Thursday, October 29

Review: The Moon Smiles Back – The Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire in White Gold

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Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire in White Gold

Jaeger-LeCoultre is known for many things – watchmaking prowess is one of these things. Dubbed the “Grande Maison of the Vallée de Joux” and the “watchmaker’s watchmaker”, Jaeger-LeCoultre has shown time and time again through its watches that it is an industry leader when it comes to innovation. Of the current lines of watches that the brand offers, the Duomètre is one of the brand’s savviest offerings. Believe it or not, the Duomètre collection turns 13 this year, having made its first appearance in the form of the Duomètre à Chronographe back in 2007. The seminal Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire came along in 2010 and with it, numerous variations throughout the decade. In 2016, a white gold version with a uniquely textured moon phase disc was introduced, and it has since remained one of our favourite iterations of the watch. In the spirit of ‘better late than never’, we bring you the low-down on the Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire and our thoughts on the charming white gold variant.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The case of the Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire in white gold measures 40.5 mm in diameter and 13.5 mm in thickness. As a watch designed to be contemporary, the case dimensions are on point – neither too large nor too demure. The case design is fairly simple, with everything polished except for the case flanks, which are satin finished. This particular style of case finishing is favoured due to the visual contrast that it offers. At the 10 o’clock position on the case is a pusher that allows for the date to be quick-set; actuating it is a tactile experience that watch geeks will definitely look forward to.

The Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire has a substantial case but it given its movement complexity, it should come to no surprise.

Where the fun truly begins is on the dial. The main dial is silver-grey and opaline in quality, with two cut-outs on the bottom left and right quadrants. These cut-outs reveal the movement, including two power reserve indicators. There are three sub-dials to be found on the partially openworked dial. The one closest to the 3 o’clock position displays the hours and the minutes. While the hour track is applied, the minute track is printed in black. To the left, is another sub-dial of equal size – this one displays the moon phase and the date. The date is displayed radially, with odd dates printed in numbers and even dates printed as dots. Inboard of the date track is the bosom-style moon phase display. There have been differing executions of the moon phase display on the Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire over the years, but this one, where the moon is hand-hammered, is our favourite. It is far more textured, realistic, and appealing than the supposedly ‘photorealistic’ version from the original Quantième Lunaire, at least in our opinion. Last but not least, beneath the two larger sub-dials lies a smaller one that displays fractions of a second; this complication is known as the foudroyante or lightning seconds. While it isn’t as practical as the date nor as picturesque as the moon phase, the foudroyante never fails to hypnotise and mesmerise all who gaze upon it. Indeed, we caught ourselves staring like a moth to a flame.

There have been many executions of the Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire moon phase disc. This one is the most textural so far.

Another attraction on the Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire is its incredibly long and thin central seconds hand. It serves as the perfect foil to the whizzing foudroyante, with its slow but graceful sweeping action across the dial. It also gives the Quantième Lunaire the feel of a scientific tool, especially with the inclusion of the extra-precise seconds track. The remaining hands are rendered alpha-style – two for the hours and minutes, and one for the date. In order to prevent operator confusion, all hands related to time-telling functions are crafted in pink gold while the one date hand is made of white gold.

The Movement

Driving the Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire is the 374-part, 40-jewel, in-house Calibre 381. The movement has a power reserve of 50 hours and operates at a stately 3 Hz beat rate. What separates the Calibre 381 (or any Duomètre watch movement for that matter) from a regular watch movement is what Jaeger-LeCoultre calls the ‘dual-wing system’. The dual-wing system is all about incorporating two independent ‘movements’ into the single calibre to optimise timekeeping.

The Calibre 381 as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

What this really means is that each of the two mainspring barrels inside the Calibre 381 is dedicated to driving either just the timekeeping or the complications (hence why there are two power reserve indicators). The calibre is still regulated by the one balance and escapement, but the separation of power source produces two benefits for timekeeping: 1) it ensures that the operation of complications does not affect power flow to the regulating organ, and 2) having one barrel focused only on timekeeping ensures a more constant supply of energy and thus (at least on paper) better chronometry. Regarding benefit 1), it becomes especially true come midnight when the date and moon phase mechanisms switch over; even temporary fluctuations in energy demand can perturb chronometry. To allow the mainspring barrels to function independently, they have not been mounted in series. As such, turning the crown as per usual will not wind both barrels at once. To wind the barrel responsible for timing, the crown must be turned clockwise, while turning the crown counter-clockwise winds the other barrel.

The cut-outs on the dial reveal a power reserve indicator each, one indicator for each of the two independent mainsrping barrels.

