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Feature: Is This Jaeger-LeCoultre Worth Twice This Montblanc?

When you buy a watch, you generally want to know two things. One, is it totally sweet, and two, is it totally good value. The first point is one that’s fairly easily measured; you quite simply put the watch on, look at it and think, “sweet”. If you don’t, then it fails the test. Value, however, that’s harder. For example, here we have two seemingly similar watches, but one is twice the price of the other. Which is worth it? Are they both worth it? Neither? It’s not as easy to determine as you’d think.

Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Chronograph Quantième Annuel 114875

This watch has a very long name, full of long complex words that I can’t pronounce. It has a big, complex dial full of tiny little words that I can’t read. It’s sleek and it’s shiny, it’s suave and sophisticated; it sells a lifestyle that costs more than us average people with our average jobs can ever hope to afford.

I mean, that’s the dream, isn’t it, to effortlessly climb from our effortlessly designed Aston Martin to effortlessly walk into the Monte Carlo casino and effortlessly win big first go, to effortlessly check the time on our effortlessly elegant watch and leave the way we came: effortlessly. If you’re not picturing Daniel Craig as Bond right now then—well, just picture Daniel Craig as Bond, and you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about.

And if you were to pair Mr Bond with a watch manufacturer, I have to say, I wouldn’t pitch him to wear an Omega. I wouldn’t suggest a Rolex either, too functional. I’d be suggesting a Jaeger-LeCoultre, because like everything else about that fictional spy who sneaks into our wives’ dreams, they’re designed to look beautiful and are built like a tank.

But, record scratch, you’re you, not James Bond, and so your sights likely need to be set a bit lower. Let’s say half lower, because that’s exactly where you’ll find the Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Chronograph Quantième Annuel—I told you I couldn’t pronounce it.

Montblanc was founded in 1906

Montblanc was founded in 1906

And the reason that’s important is because there’s a very strong case to suggest that this watch is not half the value of its Jaeger-LeCoultre stablemate. They both look very similar, albeit with the Montblanc a hair or three bigger, both ooze classic, timeless styling and both pack a punch when it comes to complication. In short, they’re both effortless. If that’s how you want to come across, you could do a lot worse for a lot more.

Does that mean Jaeger-LeCoultre is ripping people off? No, don’t be silly. The Montblanc isn’t all as it seems, making those savings in a way that, hats off to them, is really rather clever. The Sellita SW-300 ticking insider, that’s not so clever by itself; rather, it’s what Montblanc has done with it that moves this watch from “meh” to “hmm…”.

Here’s what you get extra over the bog standard Sellita: day, month, moonphase in annual calendar form—that means you only need to set it once per year—oh, and a whole chronograph as well. To be honest, I didn’t see that coming, although the downgrade from the full, in-house perpetual calendar of the Jaeger-LeCoultre I saw a mile away. What it means is that, although the Jaeger-LeCoultre is better on paper, if you don’t have the paper for that paper, you don’t need to go without—and that’s pretty sweet.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual 130842J

So the inverse of that proposition is this: are the extra features of the Jaeger-LeCoultre enough to warrant over double the cost of the Montblanc? By this point, we’re well aware that the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual has a perpetual calendar—that’s like the Montblanc’s annual calendar, but it doesn’t need adjusting until the year 2100—but is changing your watch once a year such a big deal that it warrants all that extra spend?

Yes, you get that little window telling you what year it is—although, if you’ve forgotten the year, the least of your concerns is looking suave—but you don’t get a chronograph, so is it really more a case of six of one, half a dozen of the other? Well, owners of the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual and those thinking of purchasing one, you’ll be pleased and perhaps unsurprised to learn that it is not.

It would be amusing for the sake of drama to suggest that the Montblanc had a hope of denting the Jaeger-LeCoultre’s reputation, but it really quite clearly doesn’t. Jaeger-LeCoultre is a master watchmaker of some of the finest pieces this world has ever seen, has expertise relied upon by all corners of the industry, has invented inventions to aid the invention of more inventions—it’s just the daddy of Swiss watchmakers whether people realise it or not.

Jaeger-LeCoultre was founded in 1833, Le Sentier, Le Chenit, Switzerland

Jaeger-LeCoultre was founded in 1833, Le Sentier, Le Chenit, Switzerland

And what more evidence is there of that than the calibre 868/1, a manufacturer designed and built work of art that somehow squeezes the ability to track Earth’s place in the solar system for long enough to not even think about in a space slimmer than the average strap. At just 4.72mm thick, the calibre 868/1 is not only worthy of the name Ultra Thin, but also worthy of doubling down on and purchasing over the Montblanc.

It’s not a Sellita for a start, but never mind what it isn’t—we’re more interested in what it is. And what it is, is a thoroughly over-engineered concrete bunker of a movement dressed in the finest Farrow and Ball paint. Beneath that delicately executed façade lies 336 parts, all assembled with the same integrity our grandparents wistfully reminisce about when they talk about how rubbish stuff is today.

No word of a lie, I once spoke to a watchmaker who rued Jaeger-LeCoultre with venom in his eyes about how much work it was to dismantle a Jaeger-LeCoultre movement. “Why use one screw when three will do?” he said bitterly. At least for his sake it’s pretty to look at whilst reassembling, the plates dressed in matching striping to the solid gold rotor, the screws blued and the edges bevelled.

Jaeger-LeCoultre is considered the watchmaker’s watchmaker

Jaeger-LeCoultre is considered the watchmaker’s watchmaker

And it’s also no surprise that the Jaeger-LeCoultre excels when it comes to attention to detail. Explore the dial, and not only will you be rewarded with the finery of the silky finish laced with polished markers, the two-tone hands and deeply rich moonphase, but there’s also typically Jaeger-LeCoultre touches like the day/night indicator as well, which aligns with holes in the hands so it’s never obscured—and that’s pretty sweet, too.

If you were expecting some big reveal that the half-price Montblanc was somehow better value than the Jaeger-LeCoultre, then sorry, it wasn’t going to happen. What did happen, however, was the revelation that the Montblanc is probably actually a bit better than you might have originally thought. It’s hardly a bargain, and many people may still consider it a non-option thanks to the Sellita base, but for everything else, it goes a fair way further to being pretty sweet than most people think. The Jaeger-LeCoultre is of course the king here, but that’s not worth much to those who can’t afford it—but that doesn’t mean the conversation is quite over, because the watchmaker of watchmakers has a timepiece in the works that hits a lot closer to Montblanc’s territory: the Master Control Annual Calendar Chronograph. Let’s see if Montblanc has an answer to that.

Keep an eye for part two where we reverse the roles and see if a cheaper Jaeger-LeCoultre can go toe-to-toe with a more expensive Montblanc. Yes, you heard right. You’ll have to wait and see!

Looking for a Montblanc watch? Click here to shop now

Looking for a Jaeger-LeCoultre watch? Click here to shop now