This, I shall point out early on, will be less of a hands-on about the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Chronograph Ceramic and more of a burst of thoughts about the modern Jaeger-LeCoultre, as we have it today. Usually I have a clear vision on what I think about a watch and its brand, but here I have more mixed feelings of concern and hope than anything else. So, humor me a bit as I try and frame it. Specs about the watch, I’ll get to at the end.Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of the few Jolly Jokers in the deck of less and more valuable cards of watch brands. It is, because there is such a remarkably wide array of established “Jaeger” references, one of which if you happen to own and wear, you have pretty much removed yourself from any critical discussion. It’s like a cloak that makes you invisible in the critical eyes of watch snobs and “enthusiasts.” In short, a Jaeger-LeCoultre has become a safe choice for reasons that include the brand’s extensive history and vibrant heritage – part of which is some 1,200 different movements and 400 patented inventions, and goodness knows how many others that have not been legally quarantined. However, there’s more to JLC than that.Here’s the thing, Jaeger-LeCoultre traditionally is not another Vacheron Constantin for it isn’t a “manufacture” (VC would prefer you pronounced that in French) that seems perpetually attracted to its past and sets a foot wrong nearly every time it does something new. Jaeger-LeCoultre, nestled under the Richemont umbrella just like Vacheron, is a ballsy brand not with a lonely quasi-sporty and needlessly expensive watch like the Overseas, but with an extensive history of properly badass watches, produced over an extensive part of its history. I’ve added images of a selection of them throughout the article below.Deep Sea chronographs, Master Compressors, friggin’ Navy Seals limited editions, Extreme Labs and so on. Come to think of it, if you’ve ever worn a proper Reverso, you’ll know that even that fits in, as it is one of the most masculine dress watches out there… and it was designed over 80 years ago.What I’m getting at is that I’ve been seeing Jaeger-LeCoultre in recent years as changing or, to be more specific, scaling back from all this noticeably. I understand that a massive manufacture will always have to rely on successful, endlessly regurgitated core products, and there’s nothing wrong with that – but JLC is slowly turning away from a lot of the uniquely cool watches that made it great at least in my eyes and is scaling back to only pushing yet newer (though that’s a strong word) versions of its bread-makers.One gets the impression – and, like most impressions, this isn’t entirely accurate either – that everything is a tribute to this, an anniversary of that, or an homage to something else. For goodness’ sake, even last year’s Reverso Gyrotourbillon is called a flippin’ Tribute in its official product name! A tribute to what, a 15-year-old invention? Really? How self-absorbed.What I think I need to feel excited again about Jaeger-LeCoultre, which I very much want to do, are new watches that have an atmosphere to them like Jaeger Lecoultre Master Compressors with a few too many crowns, Extreme Labs so extreme their movement doesn’t even appear to fit in their case, and Duomètre Chronographs that are so beautiful and over-engineered, it makes most other watches go shiver in an unlit corner of the room.The watches I have mentioned made their debuts in the ’00s (okay, the Extreme Lab 2 started showing up in 2010), and that was 8-10 years or, in other words, a long, long time ago. I know a fair bit about what it takes to create a new collection and that Extreme Labs don’t fall out of the sky… But, truth be told, I’m not missing high complications nearly as much as I do more attainable everyday Jaeger-LeCoultres that specifically do not appear to have been designed to appeal to insecure schmucks in metropoleis.To be fair, Jaeger-LeCoultre does have some strong originals in its range, but they are a dying breed with less and less frequent updates and with fresh back-up making it to the fronts even more scarcely. The Master Ultra-Thin Eight Days Perpetual is all the dress watch you’d ever need to keep yourself and others impressed. Any of the Deep Sea Vintage pieces will make you feel like you’re a Roger Moore Bond, and the Duomètre is, in a way, as high-tech as everyday-wearable watches can get. The conflict in my mind comes from these watches being as old as they are, and with the brand apparently not caring as much anymore about nurturing not simply these collections, but the very concept it used to have behind them.I deeply dislike the new(-ish-ish-ish) Master trio because they offer a blend of flat, uninspiring and historically incorrect looks – the hands with the fallen-out-lume-look objectively should have never happened. They are a design they knew would make many bend over backwards and that, to their credit, they did achieve. But look at the finesse, the confident balance and impressive engineering that appears on and inside a Master Ultra Thin Perpetual or the bonkers, way over the top and yet casually retailed Master Compressors of old… and you’ll probably see how much “more Jaeger” those watches are – in some sense, at least.I’m not saying those timid, deeply uninspired, quasi-vintage re-releases shouldn’t exist – they do fine for people who just want some watch, preferably with a very, very secure aesthetic and even more secure name on the dial (the worldtimer “Geographic” on the right is the weak exception that enforces the rule). But don’t we have plenty of that already on offer from other Richemont brands – not to mention more distant competitors?As our time with JLC neared its end at what actually was a very nice meeting at SIHH 2017, this Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Chronograph Ceramic got pulled out of a box, because this was sorta-kinda new for this year – the color combination is, the watch of course isn’t. And after those three Masters, seeing this Compressor was such a relief. I cannot remember, but I’m pretty sure I took a big breath of relief when I saw it.