Among the functions of the Calibre 381 are the time in hours, minutes and seconds; the date; the moon phase; and the foudroyante. The foudroyante is capable of displaying 1/6th of a second – the jumping hands make a full rotation every second. Why 1/6th of a second? Because the balance wheel in the Calibre 381 makes 6 semi-oscillations a second (3 Hz), meaning 6 ticks per second. This function isn’t merely for show, though it is spectacular to watch. With the Calibre 381’s “zero-reset” function, pulling the crown stops and rezeroes both the centre seconds and foudroyante hands. This allows time-setting to be performed with utmost accuracy.

The gorgeous architecture and finish of the Calibre 381.

The Calibre 381 is not just technically impressive, but also finished to a superlative level. Jaeger-LeCoultre applies different standards of finishing to its timepieces depending on several factors including price and watch series. With the Duomètre family, the finissage is undoubtedly closer to what we see in the Master Grande Tradition series, where the manufacture’s greatest decorative efforts are placed, than say the entry-level Master Control series. The bridges in the Calibre 381 are made of maillechort or German silver which is more finicky to handle but imbues an aesthetically pleasing warm hue to the movement that only gets warmer with age. The surface of these bridges are adorned with a radiating Côte de Genève that emanates from the balance as its centre. The edges have been beveled and polished to a sheen, and while there are no inward angles to be found, there are numerous rounded and outward angles to enjoy.

The Competitive Landscape

The Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire is one of those watches that you just can’t hate. It is well-sized (this white gold variant is slightly smaller than the original pink gold version), thoughtfully designed, finely executed, packed with horological goodies, and last but certainly not least, it is fairly priced at USD42,700. The good people at Jaeger-LeCoultre could’ve skimped on the Duomètre, given its entry-mid tier pricing, but instead gave it their all. The watch is bound to be a delight for anyone who appreciates interesting watch designs and sophisticated watch mechanics. The burning question now is, how does it fare against its nearest competitors? Does it stand out against the competition or will it fade into mediocrity?

The Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire looks absolutely amazing on the wrist and will slide under all but the tightest dress cuffs.

Any comparison with the Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire isn’t official until the A. Lange & Söhne Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase is mentioned. The two watches are similar in many ways: they display the date, moon phase, and power reserve; they have an atypical layout, they share virtually identical case diameters, and they have movements made of German silver. The Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase, however, does lack a foudroyante function, a second power reserve indicator, and Jaeger-LeCoultre’s dual-wing technology. Despite these ‘shortcomings’, it makes up for it with an ultra-precise, continuously moving moon phase indicator, and a higher level of finissage throughout the watch, including the moon phase disc and the movement (hand-engraved balance cock, anyone?). The Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase in pink gold is priced at EUR43,700 or about USD48,000, making it slightly more expensive than the Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire in white gold. At the end of the day, the two watches offer plenty in their own ways and the choice between the two depends on what one values more in watchmaking and watch collecting.

The Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase made its debut in SIHH 2014 with the manufacturer introducing the watch in three different materials: platinum, pink gold, and yellow gold. The yellow gold variant (in photo) was discontinued in 2016, possibly due to the unpopularity of the material.

Another valid alternative to the Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire is the Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5712. An elegant sports watch, the Ref. 5712 is more casual in appearance to the Jaeger-LeCoultre and the Lange. That said, it still has the same functions: a power reserve indicator, a moon phase indicator and a date indicator. The off-balance dial layout of the Ref. 5712 is an acquired taste but flip the watch to its back and you will be reassured by the trusty Calibre 240 PS IRM C LU. Unlike the two aforementioned watches, the Ref. 5712 is self-winding, and its movement is also well-finished, second only to Lange’s obsessively double-assembled movements. It features some of Patek Philippe’s most iconic innovations including the Gyromax balance and the Spiromax hairspring. The rose gold version of the Ref. 5712 retails for around USD46,000. It bears mentioning, however, that you’d be hard-pressed finding one at retail price thanks to the Nautilus bubble driving up demand. The Ref. 5712 is by far the ‘most collectible’ of the three watches under scrutiny here, a fact that should be taken into consideration if you’re more of an investor than an enthusiast.

The Ref. 5712, along with other Nautilus models, has seen its market value skyrocket in recent years.

Final Thoughts

The Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire in white gold is a crowd pleaser and, really, barring sports and water, it is fairly versatile. But ultimately, the watch is one for the true watch geeks. It boasts interesting mechanics that mitigate the most rudimentary issue in timekeeping: power fluctuations. It also features a relatively uncommon complication in the foudroyante and has an unorthodox but cool dial layout. Top all of that up with excellent finissage and a reasonable price and you have a winner for the ages.

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