Earlier this year at the digital edition of Watches & Wonders, Jaeger-LeCoultre presented two Master Control Memovox models. The one which interests us today is the limited edition Master Control Memovox Timer model, a classic Memovox alarm watch with a twist. Along with the traditional alarm function (typically JLC), the Memovox comes with a novel complication in the form of a timer indication. Housed in a new 40mm Master Control case and fitted with a re-engineered edition of calibre 956, the caseback is now open to reveal the new strike-works system. However, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the signature school bell sound of the alarm. Let’s take a closer look…
Brief background on alarms
Most people today are bombarded with beeps and vibrations coming from their smartphones, smartwatches and Fitbits. There’s always something buzzing that needs to be dealt with; be it your wake-up tone, another company email or a prod to walk more steps to reach your daily fitness goal. Well before the advent of all this technology, most people relied on a wind-up clock with an alarm function to wake up in the morning.
An alarm, designed to ring a signal at a defined time, is a practical function that can be used to wake you up or remind you of an event. Oddly enough, the ultra-practical alarm function is not prevalent in horology and only a handful of brands offer watches with alarms – even fewer manufacture them in-house. According to Ryan Schmidt in The Wristwatch Handbook – one of my most thumbed reference books – the ‘alarm complication is not particularly common, with manufacturers preferring to attain the complex heights of sonneries and minute repeaters’. (For the record, JLC had notched up more than 200 chiming watch calibres since its first minute repeater in 1870, from Grand Sonnerie to Westminster chimes all the way down to the simpler alarm on the Memovox.) Schmidt relates that the wristwatch alarm was ‘patented in 1908 and put into production in 1910 by Eterna’. However, the two brands which really put the alarm wristwatch on the map were Vulcain, with its Cricket, and Jaeger-LeCoultre, with its iconic Memovox. Unlike the Eterna with its one mainspring for the timekeeping functions and alarm, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vulcain rely on two separate mainsprings.
Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced its first alarm wristwatch in 1950. Known as the Memovox “the voice of memory”, the hand-wound (calibre 489) alarm watch had two crowns, one to set the triangle on the inner disc for the alarm. Extremely popular with businessmen on the move, in 1956 the Memovox became even more practical with the incorporation of 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. Over the decades, the Memovox has been revisited with world time indications and even a parking meter reminder.
Below, the sound produced by the alarm of a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master-Control-Memovox.
Old and new
The inspiration of the Memovox Timer is firmly rooted in the 1950s Memovox. Its attractive retro vibe – with the pointy trapezoid-shaped indices and Arabic numerals of the original Memovox, the two crowns, the concentric rings and Memovox’s signature triangular marker for the alarm – meets a contemporary petrol blue dial with an additional silver disc in its centre for the timer.
The dial is particularly attractive with its two-tone colour scheme blending a petrol blue centre with a lighter baby blue tone on the minutes track and outer ring of the alarm disc. The petrol blue dial is sunray brushed contrasting nicely with the lighter blue areas with their white markings. As a practical, everyday watch, the incorporation of a date window is useful and sits under a bevelled frame at 3 o’clock. The dots over the hour markers, the triangular alarm indicator and the hour and minute hands are treated with luminescent material that glows a cool green colour in the dark.
Elapsed time timer
Nothing has been altered regarding the classic Memovox alarm-setting system. The crown at 2 o’clock is used to set the alarm via the internal disc. One problem with alarms is that once they are set, they will ring, even if you don’t want them to. You can alter the alarm time but the alarm will go off – and the alarm on the Memovox rings at a pretty high pitch. To deactivate the alarm of the Memovox all you have to do is set it to the current time and push the crown back in. Problem solved.
What about the timer, though? Located in the centre of the dial on a silver disc with a granular background and raised polished numerals, the indicator of the timer is the small hand with a red tip (looks a bit like a flattened anchor but it is actually the scrolling pattern featured under the JLC logo). The idea behind the timer is to signal the time you have left before catching a train, ending a meeting or picking up the kids from school.
Not too big, not too small
The Memovox Timer comes in a new case from the Master Control family. Made from stainless steel, the case measures a very acceptable 40mm x 12.39mm and features the signature twin crown configuration of the original. With its sloping bezel, curved lugs and mix of polished and satin finishes, the simple case does not detract from the dial and its 50m water-resistance make it robust enough for everyday wear and tear. The big novelty here is the incorporation of a sapphire crystal caseback.
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.
Although the case is new and there is an additional alarm function (timer), the 1950s spirit of the classic Memovox rings on. The idea of a mechanical alarm might seem somewhat old school in these days of electronic gadgetry, but that is an endearing quality that many will warm to. The fresh two-tone blue dial is particularly attractive, and being able to watch the hammer striking the gong is fun, but I am not entirely sure that I would use the timer function as much as I would use the alarm. What are your thoughts?
Availability & price
The Master Control Memovox Timer comes on a matching blue alligator strap with blue stitching. It is a limited edition of 250 pieces and retails for EUR 16,400.
For more information and prices in your region, please visit jaeger-lecoultre.com.