Few brands can so consistently and eloquently execute a timeless watch design quite like Jaeger-LeCoultre. And a piece that has recently put this expertise on full display is the brand’s Master Calendar series, originally released at SIHH 2014. This series isn’t based on any specific watch, but rather from the early years of triple-calendar moon-phase pieces from the late 1940s and early 1950s. During this era, triple-calendar watches and moon-phases were not the “casual rarity” they are today, but rather a useful tool in remembering the day, month, and moon cycle in an era before satellite time and weather apps. You might remember from SIHH 2015 this watch’s appearance with a meteorite dial that gained it widespread praise; but whereas these “space watches” quickly sold out of stock, the original, modern Master Calendar has remained as a central piece within Jaeger-LeCoultre’s larger, and excellent, Master collection.
The watch has a 39-mm case, available in steel or rose gold, with somewhat short and rounds lugs, and a small, simple crown. On its silver sunburst dial is an outer date ring with a red “31” right above the 12 o’clock position, and a correspondingly red crescent-tipped hand slowly making its rounds, indicating the first part of the triple date, day-by-day. Moving inward, the dial features applied hour markers with Arabic numerals for the quarter-hour marks, and simple wedge markers at each of the other hours, while two dauphine hour and minute hands to indicate the time. At the 6 o’clock position is the watch’s small seconds subdial, which also hosts its moon-phase complication, while towards the top of the dial is the subtle Jaeger-Lecoultre logo, along with the day and month indicators.
Powering the watch and its unusual complication is the automatic, in-house Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 866/1, which has a 40-hour power reserve and is visible through a sapphire caseback. Most interesting about this movement is the brand’s willingness to produce it for a beautiful yet clearly niche-appeal timepiece. However, its design likely involved reviewing the rich history of JLC’s past successful triple-calendar and moon-phase complications, followed by the rewarding task of bringing these technical elements together for the modern movement. So its development may not have been as painstaking as many other of the brand’s wonderfully developed movements. The watch is currently listed by JLC at $21,300 for the rose-gold model (Ref. 1552520), and $9,550 for the steel (Ref. 1558420); although you could likely find both for a bit less depending on the dealer.
In comparison to the vintage models it derives its influence from, there is no hiding the mid-century heritage of triple calendars and moon-phases throughout its design. With its balanced dial layout, scattered red accents, style of Arabic numerals, and dauphine hands, the key elements of a Jaeger-LeCoultre triple calendar and moon-phase are all there.
Meanwhile, its differences from the historic models — like many other vintage-inspired Jaeger-leCoultre watches — are mostly subtle refinements providing luxurious modernity in a timeless package. Its size is significantly increased — from historically as low as 33 mm to as high as 37 mm in diameter — to the current and more modern 39 mm. The movement is an automatic as compared to the mostly hand-wound movements found in the vintage models. And while many of the features on the watch draw their origins from the history of the series, this is — as far as I can tell — one of the first times so many of these elements have been brought together in this specific configuration. Some other purely modern elements are seen in the design of the case, the sapphire caseback, and the sunburst dial, all of which add to the distinct elegance this piece embodies.
This watch, from my perspective, is another example of Jaeger-LeCoultre working to exemplify its tradition as the go-to “watchmaker’s watch.” Its design resists showiness or flamboyance, instead opting for a classical restraint that most find desirable in a dress watch. All the while, however, it casually features an incredibly distinctive dial layout and a rather rare type of movement for the modern age. Overall, while the watch is by no means a strict vintage re-interpretation or homage, it still does well in channeling its ancestry, and helps to further position this brand as one of the market leaders in dress watches. Maybe the next JLC revisits the triple calendar design, it will produce a hand-wound re-creation of some beautiful 1940s piece, but until then this Master Calendar will do just fine.
For our most recent article, in which I compare the Breitling Superocean Heritage II to its historical inspiration, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first learning about horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.