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Feature: 3 Underrated Bargains

Ever caught yourself looking at a watch that’s well out of budget, thinking, ‘What if?’, only to mentally slap yourself back to harsh reality? Those most exquisite and expensive timepieces may forever be consigned to only the wildest dreams, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get something rather special for the price of a mid-range Breitling. Here are three underrated watches that offer exceptional watchmaking for much less than you’d expect.

Girard-Perregaux Laureato EVO3 80180-21-611-FK6A

The kind of place you’d see Girard-Perregaux watches for sale is the same kind of place you’d see Laurent Ferrier, F. P. Journe, De Bethune and the like filling the windows. You know—the kind of place that has nothing for the average person with the average salary.

Girard-Perregaux is, after all, a company with a heritage that stretches all the way back to 1791—that would have made it 114 years old when Rolex was founded—as well as an award-winning innovator of such mad technology as the silicon blade constant force escapement. It’s a pay-to-play kind of watchmaker, its cheapest steel watches starting on the side of £5,000 that makes most watch-buyers baulk—and it’s most expensive rivalling sports cars.

That begs the question: why is a Girard-Perregaux featuring in this selection of watches? Well, here’s the crux of it: Girard-Perregaux is a little bit of an unknown. This is most likely because, whilst its watches have always been superbly made, some of its recent designs have been a little … lacklustre. Because of that, the brand fell off the radar for many collectors, and it’s only in the last few years that the Girard-Perregaux of old has really started to shine again with the appointment of Antonio Calce as CEO.

This Laureato EVO3 is one of the real forgotten gems of the last generation of Girard-Perregaux watches, a design that, rather unsurprisingly, traces its roots back to the 1970s. It has a beautifully finished in-house movement, the calibre 33CO, packing—deep breath—hours, minutes, sub-seconds, large chronograph seconds, large chronograph minutes, chronograph hours sub-dial, GMT sub-dial and a date sub-dial with hidden pusher adjustment.

It’s an unusual and comprehensive arrangement that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else, one that gives the Laureato EVO3 real horological legitimacy. And, back when it was new, it would have cost around £10,000—so it’s a steal now at £3,500.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Chronograph 146.8.25 Q1758470

This is a brand that needs no introduction. It calls itself the watchmaker’s watchmaker, and whilst that sounds like a lot of marketing nonsense, for Jaeger-LeCoultre, it really is true. It’s been said many times before, but it bears repeating: Jaeger-LeCoultre has supplied movements to many of watchmaking’s biggest names, including all of the top three, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin.

It’s strange, then, that poor Jaeger-LeCoultre just can’t seem to catch a break and go mainstream. Maybe the association of the brands it’s supplied to, being the watchmaker’s watchmaker, is a double-edged sword, even though there’s not really a bad choice to be made in Jaeger-LeCoultre’s back catalogue.

This Master Compressor Chronograph, for example—now discontinued by several generations—is a prime example of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s dedication to watchmaking beyond the supply of movements, and unlike more recent editions, it demonstrates a unique approach to the well-established sports chronograph.

Tech-wise, it’s the highly regarded calibre 751F in the engine room, facilitating a healthy 65-hour power reserve at 28,800 vph from 277 parts in that typical, over-engineered Jaeger-LeCoultre way. Seriously, if you ever get a chance to speak to a watchmaker about a Jaeger-LeCoultre movement, wait for them to roll their eyes and tell you how the brand insists on using two screws where one will do. These things are built in the way tanks wish they were built, tested for a torturously long 1,000 hours before being released into the wild.

Being a compressor watch, the Master Compressor Chrono gets the immediately recognisable screw-down crown and pusher assemblies, which conveniently only require a half twist to seal, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for unusual styling. Each sub-dial has a completely different look, overlapping each other over a simplistic dial surrounded by not one, but two, unit tracks. It sounds like an absolute mess, yet somehow it seems to work.

Even the profile of this watch is abnormal, the unceremoniously slab-sided case leading to big, drooping lugs as tall as the case itself. Sounds awful, looks elegant. It’s a stylistic paradox—but one that could be in your collection for the price of a new Speedmaster.

Chopard L.U. Chopard Pro One GMT Cadence 158959-3002

If I told you about a watch, in steel, with a triangle-tipped GMT hand and a ceramic bezel, you’d be thinking of a Rolex GMT-Master II. You’re thinking of a £6,500 watch right there, hardly the realms of underrated or bargain. But what about a watch that ticks those boxes and more, something that makes Rolex engineering look like amateur hour—for almost half the price?

This is that watch, the Chopard L.U.C Pro One GMT Cadence, a limited edition GMT version of the Pro One diver. There were just 1,000 made for the ‘Cadence’ D35 regatta team, and it takes everything the Rolex can offer and turns it up to eleven.

If you’re not familiar with Chopard’s L.U.C collection, it represents the very best of watchmaking from the brand perhaps more recently known for its Happy Diamonds collection. Developed with Michel Parmigiani, and heralded as a favourite by Philippe DuFour, the calibre 96 that forms the basis of many L.U.C watches—including this one—is a micro rotor masterpiece that would be just as at home in something from Patek Philippe.

It’s a shame it can’t be seen, really, but what can be seen are the myriad details that tell you that this is something truly special. The bezel in gloss ceramic, for example, looks like it has recessed numerals, just like the GMT-Master II, but get close and you’ll realise that the outer surface is actually completely smooth, a clear layer revealing the three-dimensionality of those numbers from within.

And the dial is, especially for a diver, exquisite, a centralised sunburst pattern radiating from the logo in that trademark L.U.C way, out to the jet-black, jewel-like hour markers that mirror—in both senses of the term—the angular hands. The watch has a fun little party trick when the lights are turned off as well, the bezel lighting up in green from the luminous paint that makes up the numbers.

Strangely contradictory to the mastery of this piece, however, is the locking clasp. All divers have one by requirement to prevent the bracelet coming undone during use, only the Chopard’s has an unfathomable design that finds no basis in logic. The lock flips open sideways, contrary to what’s expected, fully retracted once perpendicular to the bracelet, and has to be held or angled that way whilst unclipping both halves of the double deployant free—and, even with two hands, it’s virtually impossible …

If you’ve got a deep longing for a timepiece with real watchmaking pedigree, but don’t have the budget to match all the obvious choices, there are still options out there to scratch that itch. These three, the Girard-Perregaux, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Chopard, are a class above in heritage, design and engineering, offering a true taste of watchmaking at its finest for a relatively modest budget. How could anyone possibly say no?

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