Review: Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Chronograph Ref. 1538530
It’s well known that Jaeger-LeCoultre has played an important part in the last century or so of watchmaking, serving as the backbone of the industry by—amongst many, many other achievements—making movements for virtually every other brand worth talking about. That’s no exaggeration: Jaeger-LeCoultre has made movements for—deep breath—Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, IWC, Chopard, Panerai and Cartier. It can be easy to forget that the brand also makes watches for itself, and here’s one of them, the Master Chronograph 1538530. Here are three reasons why this could be your next and even only watch.
Reason 1 – The Movement
It goes without saying that the movement inside this Master Chronograph is a good one. Hidden away under a medallion of a case back—and unfortunately not on show—the calibre 751 has been in action in some form another since the mid-2000s. Believe it or not, the 751 was Jaeger-LeCoultre’s very first automatic chronograph calibre, and while it lacks, say, the balance bridge, Breguet overcoil and 72 hours of power reserve of Rolex’s calibre 4130, it does make up for it with superior finishing—and a price difference of over £2,000.
The Master Chronograph from Jaeger-LeCoultre takes inspiration from vintage sector dial watches
Here in 751G form, it carries 65 hours in its twin barrel set up, utilising a column wheel and vertical clutch for a smooth, precise chronograph action. The 751G has four fewer jewels than the standard 751, and that specifically is because this Master Chronograph has a twin register display. Unusually, there’s no running seconds on this watch—that’s the sub-dial that was dropped—so no quick way to tell if it’s running, but that does mean the full usability of the chronograph is available through seconds, minutes and hours despite only two sub-dials.
Each watch is tested by Jaeger-LeCoultre for 1,000 hours before sale for quality control
There is the cheaper El Primero to contend with, however, and on paper it seems like the Jaeger-LeCoultre has met its match. But the Zenith’s only real claim to fame is the runner-up prize in the race to build an automatic chronograph, and while it beat Jaeger-LeCoultre to the punch by some 30-odd years, it as a brand can’t compete with the history of Jaeger-LeCoultre. Zenith is a good brand, don’t get me wrong … Jaeger-LeCoultre is just objectively better.
Reason 2 – The Size
Rolex knows it, Patek Philippe knows it, and so too, it seems, does Jaeger-LeCoultre—the perfect size for a watch is 40mm. It doesn’t seem like much of a big deal, and it certainly doesn’t mean that watches that are bigger or smaller are unwearable, but for an only watch it’s imperative.
The 40mm diameter and 12mm thickness gives the Master Chronograph a good balance
Think about it—the smallest diameter considered wearable by the average man with the average wrist size is about 36mm—a Rolex Explorer, say. The largest is around 44mm, give or take, like a Panerai Luminor. Smack in the middle is the Master Chronograph. Of course, if you’re built like The Mountain’s bigger brother and you’ve got wrists like a commercial jet fuselage, your mileage will vary. But for Mr Average, 40mm is right in the Goldilocks zone.
But there’s more to it than just the diameter: it’s all about the ratios. The thickness of the case compared to the diameter, the space of the bezel compared the dial, the width of the lugs versus the length, the size and positioning of the crown against the pushers, the mix of finishes, the size and angle of bevels, and how all of that flows together—it’s all important. With a lot of time and even more patience, these ratios could probably be scientifically defined, but given how often these seemingly simple little decisions get made incorrectly, it shows just how hard they are to get right. Looking at the Master Chronograph’s design, I think you’ll agree that Jaeger-LeCoultre has done a very good job.
Reason 3 – The Dial
When designing a dial, finding the balance between bland and wacky, that sweet spot that’s distinctive yet unfussy, is very, very tricky. Many have tried, many have failed. Some have come close, but there’s an uncanny valley in that region that just makes the part that doesn’t quite work look all the more out of place. Whilst there are some fundamental stumbling blocks when it comes to making a watch dial stand out, it all really comes down to the details.
The blend of colours and textures is what makes the Master Chronograph stand out against its competition
Here’s what makes the sector dial—a style used by the military to aid navigation—of this Master Chronograph unfussy: there aren’t any numbers that have had bites taken out of them; the tachymeter around the chapter ring doesn’t take up more space than it needs; and there’s no date window messing up the clean look by punching a hole through it. Small details, perhaps, but all little design crimes that so many manufacturers have committed over the years despite the repeated complaints.
And here’s what makes the dial distinctive, but importantly, not wacky: the skeletonised hands are simple, yet are a prominent feature that stands out even at a distance; the mix of finishes, brushed and bead blasted, adds layers to the dial without the visual distraction of actually having multiple layers; and the splash of blue, whether the matching strap is worn or not, gives it a welcome dose of colour in a sea of monotone watches.
Granted, this watch isn’t perfect. Being able to see the movement would be an added bonus, and the sub-dials could probably benefit from being a fraction further apart, but at this price point, there’s little else that offers the same distinction and roundedness in design coming from a brand with as much history as Jaeger-LeCoultre. It captures that vintage essence that’s so appealing without resorting to outright mimicry, and simultaneously manages to look crisp and modern, carrying its own identity. The simplicity of the dial, made distinct through small, considered details, allows it to bridge the gap between smart and casual, a feat not easily achieved. This—all this—is why the Master Chronograph could plausibly be considered for the role of only watch.
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