is the price of the Marine Tourbillon, at CHF28,000, a more reflective reference point of what the price of any watch with a tourbillon should be?

Concluding Thoughts

The new Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel with its opulent aesthetics and refreshed design is absolutely easy on the eyes. Its pricing is reasonable given the current state of the tourbillon watch market. No surprises, then, that it was a crowd favourite at this year’s SIHH along with the other two Master Ultra Thin enamel debutants.

Photo note: We note that there appears to be bubbles/black dots on the dial. This is because the JLC folks at the SIHH did not remove the plastic wrapping on the watch. This is consistent with the other photographs of the blue enamel dials from JLC taken during the same session in Geneva.

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