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Review: Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Eight Days Perpetual

I’ll be honest, the Rolex Sky-Dweller is a pretty cool watch. The 42mm oddball may not have received the warmest of welcomes back in 2012, but it’s since earned a reputation for being the most complicated watch Rolex ever made, because … well, it is. You’ll pay for that complication, mind, and it doesn’t come cheap—£11,850 in steel with a splash of white gold, to be precise. And that got me thinking—is there something better you could get with that money instead?

It was as though two senior executives, one from Rolex and one from Jaeger-LeCoultre, crossed paths at a party. Surrounded by friends and colleagues from brands who’d sourced movements from Jaeger-LeCoultre, like Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe, the Jaeger-LeCoultre executive called out to his Rolex equivalent and said, “Hey Rolex! Still afraid of making complications?”

And so, balling his fists, gritting his teeth and storming out, humiliated, the Rolex executive plotted to show all of them what his brand could really do. As the laughter died off in the distance, the plan began to come together. It wouldn’t just be a complicated watch; it would be unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.

The Sky-Dweller really is that watch, really is like nothing else to come before it. From its lopsided GMT ring to the bonkers function select bezel, and even the hour marker annual calendar display, Rolex not only showed the world that it could make a truly complicated watch, but also one that completely reinvented the genre.

The price of a Rolex Sky-Dweller can range anywhere between £11,850 all the way up to £40,000. The price is dependant on the material the watch is made from

The price of a Rolex Sky-Dweller can range anywhere between £11,850 all the way up to £40,000. The price is dependant on the material the watch is made from

Of course, our hypothetical party is nothing more than the machinations of a wandering imagination, but the sentiment rings true. This is Rolex at its most impressive, whether the public perception reflects that or not, digging deep into its roots of thinking outside the box to make the most of its limitations. Rolex is, of course, no Jaeger-LeCoultre, and so it’s through clever thinking that the Sky-Dweller piques our interest. If you can’t keep pace, change the game.

It worked for the wristwatch, water-resistance, perpetually winding movement and self-changing date, all left-field ideas that brought Rolex to the table alongside its vastly more experience competitors, and that’s what the Sky-Dweller achieved once more in 2012. The next party was one walked into with head held high. The Sky-Dweller hadn’t just proven the point; it was a point sharp enough to skewer anyone who dared question it.

It took some time, but now the Sky-Dweller is a hit. It’s such a hit that hoping to buy one for the £11,850 asking price is getting to be a tall order. The success of this watch is so great that it bucks the trend of ninety-nine percent of the market and actually increases in value. This seems like a blessing—however, it can also be a curse. If you were considering a Sky-Dweller for the RRP, you might be out of luck. What can you do now? Well, Jaeger-LeCoultre might get the last laugh yet.

That’s because, in amongst that other ninety-nine percent of watches, there’s this, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Eight Days Perpetual. It’s £17,500 new—but five years old? Oh yes, you could have one of these instead of the Sky-Dweller. But is the choice that clear cut?

Jaeger-LeCoultre was founded in 1833 by Antoine LeCoultre

Jaeger-LeCoultre was founded in 1833 by Antoine LeCoultre

Chalk and cheese springs to mind here. Peas in a pod, these two are not. On paper, you’d perhaps struggle to tell the difference: both calendar complications, both predominantly wrought in steel, both knocking on the door of £12,000. Except that paper only tells half the story. For the rest, you need to read between the lines.

If the Rolex is a demonstration of blue sky thinking, the Jaeger-LeCoultre has its roots firmly set in tradition. You know those houses where the tree growing nearby has become so ingrained with the foundations that it has become a significant part of the structure—that’s what this Jaeger-LeCoultre is like. Its existence is as much about being a physical watch you can wear on your wrist as it is a structural element in the story of watchmaking. You take it out, the walls crack and crumble.

For every new advancement the Rolex has, the Jaeger-LeCoultre parries with out-and-out expertise. Annual calendar for the Rolex? Full perpetual for the Jaeger-LeCoultre. You’ll change the date on the Rolex once per year; on the Jaeger-LeCoultre, you’ll be passing it down before you have to. Fancy Ring Command bezel adjustment on the Sky-Dweller? The Master Eight Days Perpetual gets an old-fashioned, hand wound movement lavished not just with features, but beauty as well.

The three-quarter plate of the Jaeger-LeCoultre’s calibre 876—which hides two mainsprings barrels holding eight days of power no less—are radially striped with the balance as the epicentre, the rays of a pulsing star setting behind the horizon. Constellations of blued screws and lustrous rubies, set deep in bevelled recesses, litter the sky. It’s a masterclass in exquisite restraint.

LeCoultre, as the company was originally known, changed its name to Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1937 after a merger with watchmaker Edmond Jaeger

LeCoultre, as the company was originally known, changed its name to Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1937 after a merger with watchmaker Edmond Jaeger

But it’s a busy movement, and the front of the Jaeger-LeCoultre reveals just how much is really going on inside. There’s the time and date, of course, and the month, just like the Sky-Dweller—but then there’s also the day, moonphase and even a full year display as well, doing away with the need of a leap year indicator. Being hand wound, you also get a power reserve display for the massive eight days, plus there’s a day/night indicator and even a warning when the calendar is in motion in the middle of the night to remind you not to adjust the watch.

Not only that, but the Jaeger-LeCoultre shaves two millimetres off both the Rolex’s height and diameter, lending it more universal proportions befitting not only its name, but also its heritage. It’s hard to deny that there is a lot going on here in the Master Eight Days Perpetual that the Sky-Dweller just has no answer for. When you’re looking at writing a cheque for the same amount for either, choosing which direction it goes in is not going to be easy.

Once again, the Sky-Dweller shows off just what made Rolex such a firm favourite. When you don’t have the might to compete head on, you try other more inventive routes, and even though Rolex is the powerhouse it’s come to be today, it’s still fantastic to see that same pioneering spirit in action. But … well. Which rolls off the tongue more sweetly? Rolex Sky-Dweller or Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Eight Days Perpetual? I’ll let you decide.

Looking for a Jaeger-LeCoultre watch? Click here to shop now

Looking for a Rolex watch? Click here to shop now