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"Don't lift - slide."
While those words sound like they could be a lyric from a 1950s dance hit a la "The Twist," they're taken directly from the crown of this watch, the Futurematic from Jaeger-LeCoultre. "Do not lift - slide" applies to the way you activate the crown (more on that later). However, it could apply to the way JLC slid out of the war-torn 1940s into the booming, design-rich 1950s.
During World War II, Jaeger-LeCoultre churned out durable timepieces that could withstand the rigors of combat while keeping accurate time. Their military watches from this period (particularly their Mark X "W.W.W" and their Mark XI aviator's watches) are enduring examples of reliable tool watches that are as beautiful as they are reliable. The Mark X or "Watch Wristlet Waterproof," one of the Dirty Dozen, combined a spartan exterior with a robust, no-frills movement. Immediately following the war, the watches that the manufacture produced were spartan in their appearance, with large luminous numerals and modified versions of the movements that carried the brand through the War. But in the 1950s all that changed, as JLC began to experiment with design, both internally and externally, resulting in the creation of this unusual watch.
Compared to Blancpain and Rolex, JLC came late to producing automatic movements. The Calibre 476 arrived in 1946, twenty years after Blancpain achieved that feat, and fifteen after Rolex. However, while Blancpain's and Rolex's movements had low power reserves, JLC's Calibre 476 had a power reserve of 40 hours; additionally, the movement was accurate enough for it to achieve chronometer certification twelve years after its introduction.
And in 1953, JLC broke the mold--both literally and figuratively--with the Futurematic. After the devastation wrought after five years of total war, the world turned its eyes to the future. Manufacturers--both horological and otherwise--designed products in innovative shapes and colors that aesthetically embodied the future the world aspired to.
The Futurematic was powered by the Calibre 497, which, thanks to its larger balance, was even more accurate than the Calibre 476. Like many early automatic movements produced by Universal Genève, for example, the Calibre 497 was a bumper wind movement. But in the Calibre 497, the oscillating weight was locked into place by a little hook, preventing it from overwinding and breaking the mainspring, which was a problem that plagued many early automatic calibres.
The Calibre 497 is also notable for its hacking mechanism. A feature of many military watches that JLC carried over into the construction of this watch, the hacking mechanism (unusual in automatic watches of the time) allowed for unparalleled accuracy. JLC also included a revolutionary six-hour power reserve (indicated by the sub-dial at 9 o'clock) that stops the movement from running when there's six hours of power left.
Perhaps the most noticeable design quirk is the lack of a conventional crown at 3 o'clock. With the Calibre 497, JLC created a unique hand-setting wheel that is engaged by sliding--not lifting--the coin-shaped crown on the back of the case inward toward the center of the watch, which also engages the hack lever. To set the hands, the wearer simply rotates the crown clockwise; to get the hands going again, you slide the crown toward the outside of the case.
While JLC produced the Futurematic in an array of case materials and dial colors, Caliber 497 powered variants like this one feature two subdials- running seconds at 3 o'clock and the aforementioned power reserve indicator at 9 o'clock, bringing symmetry and balance to the gloss black dial.
Externally this watch is a study in contrasts. Though the lack of a conventional crown at 3 o'clock gives the case a smoother silhouette, its sharp, curved lugs--echoed by the dauphine hands--give it a decidedly futuristic look. It calls to mind the fins on a 1949 Cadillac (an image that Hamilton would take to the extreme with the Ventura in 1957).
With distinctive looks and an innovative construction, the Futurematic is emblematic of an era, a classic of mid-century horology that deserves appreciation.
For more about the Futurematic's movement and its vicissitudes, check out this writeup at Watchguy.co.uk.
10k gold Gay Frères case is approximately 35mm. JLC Self-Winding Calibre 497. Circa 1950s.
Overall Condition: 10k gold case is in very good condition with sharp lugs and minor signs of use and wear. Black glossy dial is in excellent condition with crisp printing and only minor signs of age. Case back has minor signs of wear but is in otherwise very good condition.
Includes one 18mm light brown ostrich strap with gold hardware.
Analog/Shift stands behind the authenticity of our products in perpetuity.
We back each Analog/Shift vintage timepiece with a one-year mechanical warranty from the date of purchase.
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