Why I Bought It: Two ‘Unsalable’ Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906 Prototypes

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 by GaryG
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 The November 2017 auction weekend entailed quite a series of events for me: in addition to great times with friends and a great set of auction previews, I had the opportunity to add pieces to my collection at the Only Watch, Christie’s, and Sotheby’s auctions.

This is the story of the final watch — or, truthfully, pair of watches — that I happened upon at Sotheby’s that weekend and felt that I just had to have: two 1970s prototype pieces made by Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Two prototype Caliber 906 watches from Jaeger-LeCoultre

Two prototype Caliber 906 watches from Jaeger-LeCoultre

How the Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906 Prototypes fit in my collection

Patronage pieces (supporting the work of independents) are fulfilling, and foundational pieces are key to a well-rounded collection. But once in a while it’s great to have fun!

These two watches definitely fit into the “fun” category; there’s never any hesitation to strap one onto the wrist, each brings a smile whenever it peeks out from beneath the cuff, and I don’t spend even a moment worrying about “getting hurt” financially on the purchase or considering whether they will sell for more or less than I paid for them when they eventually exit my collection.

Jaeger-LeCoultre prototype watch with silver linen-patterned dial

Jaeger-LeCoultre prototype watch with silver linen-patterned dial

Both pieces have intriguing, and to my eye very “70s,” linen-patterned dials: the first watch seen in the image above has a light-catching silver finish and the other a color that in natural light is a fairly straightforward blue but in other conditions takes on more of an indigo cast.

Am I blue? Jaeger-LeCoultre prototype watch showing its blue persona

Am I blue? Jaeger-LeCoultre prototype watch showing its bluesy persona

Why I love them

Given that I bought my first Jaeger-LeCoultre watch more than 25 years ago and that I’ve bought many more watches from this than any other brand, it’s not too surprising that stumbling across a pair of its prototype pieces put a gleam in my eye and starch in the wrist of my bidding hand when this lot came up for sale.

On the lowdown: detail view, Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906 prototype

On the lowdown: detail view, Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906 prototype

It’s not just the Jaeger-LeCoultre connection, though. Other things making these watches must-haves for me included:

  • The intriguing look of the linen-patterned dials, which add visual interest and also look very different in the two colors.
  • Those big, red-orange sweep seconds hands. While it seems that the “modern” look for watches includes a small subsidiary seconds dial, I’ve always been a big fan of the central seconds look. I’ve owned a number of Jaeger-LeCoultre watches over the years with this feature, including a now-departed — and much lamented — pink gold Memovox (see it in Jaeger-LeCoultre: A Collector’s ‘Gateway Drug’ And Ongoing Pleasure), and on these watches the bright color of the second hand makes it even more of a pleasure to contemplate the majestic swing of the hand around the dial.
Sweeping statement: Jaeger-LeCoultre prototype watch with bright sweep seconds hand

Sweeping statement: Jaeger-LeCoultre prototype watch with bright sweep second hand

  • That 70s thing: the case shapes and dial decorations of these pieces are straight out of my coming-of-age decade, and in particular the hands are pretty much identical to those on the first watch I ever bought for myself, a Bucherer chronometer. Jaeger-LeCoultre did eventually issue a production model based on this prototype, the Master Mariner Chronometer Reference 24002–42 with 1,151 pieces produced during 1973–1974.
  • Color shift: as mentioned above, the “blue” dial takes on a variety of appearances depending on the nature of the incident light.
Purple haze: the “blue” Jaeger-LeCoultre prototype dial in artificial light

Purple haze: the “blue” Jaeger-LeCoultre prototype dial in artificial light

Of course, there’s also the superbly fun prototype dimension, as each time I contemplate one of the case backs of these watches and its stark prohibition — in three languages! — against selling the watch, it provides a bit of an illicit thrill at having “gotten away with” a clearly forbidden act.

