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Spotting and identifying watches worn in movies is one of the most popular pastimes among wristwatch aficionados as well as serious cinephiles. Most of the time, such watches serve largely as props, elements of a character’s wardrobe and/or equipment that help to define who that character is: who could forget, for example, Steve McQueen's Heuer Monaco in Le Mans or Daniel Craig's Omega Seamaster in Casino Royale? Every so often, a timepiece plays a more pivotal storytelling role, as was the case of a very recognizable, albeit harshly damaged Jaeger-LeCoultre watch in the 2016 Marvel film Doctor Strange, and more recently in its sequel, 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character in the movie, world-renowned neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange, and in classic Marvel origin-story tradition, the first time we meet him he is anything but heroic. While he uses his brilliant mind and skilled hands to save lives, his motivation for doing so tends to be more financial than altruistic. He turns down patients who can’t afford his enormous fees, treats co-workers callously, and generally embraces the high-end trappings that his fame and wealth affords him, including a Lamborghini and a drawer full of high-end timepieces meticulously mounted on winder cuffs— among them, according to sharp-eyed viewers, a Rolex Daytona and TAG Heuer Monaco.
The watch that Strange appears to hold in particularly high regard is the one he wears in a pivotal scene from the first movie — namely the harrowing car crash that destroys the use of his hands, ending his surgical career and providing the impetus for the spiritual quest that leads him to his destiny as the heroic Sorcerer Supreme. It is a steel-cased Jaeger-leCoultre Master Ultra-Thin Perpetual, with a solid caseback engraved with “Time will tell how much I love you - Christine.” Christine is Christine Palmer, played by Rachel McAdams, Strange’s co-worker and on-again-off-again paramour. This detail, incidentally, pegs the watch as one customized specially for use in filming the movie: the Master Ultra Thin Perpetual model actually sold at retail features a clear sapphire window in the caseback. (It’s also, according to JLC’s website, a boutique-only edition, which would have certainly made it appealing to Stephen Strange’s discerning and decidedly highbrow tastes.)
We first see the watch, undamaged, shortly after 10 minutes into the film (00:10:34), as Strange pulls it from the winder drawer before his fateful car ride. When next we see it, at 00:34:15, at the mountain retreat of Strange’s eventual mentor the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) in the mythical realm of Kamar-Taj, its crystal is shattered. This is also where Strange turns the watch over to reveal the inscription, thus punctuating why this shattered symbol of his old life is still so important to him. He has held onto the damaged luxury timepiece as, in the words on JLC’s on website, “an emotional anchor in a world of constant change.” The roughed-up timepiece makes another appearance toward the end of the movie (at 01:44:33), when Doctor Strange, now in full costume as the Master of the Mystic Arts and having just saved the world from the other-dimensional menace of the Dread Dormammu, straps it on at his Greenwich Village Sanctum. The implicit message is that it will remain with him as a reminder of the man he used to be.
In the 2022 sequel, our hero still has the watch, shattered crystal and all, and also once again has the use of his surgically skilled hands. In one scene, he places it on a table and performs repairs on it, finally replacing the crystal and perhaps symbolically entering a new phase of his life after his beloved Christine’s wedding to another man.
As others have pointed out, and which JLC has never been shy about revealing, the watch’s presence in the movie is not an accident: Cumberbatch was a brand ambassador and has also been known to wear Jaeger-LeCoultre watches on the red carpet at awards shows. But it’s undeniable that a perpetual calendar watch like the Master Ultra-Thin is very on-theme for both Doctor Strange movies, especially Multiverse of Madness, which dealt with the fluidity of time and the chaos of multiple timelines converging.
So what (non-magical) functions does the Doctor Strange watch actually perform in real life? Like others in Jaeger-LeCoultre’s classically designed Master collection, the Ultra-Thin Perpetual is outfitted with an exquisitely engineered and decorated movement produced in-house at the brand’s manufacture in Le Sentier in the Swiss Jura. Inside the modest 39mm stainless steel case, the automatic Caliber 868 beats behind a clear, sapphire exhibition caseback (Sorry, Christine isn’t going to personalize yours), driving the timepiece’s array of perpetual calendar indications, which are displayed on the dial in a distinct, delicately balanced fashion. Moving our eye clockwise around the dial, we find the date displayed in analog style at 3 o’clock, the month displayed at 6 o’clock, the four-digit year in an aperture at 7:30, the day of the week at 9 o’clock, and the moon-phase display at 12 o’clock, above the Jaeger-leCoultre logo.
The dauphine hands indicate the time on thin, wedge hour appliqués made of polished black nickel. The silver-powered dial also features a subtle and uncommon bit of (you should pardon the expression) practical magic right above the central axis of the hands: a small aperture that turns red toward the end of the evening to let the wearer know not to make any adjustments to the calendar functions: between about 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM, the gears of a perpetual calendar are actively engaged in switching the date from today to tomorrow and interrupting the process could damage the movement. Finally, the watch earns its “ultra thin” moniker with a case thickness of just 9.2mm; the movement, despite its impressive complexity, measures a wafer-thin 4.72mm. The whole ensemble comes on an elegant black leather strap and retails for $26,100 — not at all cheap but certainly reasonable for a Swiss-made perpetual calendar with an in-house movement. If you happen to make the investment in this timepiece, just keep in mind that if it gets damaged, your likelihood of becoming Sorcerer Supreme and gaining the power to fix it are slim to none, so best to take good care of it.
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