Feature: Is This Montblanc Worth Twice This Jaeger-LeCoultre?
Last time we had a look at whether or not the more expensive Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual was worth twice as much as the Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Chronograph Quantième Annuel, and unsurprisingly the answer was, yeah, probably. But how about this then—is this Montblanc worth twice this Jaeger-LeCoultre? The tables have turned—but have they turned for the better?
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Chronograph 1538420
The rule is this: if you want to buy a watch, a good one, and you don’t have enough for an A. Lange & Söhne, you buy a Jaeger-LeCoultre. Yes, Rolex has better residuals, yes Grand Seiko dials are more interesting—but Jaeger-LeCoultre, when you lay it bare, is just one of the most no-brainer decisions in all of watchmaking.
Founded in 1833, maker of over 1,200 different calibres, filer of over 400 patents—it’s safe to say that if there’s one watchmaker that embodies watchmaking more than any other, it’s Jaeger-LeCoultre. You know how they say that no matter what ketchup you buy, it’s all likely made in the same factory? Well, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s a bit like that. No matter what high-end watch you buy, there’s a very high probability that it has—or had at one point at least—a movement supplied by Jaeger-LeCoultre.
They’re always there, always busy—sometimes too busy it seems to really, properly tell the world about themselves—making everything from air-powered clocks to multi-axis, Westminster-chiming mega watches. Okay, so those aren’t probably on the list of the average watch buyer, but perhaps this is: the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Chronograph.
It’s typically Jaeger-LeCoultre: no fuss, no frippery, just a damn good watch. It’s achingly beautiful, has a timeless quality to it, is a pleasure to use and is head and shoulders above anything else you can get for the money—Rolex included. You can even get it a little bit wet, so it needn’t be a Sunday best watch either.
Jaeger-LeCoultre was founded by Antoine LeCoultre in Le Sentier, Le Chenit, Switzerland
But aside from the radiant silver dial, the blued chronograph hands, the polished markers, it’s also a fine example of what Jaeger-LeCoultre does best: movement manufacture. You don’t get to see it, but the calibre 751A/1 inside is a paragon of watchmaking, combining lengthy power reserve—65 hours, to be specific—with a solid action—thanks to the column wheel—hefty build—there are 277 parts here—and a rather absurd level of quality control to make sure you get nothing but the best.
As it says on the back, this watch has been tested for 1,000 hours, pushed to the limit of endurance to ensure its capabilities match the promise of the name on the dial. It’s a hefty commitment, but one that, as a supplier to others in the industry, Jaeger-LeCoultre is used to. It makes buying one feel all the more rewarding, a smug, knowing feeling attached to the purchase because you know the proficiency of what you’re getting here.
Seems, then, like a hard act for a Montblanc to follow, let alone surpass. That a Montblanc chronograph exists that costs twice as much is bordering on heresy. But it does, and we’ve got it—now let’s see what all the fuss is about.
Montblanc Heritage Spirit Pulsograph 111626
Right off the bat, there’s trouble: the Montblanc Heritage Spirit Pulsograph has ten hours less power reserve than the Jaeger-LeCoultre, less water resistance, one less chronograph pusher—and it doesn’t even wind itself! And worse, when I say it’s twice the price of the Master Chronograph, that’s on the used market—new, it was over three times the price!
Alright, so the case of the Montblanc ditches steel in place of a rather fetching rose gold, but it’s not enough to make a lesser watch in a more expensive material and ask more than a better watch that’s a bargain in steel … if you follow my drift. Has the Montblanc merely been rolled in rose gold glitter? Is the watch beneath it worth half the Jaeger-LeCoultre at best, and has merely risen above its station with delusions of grandeur?
Perhaps the answer would be yes, had the watch been Montblanc through and through. Whatever your opinion of the pen manufacturer-turned-watch brand, it’s hard to deny that there are some entries in its catalogue that are rather appealing—albeit at the right price. This watch is not at the right price. But then it’s not a Montblanc either.
Montblanc is based in Hamburg, Germany
Enough riddles—this watch is a Minerva. That’s a watchmaker that, in its prime, had a reputation as one of the finest manufacturers of chronographs in Switzerland. It unfortunately died following the quartz crisis, but was revived and placed under the care of Montblanc as part of the penmaker’s bid to build its watchmaking street-cred. I see the thinking, and I’m sure I can guess how you might feel about that, but consider this: between that and no Minerva at all, which would you prefer?
So what you get is a Montblanc case, dial, hands etc, but in the back you get a Minerva engine. Don’t believe me? See for yourself, it says it right there: “Minerva”. The calibre 13.21 even gets the little devil’s tail trademark lever—it’s actually Minerva’s, the Roman goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare, spear, but whatever—and the Minerva “M” logo even makes it onto the dial, however small.
All of a sudden, this watch becomes a very different proposition, housing a Patek Philippe-rivalling hand-wound, monopusher chronograph for about double the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Chronograph. Now things are getting interesting. You want hand finishing? You got it. Mirror polished bevels? Absolutely. A movement you can happily stare at for hours? I certainly would.
Montblanc is famous for its pens. They also make watches, jewellery and leather/travel goods
So in one fell swoop the question of value swings about completely, offering the opportunity to own and enjoy every watch enthusiast’s dream, a top class, hand-wound chronograph. By comparison, a Patek Philippe 5170 is comfortably double if not triple the price. At this level, the Jaeger-LeCoultre isn’t even a footnote.
It’s one thing to speculate, another to actually go ahead and go through with it. Being realistic, the Jaeger-LeCoultre is already playing second fiddle to the default choice of the Rolex Daytona, however at the price anyone can actually get a Daytona for, they’re looking at spending what the Montblanc is asking. Whether the Montblanc is worth double the Jaeger-LeCoultre, well, I think that one is easy: if you’re the kind of person who appreciates what’s under the bonnet and not the name on the nose, the Montblanc is virtually unrivalled in its proposition. I’m just not sure how many people truly feel that way.
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