E558 ‘Barracuda’ Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Mariner
JLC have a really rather robust history of distinct dive watches, but one is almost always left out—quite unfairly. I suspect because ‘Deep Sea Master Mariner E558’ was a bit of a mouthful (brevity is lost on the Swiss), the watch you’re looking at goes by its nickname today: Barracuda. Things called Baracuda are inherently cool. Hemi Plymouths, Blancpain German mil divers, and that song by Heart that goes ‘Ooo, Barracuda!’. In the case of JLC, it’s one of their most obscure models ever, short lived and made in small numbers. To be precise, 1532 were made from 1967-74. While there are collector guides for JLC’s more complicated Deep Sea Alarm or Polaris, you’ll find maybe one forum post from 2011 on the Barracuda.
The Master Mariner line started here with Piquerez, Brevet super compressor cases, powered by JLC’s K883 automatic, and water resistant to 200m (on equal footing with Subs and Seamasters of the era). It features a date and the ever enjoyable inner-rotation 60-minute bezel operated by the crown at 2. Otherwise, it’s quite straightforward. I suspect because the compressor case you see here was also used in a few other brands, such as IWC’s 816, the model lost a bit of identity in the years following release as compared to the early Deep Sea Alarms or Polari. They’re simply gorgeous 70s divers, however, and remain a resolute value today. Plus, the movement is decorated in Fausses Cotes, because JLC can’t help themselves.
Does it make any sense that a great IWC 812 will trade hands around 20K today and this is effectively half off despite coming from the Grande Maison? You could say that’s a circular case vs this more muscular 70s proportion, but comparably angular and very 70s Zenith cases sell often for more than their round counterparts. It can’t be that alone, surely. No, I suspect the Master Mariner is a value today simply because very few know they exist; you can’t search for a watch you’ve never heard of. Hairspring readers are a very tiny, avid corner of the watch market, but that’s what we’re here for (the IWC 816 is worth a look as well), with the help of the good folks at Watchurbia. It’s one of very few watches exactly as cool as its name suggests, something that only a badass would wear.
This example is a fantastic one too. The tritium color difference between hands and dial on these is entirely correct, which I just want to note upfront. They all exhibit this, the hands just aged a little greener. The case is very lightly polished but in lovely shape overall. The dial has no visible damage and the crowns are the originals with hatching. It’s in far better condition than most you’ll find. Also might be worth tracking down an NSA bracelet which is also right for these, but that’s personal preference.