Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme LAB

We've been waiting years for some real changes in watch movements involving new materials and finally, JLC have produced the lubricant free(ish) watch. A Tissot Astrolon for the 21st Century. The Extreme LAB.

It is a fantastic development, but perhaps it is not quite there yet. Graphite powder in the main spring barrel seems to betray that achievement, but I am being churlish. The teflon and moly coatings in places with diamond like carbon-on-silcon escapement does qualify in my book. The question is, is it maintenance free though. Only time will tell.

Professor Birkin made the best comment I've seen on it yet:
MJLC should have housed the technology more discretely (as befitting their status with Patek and UN) in say the duometre. We would have all sat up and said WOW a little louder. They should have addressed the marketing a little better: "We believe that this watch should run without service, however, once in a while, if you feel you can part with it, we would appreciate your cooperation and have it returned to us for service (free of charge) and timing so that we can learn how the new technology is operating in everyday conditions and over a longer time frame. The watch is very much a partnership between you (the owner) and us (the watchmakers) and we hope that you will take this journey to learn about the new technology with us."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre à Chronographe - Brilliant but Pointless

But then are not all mechanical watches? Brilliant but pointless.

Among the concerns I have about this piece, the main one is the obvious one. Is the claim of better timekeeping under chronograph operation achieved?

The barrel and balance wheel package has to be compromised so as to include two barrels and associated chronograph gear train. This leads to a 11.5 mgcm2 balance wheel at 21600 vph (a shocking 1/3 of the balance power of Autotractor) and modest power reserve. Is that trade-off worth it really? I wonder if there is poorer time keeping from the lower performance balance wheel and beat than is created by chronograph operation in a well designed clutch movement with a higher beat and higher inertia balance - take a Rolex 4130 for example.

Remember that under COSC testing there is a 24 our period of chronograph use that must not deviate outside 5 seconds or the criterion for Vmax would be failed (Greatest variation in rates ‘Vmax’ is the absolute value of the greatest of the five variations in rates with regard to the five positions of the watch during the first 10 days of the tests: allowed to be 5s). We debated how JLC's 1000 hour test stacked up against COSC testing here. However, I've never seen a chronograph tested over the MC 1000 hour.

It would need to be significantly better than the above 5s/d standard with/without chrono or it would be a pretty pointless complication. I would suggest that with all this effort it ought to be 0s/d different As ever, it would be nice to see some data from JLC. GAME ON!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Jaeger-LeCoultre Diving GMT - The New Deep Sea

We've all been sat on the edge of our seats for so long now waiting for a worthy JLC diver, it's hard to believe it's really here. Let's get one thing out of the way first. JLC, can you please brighten up the names a little, let's just keep the past names going shall we? Enough with the unmemorable Master Compressor Diving Pro Geo Extreme Alarm GMT Chrono or whatever, I name this ship the new Deep Sea range.

Polaris was a diver watch especially designed and produced for the American market between 1965 to 1970. JLC issued a watch called the AMVOX1 which drew inspiration from Polaris, but was in no way a proper dive watch (50m W.R. rating and illegible bezel). Talking to dealers, it's been a slow mover, make that s l o w. If you actually fancy it, it's easy to get heavily discounted, but I digress...

In fact, JLC felt the Polaris 're-issue' job was done with the Compressor Memovox and not wanting to repeat themselves in this new range, JLC depart from the rather unusual historical Polaris feature of an alarm to make a true hardcore diver.

I won't repeat PR packshots here, you can find them on other websites, but here are two 'real' shots from the UK Boutique launch event.

I handled two of the three pieces (this one and the chrono) and the Ti piece is very light. There's a bit of Hublot in there, a bit of Offshore and from side-on a Sinn U1 feel - in fact it is a bit tuna-canny. I guess there's only so many shapes you can play with for a dive watch... The blue oblong just above '6' is a running small seconds that tells you the watch is running* and gives the impression of an artificial horizon as it rotates and of course the subdial at '9' is the 24 hour time.

Criticisms? Well, I am surprised that the quick change bracelet has not been adopted, I would have found that useful; maybe it cannot be made secure enough for diving (see below). I was also not so impressed with the feel of the bezel. It needs to be tighter and maybe even 120 clicks per rev not just 60, but it was a prototype, so I'm sure that can be improved.

I was once in sea so rough I nearly had my mundane Seamaster lost from my wrist because the locking diving clasp was forced open, so I am always looking at bracelet security solutions with more than an average interest. I'm surprised to see the bracelet only clicks shut as per the standard butterfly clasp. It does retain the clever and useful JLC half link expansion system for sweaty days of desktop diving though, but more might be preferable if one really used this in anger at sea.

I'm told the silver bracelet screws will be made black in the production version. Personally I would prefer a plain titanium bracelet which I believe is possible and I still find it hard to love those confounded compressor keys.

Oh, and do not be put off by the 44mm, JLC have done their (now) usual trick of making it shrink by keeping lug length sensible. The size is perfectly acceptable on my small wrists. In fact it wears smaller on me than Compressor Memovox.

Don't get sucked into the limited hype, my advice? Wait for the non limited and cheaper stainless version.

*I don't believe blue is the last colour visible, data I've seen from Googling is saying violet. And that agrees with my notion of the absorption corresponding to wavelength, i.e. the last colour of the rainbow wins.

