Its traits and spirit are inspired by the Grande Maison’s iconic 1968 Memovox Polaris. Designed to accompany the urban adventurer in all circumstances, the timepieces of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris collection exude a sporting character that bears the signature elegance of the Grande Maison. The date, alarm, chronograph, World Time pieces are equipped with useful functions for today’s man and his travels. A variety of straps as well as a 3-link steel bracelet is available for either. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Automatic is priced between $6,600 and $7,600, while the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Date retails for between $7,750 and $8,700. jaeger-lecoultre.com Like what you see? This is your chance to win a watch featured on ABTW. Click HereOverall, the JLC Polaris Automatic might well be the simplest of them all, it is surprisingly elegant and well-finished, especially in this price range. The movement, dial, and case have been executed with a great attention to detail, usually found in more classic or expensive watches.
New collections are a tricky business. Adding a new complication, a new color way, or a new design element to something familiar is far easier, especially if you already know that the existing foundation is a success. There are so many eyes watching each brand’s every move, and so many people waiting to minutely scrutinize each release.
So, when Jaeger-LeCoultre launched a new collection of sports watches at SIHH 2018, all based around the archetypal 1968 Polaris, they kind of got the best of both worlds. They were able to offer something new that filled a void in the current line-up, while also relying on a much-loved watch from their past, as a jumping off point.The most basic model in this new collection, and, for me, the watch that can tell you whether or not the collection as a whole works as intended, is the Polaris Automatic. There are no bells and whistles to distract – it’s the new Polaris design in its purest form. As soon as samples were available in the U.S., I got my hands on one, and spent a few days seeing how the watch measured up to its mission.The Polaris Automatic is a straightforward watch that is all about expressing the new Polaris design in a sort of “daily driver” style. The watch has a 41mm stainless steel case, making it the smallest watch in the collection by a millimeter – the Polaris Date, Memovox, and Chronograph are all 42mm. It comes in at a respectable 11.2mm thick, which is a crucial detail for me. If this watch were even 2mm thicker it would be completely different. Luckily, the JLC movement inside is rather svelte, so there was no need for any unnecessary height.For me, the word that best describes this case is “tension.” The short, arched lugs seem to be pulling themselves out of the steep-sided mid-case, reaching their way around the wrist, holding onto the strap for leverage. It might sound very faux-poetic, but there’s a dynamism to the lines that I really like. This effect is amplified by the finishes, which are brushed on the side of the case and the sides and tops of the lugs, and polished on the slim bezel ring and the tapering facet on the lugs. It’s a watch that appears to have edges, despite actually having a rather smooth geometry overall.The watch I chose to review has a blue dial, though there’s a more classic and sober black version as well. Blue dials feel like one of those perpetual “trends” that aren’t really a trend at all. I’d say they’re as basic as blue jeans or a navy suit and JLC has treated the color that way here. The dial is definitely blue and not navy, shifting as it absorbs and reflects light at different angles.
One of the main features of the new Polaris dials is that they all feature a trio of finishes: the central section has a sunray pattern, the central ring has a pronounced grain finish, and the inner rotating bezel has an iridescent matte finish. This choice might be my favorite thing about the new Polaris models overall. On paper it might seem like too much, but in the metal it creates a really rich look that keeps you gazing at it trying to figure out exactly what’s so intriguing. Turn the watch over though and you’ll see the in-house JLC caliber 898/1. This is an automatic movement that beats at 4 Hz and has a 40-hour power reserve. It’s nicely decorated, with Côtes de Genève and blued screws, and there’s a new rotor being used for it too, that’s skeletonized with the “JL” logo in the cut-out, and a dark rhodium treatment.I first saw the Polaris Automatic last fall, a few weeks before SIHH, at the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture in Le Sentier. I had a chance to speak with the watch’s designer and some of the JLC execs and watchmakers involved in the process of bringing these watches to market.
One of the things that struck me was the effort put into making sure that the new Polaris watches don’t feel like mere echos of the classic original. The watches feel fresh enough on a table or in a glass display case, but sometimes that can be misleading. After spending some time with the Polaris Automatic on my wrist I can confirm that in reality, this watch feels like a distant relative of the 1968 Polaris and nothing more. It’s very much its own watch with its own personality.What probably struck me most during my time with the Polaris Automatic is just how much depth there it to this dial. With a time-only watch, you’d better have a good dial or it’s basically a no-go, and this watch delivers. The trio of finishes, the applied batons, the applied Arabic numerals at the poles, and the open space at the dial’s center all contribute to this. Each time I gazed down at it, I seemed to notice the light hitting just a bit differently and I was enamored all over again.I wasn’t running any chronometry tests, but the Polaris kept good, accurate time over the three and a half days I wore it around New York City, and I actually found the inner rotating bezel to be fun to use as a timer. The rotation action on it is smooth, without too much drag.
As far as wearability goes, this does wear on the small side for something measuring 41mm x 11.2mm. The lugs are a big contributor here, and the balance of case proportions is great. I do wish that for this smaller time-only model JLC had gone a bit small – 39mm maybe – but I understand these are meant to have mass appeal and not just be for vintage watch fans. This watch serves an important purpose for Jaeger-LeCoultre, and that’s to bring a true entry-level sports watch back into the collection. For about the same price as the brand’s simplest time-only dress watch, the Master Control, you can now get the Polaris Automatic. This could help two different types of customers: existing JLC clients who want something for the weekend that’s still a JLC, and folks looking for a sub-$10,000 sports watches who might not have considered JLC in the past.I’m also thrilled that JLC even decided to make a time-only version of this watch in the first place. The time-only watch is something of a lost art, with most modern watch brands opting for the more commercially-viable time-and-date model instead. But for those of us who like a good old-fashioned three-hander (I wear three-hand watches more days than not), options are more limited than ever.
That said, the market segment in which the Polaris Automatic sits is a crowded one, no doubt, and Jaeger is now going up against a number of well-regarded models. Coming to mind immediately as other sporty (or sporty-ish), daily-wearers for $5,000-8,000 are the IWC Portugieser Automatic and the Panerai Luminor 1950 (both, of course, Richemont Group stablemates) and the Omega Seamaster Railmaster. These are all excellent, time-tested choices, and the fact that the Polaris Automatic can go toe-to-toe with any of them is a testament to the design’s strength.I finished my time with the Polaris Automatic convinced that Jaeger-LeCoultre has really found something with legs. The Polaris makes sense as the foundation of the brand’s sports watch collection, and has enough vintage nostalgia to appeal to that segment of the market, while also being future-proof enough to maintain relevance when that trend eventually subsides.
Ultimately, the Polaris Automatic is a good looking watch that shows off the detailed design work and no-nonsense watchmaking prowess that Jaeger-LeCoultre is known for, and in a package that brings something genuinely new to the table for the manufacture.