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1 on 1: Comparing the Grand Seiko SBGR305 and the Jaeger leCoultre Master Control Date

The changing tides of value
by Chester Lau on June 3, 2017

We look at two new releases this year, both in the same category, the automatic three hands and date. Two brands, one Japanese and the other Swiss. One of them is the press favorite and wildly worshipped Grand Seiko, and the other is Jaeger-LeCoultre, a master maison with hundreds of movements to its name.

1 on 1: Comparing the Grand Seiko SBGR305 and the Jaeger -LeCoultre Master Control Date

Since their release in Baselworld and SIHH, the Grand Seiko SBGR305 and the Jaeger leCoultre Master Control Date both enjoyed their fair share of good reviews. The Grand Seiko SBGR305 is the recreation piece limited to 968 pieces. And between that and the 1960s recreation, we picked the Grand Seiko SBGR305 for the comparison, given that it is non-homage, has a date feature and is overall closer in features to the Jaeger-LeCoultre.

 

The Grand Seiko SBGR305, limited edition of 968 pieces.

 

The Jaeger-LeCoultre is significant as the maison’s latest release of affordable retro models. Adopting a Tudor, Longines type business strategy, Jaeger-LeCoultre released a series of three new Master Control models with two-tone sector dials. The new stainless steel models include the Master Control Date, Master Control Geographic with worldtimer complication and the Master Control Chronograph.

 

The new Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Date, measuring 39 mm in diameter and 8.5 mm in height.

The value narrative – the changing tides of price

Grand Seiko has always been seen as the value buy. The honest Japanese brand that makes value for money watches. A country branding brainwash, imported from the auto industry. After all, who could resist quality in-house movements, beautiful dial and case finishing, that is priced lower than that other Swiss brand ETA-base monstrosity.

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But how much longer can this narrative hold?

With the latest move to remove the Seiko branding, to let the “Grand Seiko” line run as a brand, prices for Grand Seiko watches are predicted to increase to match its new upscale image. The Grand Seiko SBGR305, limited edition of 968 pieces, cased in titanium, is priced at US$7200. So it seems, Grand Seiko is moving from the value category, to the premium category.

Conversely, Jaeger-LeCoultre, is embracing the value notion. Perhaps picking up from the success of Tudor and Longines, Jaeger-LeCoultre is targeting the more accessible value line by lowering price points. The Jaeger leCoultre Master Control Date retails at US$5700, 10% less than its predecessor Master control date priced at US$6350.

 

Cased in brilliant hard titanium, the watch measures Diameter 40.5mm×Thickness 13.6mm.

 

Sacrificing thinness for power – Should a dress watch be thicker than 10mm?

No offence to Grand Seiko die-hards, but the rhetorical question has to be asked. Should a dress watch be thicker than 10mm? Grand Seiko watches with the 9S calibers, are mostly if not all above 12 mm in thickness. Understandably, the movement has a 72 hours power reserve and is more on the thick side, but this thickness on a dress watch is confusing.

We have heard variations of exasperation from many, which mostly sung like “why can’t Seiko make a thinner case, or a thinner movement?”

Conversely, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Date, measures 39 mm in diameter and 8.5 mm in height. A difference in height of 5 mm. That said, its movement runs with only 40+ hours power reserve.

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The two-tone sector dial is decorated with an opaline colored inner circle, and a matte silver outer ring.

 

Different styles, but both exceedingly well-executed

Different styles, the Japanese Grand Seiko has an overt masculinity in its blade polished angles on the case and hands. The applied indices have sharp defined edges and everything about the watch is sharp and bold. The watch uses a titanium case, and has a workhorse movement, with 72 hours power reserve and an accuracy of -3 to +5 seconds per day.

The Swiss Jaeger leCoultre however, has as softer look to it. For starters the case is 5 mm thinner than the Grand Seiko. Its lugs have a smooth sloping taper and its dial more subdued, with print indices on a brushed sector dial. Featuring a 43 hour power reserve, the watch runs on the caliber 899 which utilizes new technologies like ceramic ball bearings and a two-support balance cock for enhanced stability.

In terms of dial features, both watches are at the top of the game. The Grand Seiko has a beautiful frosted white dial with the centre piece blade edged hands, polished to perfection. Its applied indices are elaborate and the blued steel seconds hand tops off the dial side nicely. The Jaeger-LeCoultre has the best modern sector dial after Patek Philippe, easily surpassing IWC’s Portuguese handwinding released some years ago. And the skeleton blue syringe hands. All in the details. Subdued and less shiny, but you know you’ve got a winner.

Closing thoughts

The Jaeger-LeCoultre is our pick between the two. While it is arguably inferior in terms of case finishing, has a shorter power reserve movement, case material; steel vs titanium, its advantages are far more significant. Firstly, the 8.5 mm case thickness, highly important for a dress watch, the subtlety. The Grand Seiko is not anywhere close, at 13.6 mm, just about 1 mm shy of a Panerai 111. The JLC wins on value. Not so much the difference in price, but more the company’s intention behind the product. Lastly, the longevity and collectibility of the timepiece, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Date has a far more distinct design as compared to the Grand Seiko, relative to their existing product lines.

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5 Comments
Leave a response
  • J
    June 10, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    I think you are comparing apple to orange.. JLC True second vs GS is better comparison between them imo.

  • Chester
    June 4, 2017 at 10:14 am

    Hi Anthony! Thanks for your response. I concur. Value is a very tricky topic to talk about. Watch reviews are subjective at best and controversial comparisons are the ones that are truly worth doing.

    But what’s important for us, is for our readers to consider more factors before making their purchase decisions. And the denouement: Size. Especially for those buying online.

    Cheers,
    Chester

  • June 3, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    Great argument on this article!

    On business strategy:
    I thought the GS move was great for the GS die-hards, but questionable for the business, at least in the short term. Public perception of the brand Seiko (even if it’s GS) is that they make cheap and decent watches. Currently, laymen would judge a GS collector for paying the price of a Rolex for a Seiko. It will definitely take some time before the public learn to differentiate GS from Seiko, which may or may not be effective over time. Not a risky move, but not the most rewarding either.

    As for the JLC move to make a limited run of ‘affordable’ watches, I hope it’s an infrequent, short-term marketing exercise to drive up interest amongst the younger, potential collectors who don’t yet have deep pockets (like myself). That is great. However, to preserve the perceived prestige, it must not permanently ‘cheapen’ its core product lines (take Girard Perregaux for example).

    On the watches:
    Their values aside, both watches are stunning and captivating. However, GS MUST learn to make thinner watches though, their watches’ thickness is still my biggest pet peeve. Hopefully the decision to spin off GS and take it to the world stage means seriously taking action upon the constructive feedbacks by global customers.

    JLC sector dial collection’s mixed fonts (serif and san-serif in one dial for every single piece) were confusing, but overall execution is still great. Just wished the time-only doesn’t have the date window, and the vintage vibe would be complete! URGH…

    Anyway, love the great work by Deployant! A sober and thoughtful write-up, as always. Looking forward to reading more of such work!

    Cheers!

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