It made me think, “Oh, okay, this side of Jaeger isn’t entirely dead yet.” In recent years I have witnessed many major Swiss brands go into complete and utter denial of their most recent past in the matter of a year, and I dread the day when I’d see JLC turn fully away from its masculine side.The point I’m trying to make is that I think there’s a growing void of masculine, yet excessively refined, beautifully engineered, high prestige, competitively priced watches – and that is what in my mind Jaeger-LeCoultre used to excel at. The Master trio does not in any way meet any of those criteria in my book because they’re not really masculine, aren’t that refined or capable, the empty hands don’t exactly scream “beautifully engineered” at me, the prestige is questionable, and pricing, we all know, could always be better. The Duomètre, the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual, and some of the Compressor pieces do, or shall I say, did meet more of those criteria.Now, I fully understand I am not being fair by singling out Jaeger-LeCoultre in this discussion, but contrary to most other brands that are guilty of the same thing (often doing their even more bare-cheeked version of it), JLC is a brand I do truly care about; and when you care about something, you feel genuinely motivated to voice your valid criticisms – after asking and answering yourself the question of whether you indeed feel they are absolutely valid… something to be considered by commenters across the internet.All this is me trying to say I’m afraid the closest we will get to something extreme from JLC at SIHH 2018 will be an Extreme Tribute Anniversary Homage Reverso – or Master-whatever. Yes, some of those previous Jaeger-LeCoultres were very much verging on being vulgar – at 46.2mm wide with stupendously complicated crown securing systems and so on – and they’d definitely react nicely to some attention in terms of scaling back in size, to keep them successful and in tune with the changing tastes in watch sizes. But they had a special blend of character and engineering only Jaeger could achieve.But rooting them out altogether, with only this lonely piece (available in a total of two color options) we have here remaining in the entire line-up of Jaeger-LeCoultre to represent those not-very-old and fun times, I don’t think will leave us with a JLC that is as complete as many of us would love it to be. There are also some Deep Sea Vintage pieces that have been with us unchanged for many years now and I’ve heard (not confirmed) that they may be discontinued soon as well.So, when I look at the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Chronograph Ceramic, I see a spark of that old-school bonkers-cool Jaeger-LeCoultre looking back at me and maybe the sales figures or the lots of internal meetings came up with the consensus of probably me being the only person left on this planet who wants to see that JLC again. But given whatever opportunity I had, I did grab my keyboard to put this sentiment out there.I can’t stress enough, I get it that large-scale brands can’t be expected to just make “cool” and “fun” stuff – Mercedes-Benz sells tons of boring SUVs and diesel C Series, but they also have the skunkworks of AMG who, on the surface at least, can do whatever they want every once in a while. If they could make a car for the Navy Seals, I bet they would.The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Chronograph Ceramic in its black ceramic case is 46mm wide, but you have to add to that the massive, quick-lock “compression key” crown which is, just like the pushers, crafted from 18k pink gold. The column wheel chronograph automatic movement is composed of 300 parts with two barrels, 45 jewels, runs at 4Hz and has a sort of weekend-lasting, 65-hour power reserve. It has also passed the manufacture’s 1,000 hour in-house quality control tests.Legibility is great, thanks to the massive, gold colored, trapezium shaped main hands and equally large indices. Chronograph hands are color coordinated in white, plus there’s a discreet date at 4:30 and a round day-night indicator right between the center of the dial and the Jaeger-LeCoultre logo. Additional functionality includes a second time zone via a fully skeletonized hour hand. The movement itself is 6.26mm thick, while the 10-bar rated case is 14.27mm at its thickest. All this is mated to a strap Jaeger-LeCoultre flat out calls “high-tech material.”