Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon is beautiful, refined and tastefully understated. Mark McArthur-Christie waxes lyrical about this paragon of horological excellence.
The person who buys a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon is unlikely to be the sort of individual who would park their gold-wrapped Lamborghini on Old Bond Street’s double yellow lines and laugh at the approaching traffic warden. You’re also unlikely to see them in tennis shoes unless they’re playing real tennis, probably at Leamington Tennis Court Club. They will tie their own bow tie and know how to polish a pair of boots.
Where some other makers produce complicated watches that shout, “Hey! I’m a tourbillon, look at me!”, Jaeger-LeCoultre make tourbillons that quietly get on with being gorgeous, understated and just plain good. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon is a fine example.
For a start, the case-designers weren’t tempted to hit the bling and cast something the size of an Olympic medal. Instead, the pink gold case is a correct 40mm in diameter and just under 11mm thick, so it’ll happily slide under a shirt cuff without too much fuss. The lugs are short enough to make it sit neatly there too. The caseback is sapphire and held on with four screws, one at the base of each lug. It’s water-resistant to 5 bar, although it would be a brave soul that ventured near a swimming pool with. it on their wrist. The alligator strap wouldn’t thank you either.
JLC’s designers have used that see-through caseback and the movement’s cutaway plates to make the tourbillon the focus of the whole watch, but they’ve done it in a typically restrained way. Your eye simply notices the clear view straight through the crystal, highlighted by the light coming in from the caseback, all focusing on the tourbillon’s tiny, 0.28 gram titanium cage.
Why have a tourbillon at all? For a start, just because Jaeger-LeCoultre can. It’s the watchmaking equivalent of being able to hit a high C straight through the middle; why wouldn’t you do it as often as you can? It’s a fine demonstration of serious watchmaking. But, like all the truly interesting things in esoteric world of fine watchmaking, it also has a function.
A tourbillon mitigates positional errors that can adversely impair the accuracy of a watch. By rotating the escapement in a series of tiny increments, the negative influence of gravity is mitigated, making the watch a little more precise.
And the Ultra Thin’s cal. 978G movement knows a thing or two about precision. Its close relative, the cal. 978, won the Chronométrie 2009 International Timing Competition with 909 points from a possible 1,000 after three 15-day sessions of cased chronometer trials. Usually, trials like this run with uncased movements for just one 15-day session.
The cal. 978 held a rate that varied by a mere 0.28 seconds a day, gaining an average of a footling 0.13 seconds per day. There are quartz watches that would blush and hide on being asked to do that.
The cal. 978G runs at 28,800 Vph (4Hz) and with a power reserve of a respectable – but not huge – 45 hours, although I can’t see owners being too eager to set it aside while they wear something else. This isn’t just a clever watch though; it’s visually attractive at a detail level. The movement screws are blued, the bridges carry anglage and sunray-striping and the gold oscillating weight is grained. The balance and tourbillon is held in place with a cutaway, single bridge, stably fixed at two points. Again, no bling, no fuss – just a rather gorgeous understatement.
This carries over to the dial and hands. Rather than slathering the dial with writing, there’s just a simple Jaeger-LeCoultre name and the JLC logo picked out in gold above it. The simplicity theme carries on with the rest of the dial; just a crisp track around the tourbillon cutaway, with the 60/0 second point picked out in red to add a tiny flurry of visual interest.
The minute markers are tiny, applied gold dots and the five minute batons are faceted gold, tapering in towards the dial centre. No superfluous fuss or ornament. From the dial side, you can watch the tourbillon doing its work as it spins the cage, fraction by fraction, again held in place by blued screws. The balance itself is micro-adjustable.
There are some splendid ways to blow the £61,000 the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon would set you back. You could have a Ferrari 355 F1 Spider and £1,000 for petrol or even (just) a Rolls Royce Phantom if you lean towards ostentation. It’d even buy you a modest yacht, if that’s your thing. But you’ll struggle to find a more understated, quietly confident example of JLC at its precise, elegant best.
- Model: Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon
- Reference: Q1682410
- Case: 18-ct pink gold; diameter 40mm; height 10.77mm; water resistance 5ATM (50 metres) sapphire crystals to front and rear
- Functions: Hours; minutes; tourbillon with seconds display
- Movement: Calibre 978G; automatic movement; frequency 28,800 Vph (4Hz); 33 jewels; power reserve 45 hours
- Strap: Brown leather strap
- Price: £61,000 (RRP as at 11.12.2019)