Sound the alarm: Presenting the beat of two new Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox watches
My fascination with Jaeger-LeCoultre’s sound making devices, aka alarm watches aka Memovox began right about the time I watched Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair (as also the love for Cartier’s Tank Cintree began about the same time too). The suave Mr Crown flaunts the watches with style. Since then, I have had a soft spot for any watch —whether Vulcain Cricket or Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master or Polaris range — that offers alarm capabilities. My appreciation of the intricacies of the movement and the craftsmanship behind these sound making devices reached its peak when I witnessed the Patek Philippe 5078 Minute Repeater. To me personally, there is something really cool about a mechanical watch being able to make beautiful sounds. So you can imagine my enthusiasm behind the new Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox offerings, available in two variations: a limited series Master Control Memovox Timer and a normal production run, the Master Control Memovox.
Bring to this mix the more daily wear material of steel for both, the price point of 26’00 AUD that guarantees the exclusivity of the limited edition release of 250 pieces for the Timer version, and what you get is perhaps one of the best 2020 watch offerings from the watchmaker’s watchmaker.
JLC introduced the world to the idea of Memovox in the late 1940s, and since then, the alarm complication is perhaps one of the most useful of all complications, while remaining surprisingly rare in horology. I mean look at all the chronograph watches out there. Or the dive watch with the rotating bezels. But alarm wristwatches, well they still are a rarity. Even more rare is a GMT with an alarm. How useful would that be if it was a complication widely available across brands, especially for businessmen who are mostly on the move?!
In terms of price points, the new Master Control Memovox at 19’700 AUD sits pretty close to the LE Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox that cost 19’800 AUD (so just 100 dollars cheaper). More sporty than formal, this LE Polaris featured the outgoing Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 956 that on the technical front featured the same frequency of 4Hz (28’800 A/h), but had minor differences such as the use of 268 components (3 less than the new calibre), 23 jewels (one less than the new calibre), 7.45mm thickness of the movement (.02mm less than the new calibre), a bigger case size of 42mm diameter, an increased 200m (20 ATM) water-resistance and a closed caseback to provide support for the hammer of the alarm mechanism. The power reserve remains the same, 45-hours when fully wound.
Contemporary in style but vintage like the originals from 1950s in essence, these two variations are launched as a part of the new-generation of the Master Control Memovox series.
The Master Control Memovox Timer
This is our pick of the two releases. Incorporating an entirely new alarm-setting mechanism, the Master Control Memovox Timer features the Maison’s signature “school bell” sound of the alarm that can now be seen in motion for the first time given these releases introduce a display case-back. To hear is good, but to see that in motion in poetry divine. The addition of the timer while novel here is not without precedence. The Maison in the past Memovox models has incorporated added complications such as a world time-zone indicator and a parking-meter reminder.
The new timer complication makes use of the traditional way of using a Memovox and also a second way. The first way is to set an alarm based on a particular time (such as the time of a doctor’s appointment or a wake-up alarm to attend that very important business meeting).
The second way is where the usefulness of the new Timer watch comes in handy as it enables the wearer to set the alarm based on the number of hours that should elapse before the alarm rings (for example, the duration of a meeting or the number of hours of sleep on a given night). I particularly like this second use as I am someone who likes the concept of setting an alarm as a reminder.
The watch face shows the functions of central hours, minutes, seconds with dauphine hands, a date aperture at 3’o clock, and central alarm / timer ring on a blue, sun-ray-brushed dial.
This dial is laid out in concentric rings, in two shades of blue with a sun-ray finish, complemented by an inner ring engraved in bas-relief with polished numerals. On this inner ring, the elapsed hours-until-alarm are indicated by a small hand tipped with a red JLC logo. Set at the outer edge of that ring, the Memovox’s signature triangular marker points to the time at which the alarm will ring. The indicators are linked, so that whichever alarm-setting method is chosen, the second indicator will automatically move to the corresponding position.
