Review: Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater
There’s watchmaking and there’s watchmaking, and this Master Grande Tradition from Jaeger-LeCoultre is the latter. We’ve spoken before about the minute repeater and its incredible, unbelievable capabilities—now we’re going to explore it like it’s never been seen before.
I don’t blame you if you’re not too familiar with Jaeger-LeCoultre. Chances are you’ve probably heard of the brand, but perhaps you just don’t know an awful lot about it. And there’s a reason for that; Jaeger-LeCoultre is known by those who are familiar with it as the watchmaker’s watchmaker—and that’s meant as more than just an endearing compliment, because the brand has long been an industry supplier of some of the greatest and most famous movements ever produced.
It’s a bit like a Sony OLED TV. Gorgeous colours, rich blacks, stunning detail, yet the technology doing the heavy lifting doesn’t come from Sony’s factories at all, it comes via the Sea of Japan from LG’s Korean headquarters. Like LG, Jaeger-LeCoultre has spent much of its time making world class innards for world class brands, its own capabilities remaining hidden from view.
Of course, people are aware of Jaeger-LeCoultre, particularly for its style icon the Reverso, but we’re here for something that ventures a little deeper than that. And it goes way back with the brand, with Messrs Jaeger and LeCoultre joining forces over a bet to break technological records and produce the thinnest movement ever made, the evolution of which remains the most slender to this day. It was a partnership that started with a gamechanger; how do you even think about following that up? Easy, with the smallest movement ever made, ninety-eight components that together weighed less than a gram—and guess what, Jaeger-LeCoultre continues to hold the record for that, too.
Chronographs with instant-change digital displays, divers with alarms, complications with separate power trains—innovation after innovation made Jaeger-LeCoultre an unstoppable force. With Jaeger’s mind for mathematics and LeCoultre’s knack for production, the duo made for a formidable partnership—and this did not go unnoticed. The list of watchmakers that made use of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s abilities is as impressive as it is long, crowned by no less than all three of watchmaking’s top trio, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin.
But when you’re making the best look even better, it’s hard to earn a reputation of your own. Try as it might—and it really has tried—Jaeger-LeCoultre has struggled to make a name for itself outside of a select circle of those in the know. That’s why watches like this Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater exist. You see, when Sony was busy revealing its rather normal LG-powered television, LG was blowing minds with a flexible panel that could roll away into a tube no taller than a loaf of bread.
The Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater is Jaeger-LeCoultre’s loaf of bread. Whilst everyone’s oohing and ahhing at watches that they don’t even know are powered by a Jaeger-LeCoultre movement, the brand itself is taking watchmaking to a whole new level of technical and visual mastery. We’ve seen what Jaeger-LeCoultre can do when it builds to a budget; this is what it can do completely unrestrained.
Okay, we’ve seen minute repeaters before, and at the risk of making perhaps the most impressive complication of all time sound pedestrian, we’ll save the details of its operation this time around. Needless to say, the calibre 947 requires over 400 parts to chime the hours, quarters and minutes, and that’s a fact that somehow gets lost in the thought process of the human brain.
It’s like understanding how many grains of sand there are on a beach or stars in the sky: 400 parts in a space no bigger than a roll of Fruit By The Foot is just too inconceivable an image to hold steady in the mind’s eye. That’s why Jaeger-LeCoultre has done things differently for the £200,000 Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater; instead of hiding the minute repeater mechanism deep inside the watch, it’s brought that nest of interlocking parts right to the front where it can be fully appreciated. A complication that was once heard and not seen has been fully revealed in all its mind-boggling glory.
Pull the slide lever, let it go; even with the opportunity to view this machine in action in close detail, it takes more than a single viewing to fully appreciate what’s happening. It’s like Radiohead’s OK Computer. The first listen is a whirl of jumbled sounds and confusion, the second brings the beginnings of harmony to the chaos, over and over until every beat, line and note has been fully digested and the whole comes together. It’s a magic eye picture; you’re going to be staring at it for a while before comprehension jumps out and makes itself known.
First and foremost is the centrifugal governor, a spinning, expanding mass that controls the speed of the mechanism so the chimes don’t ring too quickly or too slowly. Then the hammers catch your attention, striking the unusually square-profiled gongs to read out the time. Next go around and you might catch the repeater mainspring winding, and the go after that the racks and snails as they feel out the time before feeding back to the hammers. Seeing it altogether, seeing how it’s done, it’s the surprise you’d hope for when a magician reveals the secret behind a trick. Rather than disappointment, however, the reward is wonder and amazement, to finally, truly appreciate the enigma of this most mysterious of complications.
But we’re not done yet. This is Jaeger-LeCoultre we’re talking about, a watchmaker that built components to such a high tolerance it had to invent the capability to measure a micron to do so, that managed to harness a temperature change of just one degree to power its Atmos clock for two days. There’s more to the Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater than the shiny stuff you can see. You might wonder why a visible minute repeater mechanism is not more common, and the answer is that most use the enclosed space as amplification to make the chime loud enough to comfortably hear. Not so with the Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater.
Instead, Jaeger-LeCoultre has beefed up the hammers, given them more power, squared off the gongs for greater contact area—but the real innovation is in the gongs themselves. Fused to the crystal, instead of resonating within the case, they use the sapphire itself as a speaker, producing a ring that’s long, loud and clear, more so than many traditional applications. You might think that the power needed for these improvements might make the reserve of this watch unusable, but the calibre 947 actually offers a whopping fifteen days of driving force. A complementary torque display on the right further demonstrates Jaeger-LeCoultre’s fundamental understanding of watchmaking physics, giving the wearer an indication of the movement’s accuracy at its current state of wind.
People will buy Patek Philippes and Audemars Piguets over this Jaeger-LeCoultre—for a considerable amount more I might add—and I have no doubt that they will be happy with their choices, very happy, but there’s something about owning a masterpiece from the watchmaker behind the watchmakers that derives a different kind of satisfaction, one of quiet appreciation for the unseen force that quite literally turn the gears. As the Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater demonstrates, Jaeger-LeCoultre isn’t satisfied with following tradition—like it has done and always will, Jaeger-LeCoultre makes its own.
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