Not to be sold! Difficult-to-ignore warning on the Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906 prototype

Not to be sold! Difficult-to-ignore warning on the Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906 prototype

Buddy watches — or not

Another significant impetus to buy these watches was the presence at the Sotheby’s auction of a long-time friend and avid collector who also fancied these two pieces. I suggested that if my bidding were successful, we could split the pair and each pay half of the final auction price. He agreed, and as an afterthought, I added the proviso: “. . . unless my wife wants one of them, which I think is pretty unlikely.”

I think you can tell where this is going: as soon as I returned home to MrsGaryG (favorite color: blue) and showed her the two watches, she exercised her option to keep one for herself and our “buddy” watches turned into “his-and-hers” pieces in an instant. Again: sorry, Michael!

His and his turned into his and hers: a pair of prototype watches from Jaeger-LeCoultre

‘His and his’ turned into ‘his and hers’: a pair of prototype watches from Jaeger-LeCoultre

Under the hood of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906

I’m sure that as soon as you saw the solid steel case back of this reference, you had the very same question I did: what does it look like inside?

Well, suffice it to say that some questions are better left unanswered.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906

Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906

As a devoted amateur watch photographer, I do my best to present every piece I shoot in its best light. And I’m here to tell you that in person, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906 doesn’t look even as good as it appears in the images here.

Functionally, it does have its interesting features, though! In its production life as used in both the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Mariner and an incarnation of the Vacheron Constantin Chronomètre Royal, it attained chronometer certification. While there is no quick-set mechanism for the day of the week, the date indication can be advanced by clicking the crown to and fro from a position that is outside of the detent used for advancing the hours and minutes.

Finally, the movement does hack, although the nylon hacking arm visible in the image below is hardly what I’d call an aesthetic triumph. Here’s to solid case backs!

Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906 with hacking mechanism visible at upper right

Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906 with hacking mechanism visible at upper right

Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906 prototype on the wrist

While part of the good news about this watch is that the movement isn’t visible when you’re wearing the watch, the better news is that it’s an attractive and easy wearer.

The Sotheby’s catalogue listed the side-to-side diameter of this watch as 38 mm, and I had to pull out my own ruler to convince myself that this is correct (it is) as the watch wears considerably larger on the wrist with its thin bezel and elongated top-to-bottom case with integrated lugs that measures 43 mm overall in the vertical direction.

On the wrist: two prototype Caliber 906 watches from Jaeger-LeCoultre

On the wrist: two prototype Caliber 906 watches from Jaeger-LeCoultre

The lug portion of the case curves down to meet the wrist, and the watch is pleasantly thin enough (10 mm by my measurement) to both look well-proportioned and feel good.

As these watches were prototypes, I wasn’t surprised that they were not accompanied by Jaeger-LeCoultre-signed straps or buckles. They do just fine on some inexpensive leather straps I bought online, and I’ve seen some photos of a production Master Mariner on a very attractive steel bracelet that makes me want to try that combination out as well.

Finally, it’s good fun for my wife and I to strap on our matching prototype watches and enjoy a variety of activities together!

Parting shot: Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906 prototype with blue dial

Parting shot: Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906 prototype with blue dial

Quick Facts Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 906 Prototype
 
Case: stainless steel with integrated lugs; 38 mm b x 43 mm (including lugs) x 10 mm; screw-down case back marked “PROTOTYPE”
 Dial: silvered and blue metal dials with linen texture; applied metal markings; tritium luminous dots and accents on hands; day in French
 Movement: automatic Caliber 906, chronometer certified, adjusted in three positions
 Functions: hours, minutes, hacking sweep seconds; date, day of week
 Price: auction price November 2017 CHF 6,250 total for the pair of watches shown here
 Production year: estimated 1973

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Jaeger-LeCoultre: A Collector’s ‘Gateway Drug’ And Ongoing Pleasure
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 Why I Bought It: Carpe Diem “Only Watch” By Agenhor And HEAD Genève
 Why I Bought It: Patek Philippe Reference 2526 ‘Gobbi Milano’
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Originally published at Quill & Pad.