Alerts, beeps, bings, vibrations and buzzing sounds are the bane of 21st-century technological gadgets. Whether it’s a wake-up tone, an incoming email, a Whatsapp message or a reminder to walk more steps, we are bombarded by acoustic signals 24/7. For those of you pining for the simpler days when a spade was called a spade, and you didn’t have 1,500 contacts in your phone, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Memovox will strike a chord. Actually, a hammer to be precise. Launched in 1950, the Memovox is a mechanical alarm wristwatch that still delights watch lovers today. In June 2020, Jaeger-LeCoultre unveiled two Master Control Memovox models: a limited edition Memovox Timer and the Memovox time & date model. Although the nostalgia for the first 1950s Memovox models has been respected, the aesthetic upgrades executed on the Master Control case give the watch a more contemporary air. The movement has also benefitted from a comprehensive revision, and the incorporation of a sapphire caseback means that you can see the hammer in action as it hits the gong. Let’s take a closer look at the time & date model and the untiring appeal of its old-school alarm.
With its consolidated experience in developing chiming calibres since 1870, it was only a matter of time before Jaeger-LeCoultre found a way of miniaturising its repeater mechanisms to fit inside a wristwatch. However, complicated minute repeater mechanisms are not practical for everyday wear and tear. A bit like the pragmatic Reverso with its swivelling caseback to protect the dial from blows during a polo match, Jaeger-LeCoultre modified the chiming mechanism to give it a practical everyday function and immerse it into mainstream working life. Known as the Memovox, JLC’s 1950 alarm wristwatch activated an acoustic signal at a defined time and could be used as a wake-up call or a reminder.
Extremely popular with businessmen on the move, in 1956 the Memovox was fitted with JLC’s automatic calibre 815 and became the first automatic alarm watch in history. Between 1959 and 1969 the Memovox was fitted with calibre 825 with a date module. Realising that alarm functions were not only useful on dry land, the Memovox took the plunge in the waterproof case of the Memovox Deep Sea in 1959 and in 1968 aboard the iconic Memovox Polaris with its rotating inner bezel to measure elapsed dive times and a super-compressor case to amplify the alarm sound.
streamlined case and dial
In line with the aesthetic upgrades conducted on the Master Control line in 2020, the 40mm stainless steel case features a thinner, sloping bezel. This inclination not only provides a more generous view of the dial, but it visually attenuates the 12.39mm thickness of the case. Although the watch is clearly redolent of the 1950s, the watch’s proportions are contemporary without being overwhelming and compact enough for most wrists (Brice’s 16.5cm wrist appears in the photos). For example, the lugs have a more pronounced curve allowing the watch to sit closer on the wrist.
The contrasting polished and brushed surfaces of the case emphasise the shaper, tighter look of the 2020 upgrade. The two signature crowns of the 1950 Memovox – at 2 o’clock to set the alarm and at 4 o’clock to adjust the time – are faithfully replicated on the right side of the case.
The spartan, uncluttered dial is silver with a sunray-brushed finish. Impeccably restrained, the elements on the dial transmit the 1950s vibe perfectly. The protagonist of the Memovox is the alarm function which is activated by the triangular marker inside the central disc on the dial. The outer track allows you to set the hour to the nearest 15-minute interval by moving the triangular hand with the crown at 2 o’clock.
The elongated triangular indices with their sharp facets are applied to the dial along with the Arabic numerals at 12, 9 and 6 o’clock. Each hour index is highlighted with a circular dot of lume intersecting the minutes track. Like the automatic Memovox model released between 1959 and 1969 with a date module, the date is housed in a framed rectangular aperture at 3 o’clock with black numerals and white background. The vintage Dauphine-style hour and minute hands are also treated with a thin line of lume, and a very subtle dash of colour is provided by the blue central seconds hand.
The automatic calibre 956AA powering the movement has been comprehensively re-engineered for the Master Control Memovox and is 15% slimmer than before. The previous Memovox models had the gong attached to the closed caseback; the new Master Control case has a transparent sapphire caseback and a new strike-works system. You can see the hammer in action (roughly at 2 o’clock movement side) as it strikes the peripheral gong tucked into the side of the case. Even the pink gold rotor is openworked to reveal as much of the action as possible. The rotor is finely decorated with Côtes de Genève to match the finishes on the movement plates, and the screws are blued. The 271-part movement beats at a 4Hz (28,800vph) frequency and can store up to 45 hours of energy.
The Memovox is a classic in the rare world of alarm watches and a model that never ceases to delight and amaze. Admittedly, silver dials make a watch look larger than a dark dial, but nothing captures the 1950s mood better than a silver dial. Like other Master Control models, the silver Dauphine-style hands against a silver background can sometimes hamper legibility, but the tiny streaks of lume help. With its 50m water-resistance and casual Novonappa calfskin strap, it is clear this model is designed for everyday enjoyment. However, the resounding success of the Memovox is the old-school charm of the alarm. An endearing sound that might take you back to your childhood, or at the very least provoke nostalgia for the good old days when nothing ran on lithium batteries.
Availability and price
The Master Control Memovox is not limited in production. Its price is EUR 12,000 and is available at official retailers and JLC’s online boutique.
More information and online orders at Jaeger-LeCoultre’s website.