Up Close: the Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic True Seconds

The dead-beat seconds module adds a certain geeky attraction to an otherwise very solid daily wearer - but is it worth nearly £10,000?

Jaeger-LeCoultre
Jaeger-LeCoultre

Jaeger-LeCoultre released the Geophysic True Seconds in the autumn of 2015, following the revival of the Geophysic name the year before, attached to a handsome triplet of limited edition watches that channelled the "atomic age" instrumental aesthetic of the original - a watch that travelled on nuclear submarines and adorned the wrists of scientists.

We wrote about it back then, covering the interesting developments Jaeger-LeCoultre had made with the Gyrolab escapement and generally waxing lyrical about this watch's ability to put a bit of a spring in the brand's step. And around the same time we ran an in-depth piece on the history of dead-beat seconds (which is really worth making time to go back to, with rare Rolexes and Habrings all making an appearance). So why are we writing about it again now, nearly two years later?

Jaeger-LeCoultre
Jaeger-LeCoultre

Well, firstly, it's nice to see how one's initial reactions have aged sometimes. Has this watch had the impact we expected? Also, we didn't run a hands-on review as such, so I'm here to talk about the watch in that context, looking at how it wears and what else might be considered a competitor for your hard-earned. We gave more of our attention to the pink gold model back when it was new (magpies that we are) but something like this, with its background in the aforementioned scientific tool watch era of the 1950s, is always going to be a steel watch first and foremost. So there's that too.

Jaeger-LeCoultre
Jaeger-LeCoultre

All of which means there's one thing we may as well address straight away: the price. When new, in October 2015, this watch carried a retail price of £6,400 in stainless steel on a leather strap. That has now risen to £7,700 - quite a hike in itself, but mostly thanks to currency fluctuations and in line with the rest of the industry (if not in line with anything else that might be relevant, like inflation, and certainly not in line with the Great British watch-buying public's ability to afford such things).

But that's the watch on a leather strap. For reasons known only to someone senior at Jaeger-LeCoultre, the same watch on a steel bracelet costs... £9,200, or £1,500 more. It's a nice bracelet - as part of my review I was specifically going to call out its polished clasp, solid and ever-so-slightly retro railway link construction, which hits that sweet spot of feeling supple, sufficiently weighty and managing not to remove arm hairs at unexpected moments. It is a nice bracelet.

Jaeger-LeCoultre
Jaeger-LeCoultre

Would I, though, opt for this 5 inch chain of stainless steel, polished and assembled by machine, instead of a leather strap if it meant that I could have, say, a watch from Nomos Glashutte as well as the Geophysic on leather? Or maybe a no-frills diver for weekends from Christopher Ward - quite a decent two watch collection that. No I would not. Jaeger-LeCoultre's bracelet-based profiteering is not the first or last piece of evidence that the watch industry has a pricing problem, but it is certainly one that sticks out.

Well anyway. Let's assume you aren't put off by the price tag - how does the Geophysic on a bracelet measure up? As I've said, it wore comfortably (as you'll see from the video it was a couple of links too big for me, but working around that, it sat nicely on the wrist). At 11.8mm thick it wears happily with a shirt, and at 39.6mm across I'd say is a perfect width unless you have real tree trunks for arms.

Jaeger-LeCoultre
Jaeger-LeCoultre

Looks-wise, it nails it, as far as I'm concerned. I love the functional matchstick hands with their contrasting slivers of luminova, and the little dots of lume to match on the rehaut. The dial isn't overburdened by numerals or text (the logo isn't too overwhelming, which is a plus) and the date window is not only discreet but appropriate. The kind of practical soul called to mind by a Geophysic is the type of person happy to have and actually use a date window.

Overall, the dial layout errs strongly on the side of simplicity: at a distance it can seem plain (someone I know described it, a mite unkindly, as looking like a Seiko 5) but while I will concede it is a long way from flamboyant, when you get up close you notice details - the brushing on the hour markers, for example, or the grained finish to the dial itself - that show a level of care befitting a watch in this price sector.

Jaeger-LeCoultre
Jaeger-LeCoultre

Something else you notice up close is of course that long needle of a second hand, ticking its way around the dial. For some people, this will be enough to get the credit card out - the charm and stealthy nerdiness of the dead-beat mechanism is a big pull. Sure, it looks like quartz, or worse, a fake, but you know the truth. If you like to advertise that you own a "proper" watch a bit more overtly, there are other brands out there - although anyone looking at the Geophysic should see how proper it is.

Another nice aspect of the true-beat seconds movement - one that is only going to be noticed by the owner - is the noise. Listen to the watch beating and you don't just get the tick-tick-tick-tick of a 4Hz escapement; you get tick-tick-tick-TICK-tick-tick-tick-TICK as the hand advances on each second, storing up and releasing energy in discernible increments. (For any serious nerds tempted to write in, yes it is actually double that number of ticks as 4Hz = 8 oscillations but you get the idea). Flip the watch over and you can watch that escapement in action, nestled within a well-finished movement (particularly the rotor).

Jaeger-LeCoultre
Jaeger-LeCoultre

Overall there's no doubt Jaeger-LeCoultre makes a nice watch, and has brought a good deal of ingenuity to bear on the Geophysic, without letting the watch's signature feature detract either from its design or its daily usability. The question of whether it makes sense as a purchase, though... it's a tricky one. Best answered perhaps by looking at what else is out there. If you have your heart set on something that channels the design and ideals of the era that begat the Geophysic, you could buy an IWC Ingenieur, a Rolex Milgauss or an Omega Railmaster for at least £2,500 less. If the true-seconds complication is, for you, a take-it-or-leave it addition, then you'll almost certainly choose to save the money (even buying something else from JLC's range, like the new entry-level Master pieces).

Jaeger-LeCoultre
Jaeger-LeCoultre

But if you're not a little bit enthralled with the technical mastery and modest presentation of the true-beat escapement, then what are you doing even considering this watch, really? Coming at the question from this angle ("I must have a true-beat seconds watch, come hell or high water!") then the Geophysic maybe isn't such a bad idea. Arnold and Son will sell you the DSTB, but it's a baroque creation with lashings of Olde English naval baggage - very different indeed. You can't afford a Gronefeld or a Jaquet Droz and maybe aren't going to go out of your way to track down a Habring, which is probably the closest in looks to the Jaeger-LeCoultre.

So what have we learned? This is a watch which either makes complete sense, or no sense at all? That if you fall for anything hard enough you'll brush aside all manner of objectively valid counter-arguments? Pretty much. I warmed to this watch and admired its looks and build quality - but I would find it hard to justify buying it.

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