Is it about colour though? I'm not so sure either; it's about contrast. The darker it gets the less colour you can make out. Rods and cones in your biology lessons remember?

You don't have to dive too deep in my experience to find it quite dark especially on an evening octopus hunt or night dive, then you are operating with pretty monochrome vision and anyway you're using diving lights...... Then surely it would be better if the safety indicator disc was simply black and white - your eye is very good at detecting movement.

Bottom line? I just think the blue was more marketing than tech driven.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Chuck Maddox on the Awful 50th Speedmaster

Chuck Maddox commented on my rant about Omega's 50th Speedmaster, but wanted to say so much he couldn't fit it all in! So here he is as guest columnist:

"A solid gold opportunity squandered , Not that this should be any surprise...

It has been clear for some time that Omega is pointing itself in a different direction than it aimed in the past. We've seen this in statements from Omega, Swatch Group and even Messers Hayek themselves. Omega, long the firm at the forefront for those who desired accurate timekeeping, geared towards discerning customers who desired robust/rugged/reliable tool watches which also were crafted with a sense of elegance, all for a fair price, has been marching "upscale" towards more of "Boutique" style/brand of watch where image and buzzwords trump real-world performance and value.

This anniversary is certainly the most important anniversary that Omega has celebrated since the Seamaster's 50th, and perhaps going back as far as Omega's 125th celebrated in 1973. With that anniversary, Omega created the first automatic-winding Chronograph-Chronometer, created a new unique case to house it and produced a run of 2,000 units (although many collectors suspect more were actually produced) available to the public. Then they never used the c.1041 movement again.

This time around, and arguably for a more important anniversary, Omega basically did the least they could have done. The silk-screened an anniversary logo on an otherwise ordinary Speedmaster dial, and bumped up the MSRP (50th = £2300/$4544 reportedly, standard moonwatch MSRP's at $3000) by $1,500 or so. With the c.3201 models, they stripped the rotor and auto-winding bits off a F. Piguet based c.33xx movement and offered it up as a "column wheel mechanism and Co-Axial Escapement for greater precision stability and durability of the movement" at a MSRP of £5500 ($10866) reportedly! Precision stability? Sure, I'll grant that most owners of c.33xx series chronographs report great timekeeping. But durability? Here to fore, durability and reliability has not been the c.33xx family's strength, to say the least. [<---- 2008 nominee for understatement of the year!] All of this for a price of £5500 sterling (about $11,000) for the STAINLESS model! The Speedmaster has been Omega's Bread & Butter for 50 years now. This anniversary is arguably the most important, the most significant in quite some time and for quite some time. What does Omega do? Omega has basically phoned it in. If the pages on Omega's website are representative of the 50th Anniversary models that is... All they did was change a dial on the moonwatch, and strip a c.33xx of it's auto-winding capabilities and call it a c.32xx, give them each a new model number and a new exorbitant price increase. Welcome to the "New upscale Omega".

The sad thing is this doesn't come as a surprise, certainly not to anyone who hasn't been under a rock for the past five years or so. It is what we've come to expect from Omega, and likely what we'll see in the future.

All of the calls from people over the years for Omega to move upscale, to go back to an in-house design, to compete directly Rolex,... Smile: Omega's listened to you. Omega hopes [and had better pray] that your dollar's will make up for all of the lost sales to folks who have been buying the models they have been selling the past couple of decades. Why? Because it's fairly clear that few Speedmaster collectors/customers are going to spend an additional $1,500 for a moonwatch with a busy, crowded, tarted-up dial in an un-numbered Limited Production Run watch. At $4550, the MSRP for a manual wind Speedmaster is starting to crowd the MSRP of the Rolex Daytona (which is automatic, COSC rated, a true in-house movement, wish a heck of a lot better record of holding onto it's resale value. Also, it's increasingly likely that many of those same customers will not continue to follow Omega's MSRP price increases up the hill. Those customers will move along to other firms which create, produce and sell watches like those that Omega used to offer at a price consistent with their value.

It's taken the better part of 20-25 years for Omega to get to this position from the last time Omega miscalculated the marketplace. Does the world [much less Swatch Group] need another brand competing in the Blancpain/Breguet price strata? [£5500/$10,866 for a manual-wind Stainless Steel watch certainly put's that model squarely in Blancpain/Breguet's tier] Omega's banking on it. A lot of Omega's customers will be watching this one from the sidelines and helping themselves to Sinn's, Fortis' or other brands which are in the market niche Omega seems bound and determined to abandon.

Best of fortune Omega, you're going to need it. Your old established customer base will be watching, hoping that 2011 won't turn out like 1981 did for the firm."

-- Chuck

Thanks Chuck.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ticking Lemons 2nd Entrant? Omega's 50th Speedmaster

Discussed before and now the final horror is here. How can Omega have so, so, missed this once in a lifetime chance?

And quite how Omega think they can put a manual wind converted 33xx in this as a 'tribute' to a spaceflight qualified ancestor is beyond comic ironic belief (version R).

And you can forget this being a limited piece. You can guarantee that this movement will become serial faster than you can believe. Not that you'd want it anyway, least of all at the fantasy prices.

Prices of 321s can only go stratospheric, but fortunately Omega still make a little bit of history in the authentic flight qualified piece, 3570.50.00, and that still makes a lot of sense. As I think does the aesthetic of the '57 re-issue for broad arrow hand fans.