I received my first really nice watch — an Omega Seamaster 300 — back in 1967. I bought my first Rolex in 1981. In the intervening years, I have owned more than a dozen of each.
Along the way, I have dabbled in other fine watches: Cartier, Concord, Ebel, Rado, Tag Heuer, Oris, Ferragamo, Eterna, Geneve, Panerai and Zenith, to name a few. But I have hovered ever so precariously around the fringes of the “big four:” Patek Philippe, A. Lange & Sohne, Audemars Piguet and Jaeger-LeCoultre.
In the last several years, I have become more and more determined to finally score a watch from one of these iconic brands, and the brand I have admired longest of the four is Jaeger-LeCoultre. I remember seeing a Reverso in person back in the early ’80s, and it was very difficult to remove it from my wrist when it was time to leave the store (with my credit card un-maxed).
Dabbling temporarily with other square watches convinced me that the Reverso would have been a short-term infatuation, had I actually made a purchase. But my attention was drawn just as strongly to the Master Control 1000 Hours line of watches from JLC. These watches are all referred to as “1,000 hours” because each and every watch — not just a sample — is subjected to 1,000 hours of tests before it is made available for sale.
The Master line is a much more traditional look, enhanced by the delicate precision of the alpha or dauphines hands and the lustrous sunburst dial. Fit and finish of the cases is what one would expect from a manufacture such as JLC, with a flawless mirrored finish on the case. That is complemented by a sapphire crystal and exhibition back (Normally, I do not care for exhibition backs, because they add too much thickness to the watch. But the JLC Hometime is an elegantly slim 11.7mm, so the exhibition back is a welcome feature to display the stellar calibre 975H movement.
This superb movement is a work of horological art, as one would expect from Jaeger-LeCoultre, which has supplied its excellent calibers to both Patek and AP. Blued screws and Côtes de Genève circulaire decorate the movement, but it is not all form over function. The rotor’s counterweight is crafted from 22-karat solid gold, chosen as much for its inertial properties as for its intrinsic beauty. A variable inertia balance wheel and ceramic ball-bearings in the rotor add to the movement’s durability and reliability.
The cal. 975H is one of the most utilitarian “GMT” watches I have ever owned … and I have owned many in the 32 years I have been a pilot. The dial has five hands: Central 12-hour “home” time; central 12-hour “local” time; central minutes; seconds in a 6:00 subdial; and a 24-hour hand, linked to the “home” time, in a 12:00 subdial. If you keep the “home” time set to UTC — or Zulu — time, the large 24-hour subdial is easy to read at a glance. But where the Hometime really shines is as a traveler’s watch, not a pilot’s watch.
You set the “home” time to the time in your home timezone. The blue central hours hand tells you the hour at a glance, whilst the 24-hour subdial lets you know whether it is day or night at home. The second hour hand, which tells local time, is set in one-hour jumps by rotating the crown in the #1 position. This makes it very easy to quickly set the local time when arriving on a flight, without the need to hack the movement and throw off your careful calibration of the time done at home (and given the amazing accuracy of the JLC movements — a function of that 1,000-hour testing — you will not want to tamper with that precision). The date is linked to the local hours hand, so that the date reflects where you are. And it is adjusted quickly by turning the local hours hand around two full turns with the crown in the #1 position. The beauty of this dial configuration is that you easily can see the relationship between time at home and time in your current location. If there is more than 12 hours difference, the 24-hour hand will keep you straight. It is a fantastic watch for the frequent traveler who never wants to lose track of time at home or at his current location.
The watches are delightful on a leather strap with the JLC deployant, but I am a diehard bracelet fan. Fortunately, JLC makes some of the nicest bracelets available for their Master line. First, the links have a proprietary spring-bar adjustment system, whereby the link spring is depressed past the joint with the next inner link. This allows the outer link to swing outward like a door. The link spring, which also functions as the pin that holds two links together, can then be removed and the links separated. Reconnecting is just as simple: The link spring is slid back into the connected links, then depressed enough to allow the outer link to swing back into position. When that outer link is in place, the link spring snaps back to its full engagement, creating a solid link that will not succumb to torsional pressures as links with screwed pins might.
And the deployant is a thing of beauty … an elegant butterfly clasp that closes around a central pillar in the clasp. On either end of the clasp is an expandable link, quite similar to Rolex’s new Easylink clasp adjustment. However, while the Easylink allows a single expansion or contraction of 5mm in the bracelet, the JLC deployant includes two such adjustable links, each offering 4mm of expansion. Thus, the bracelet can be adjusted up-or-down by 4mm or 8mm on the go, for optimal comfort and fit.
It took me a long while, with much research, to settle on the JLC Hometime (I also strongly considered the Master Chronograph, the Master Calendar and the Master Grand Reveil). Once I had made my decision, I thought I had selected the best example of JLC’s craftsmanship and prestige, combined with the utility of a watch that would serve me well in my travels. And, when I finally received the watch, I was not disappointed with any aspect of the watch. It was everything I expected and more.
Tragically, I never really “fell” for the watch. For the nine months I have had it, it has spent most of its time riding one of my Orbita winders. At least every week or so, I will retrieve it, fasten it about my wrist, marvel at its beauty, and wonder why I do not wear it all of the time. But then I pass a mirror and notice that, in my semi-retirement in a resort community, I almost always am attired in shorts and polo shirts. The JLC Hometime looks entirely too elegant for such a pedestrian wardrobe. In fact, on the rare occasions when I wear a dress shirt and suit jacket, I gratefully remove the Hometime from the safe and relish how perfectly it goes with my dressier look. But I don’t like wearing dress shirts and suits. It’s wonderful to be able to enjoy our balmy temperatures in shorts, polo and sandals. Formal, at least for me, has evolved to long trousers, Topsiders and a Hawaiian shirt.
I have struggled to hold onto this watch, especially after I spent so much time in its selection. The sad truth is that I’m not good enough for it. Perhaps a few decades ago, when I was constantly criss-crossing the country and traveling abroad, and a suit was worn six out of every seven days (and when I had more neckties than socks), the JLC Hometime would have been a watch that I would have loved to own and wear. Certainly, it would have been very useful during those years, in addition to being an understated beauty on my wrist. But those days are gone, and I fear that I have waited too long to own a watch made by the “big four.” They are all too elegant for this weary traveler who is happy to never go anywhere, and to never dress up.
So I decided, with a heavy heart, to sell my Jaeger-LeCoultre Hometime. Fortunately, the buyer is someone who travels frequently across time zones, and wears business suits almost daily. I’m sure he will love it as much as I wish I had.