The heart used — Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 956AA — in the reference Q410848J is an automatic winding mechanical movement beating at the frequency of 4Hz (28’800 A/h). The calibre 956AA is an updated version of the outgoing calibre 956. The 7.47mm thick movement is encased inside a 40mm diameter and 12.39mm thick polished and satin-brushed stainless steel case. It comprises of 24 jewels, 271 components and boasts of a 45-hour power reserve and 50m (5 ATM) water-resistance.
The Master Control Memovox
This is the second release, and the more understated of the two. Simple, timeless and elegant, it’s silvered white dial acts as a quiet backdrop to the stunning blued seconds hand. Just like the limited version, this double polished and satin-finished watch features a display case-back and a Novonappa® calfskin strap. The latter featuring a velvety texture has been used to mimic the colour of the first Memovox straps.
This version takes direct design cues from the original Memovox dials of the original 1950 version in that it is restrained, minimalistic, and completely uncluttered. And to be frank even though I prefer the limited edition version, this one is more close to home when it comes to re-creating the Thomas Crown Affair watch.
It also makes use of the aesthetic codes with the inclusion of trapezoidal hour-markers, Arabic numerals, an alarm triangle, date indicator and emblematic crowns.
The inner disc of the sun-rayed silver dial displays the Memovox indication powered by the upgraded Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 956 that comprises of a new hammer which strikes a bell at the periphery of the case and no longer at the case-back.
The heart used — Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 956AA — in the reference Q4118420 of this new Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox offering is the same automatic winding mechanical movement with the same specifications as described above.
Watch Ya Gonna Do About It
The new Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Memovox Timer with its sloping bezel, dynamically curved lugs and mix of polished and satin-brushed surfaces is a handsome watch in an elegant blue colour segue. The sun-ray brushed dial features different shades of blue with a ‘petrol’ blue colour present at the centre of the dial that is surrounded by two successive waves of lighter, almost translucent blue.
Taking the best that the Master collection has to offer, its classic and timeless round and sleek design really helps put the focus where it deserves, the alarm cum timer complication. The central Memovox disc stands out clearly with its engraved numerals and micro-billed finish, providing the model with relief and depth.
I also appreciate that the watches retain a certain welcome blend of vintage meets contemporary. Vintage because of the case architecture and the use of the balanced melody of the signature school bell “ring”; and contemporary because of the use of a display case-back that reveals the play of the hammer on the bell, highlighting the complexity of the model as well as the degree of finish of its caliber.
Flip the watch and you get to witness the new gold motor in all its glory.
I like the fact that the Memovox tab rotates with the disc and the red JLC logo tip of the hours hand is another nice touch. Another aspect I admire is the inclusion of a date window. If this wasn’t an alarm watch, I would have said that the date window really throws off the balance and harmony of the plain dial. But it is not. In my humble opinion, a date window complements the existence of an alarm function, and it’s execution at 3’o clock rather than at an awkward 4.30 is highly appreciated. That said, the OCD in me really is fighting the urge to centre the date aperture making it in the middle of the inner and outer tracks. The more I look at it, the more I cry out in anguish. This is such a perfect watch, barring that little spatial adjustment. Another aspect that I am not too fond of, is the inclusion of the ‘Automatique’ text at 6’o clock. It seems rather redundant and for me breaks the coherence of the dial.
Overall, the two new Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox offerings are exactly what the watch world needed at this point – a reminder of the presence of incredible horology despite the Covid-19 that rings high and true when it comes to showcasing the Maison’s horological prowess. The Master Control Memovox is simple and ageless, while the Master Control Memovox Timer is a blue dialled beauty waiting to be wrapped around the wrists of 250 lucky connoisseurs.
To find out more about the new Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox watches and other JLC offerings, please head to their website here. All images courtesy Copyright “©Jaeger-LeCoultre”. All rights reserved.