Mime With Time: Charlie Chaplin and the Evolution of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox

In this feature, courtesy of our friends at WatchTime India, we take you through the evolution of the iconic Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox, along with offering an exclusive peek into the estate-turned-museum of one of the watch’s famous fans, legendary silent-film star Charlie Chaplin.

Fueled by a pent-up consumer demand and rapid industrialization, the post-World War II years witnessed a myriad of employment opportunities. This was also the time when watch companies started focusing on sleek, practical wristwatches over military timepieces.

Designed to help businessmen keep up with their busy schedules, the Memovox from Jaeger-LeCoultre made a remarkable entry in the 1950s (vintage model pictured below). Equipped with an alarm function, the mechanical, manually wound watch distinguished itself with an additional crown on the side that helped control the chiming function.


Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox watch - 1950

This was also the watch that the Swiss authorities of the Canton of Vaud presented to the famed film actor and director Charlie Chaplin in 1953 when he moved to Switzerland. Along with their eight children, Chaplin and his wife Oona lived in a beautiful, neoclassical estate in Corsier-sur-Vevey, on the banks of Lake Geneva.

Charlie Chaplin home - Geneva

Last April, the estate (pictured above) was converted into a museum dedicated to the life and times of Charlie Chaplin. The museum covers various aspects of the Little Tramp’s life — his childhood, movies, family, and more. The Hollywood studio here offers a peek into Chaplin’s cinematic world, taking visitors through the playful alleys and sets dedicated to some of his best films. It is in this very museum (photos below) that Chaplin’s 1953 Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox resides. Fully restored by Jaeger-LeCoultre, this vintage watch shares a long history with the artist and his family.

Chaplin Museum - 1
Chaplin Museum - 2
Chaplin Museum - 3

Housed in a yellow-gold case, the legendary 34.5-mm Memovox (below) was inscribed with the following message on its caseback: “Hommage du gouvernement Vaudois à Charlie Chaplin – 6 octobre 1953.”

Charlie Chaplin's Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox - back_1000
Charlie Chaplin's Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox - back - inscription

Today, the 1953 version of the Memovox provides a strong base for a long line of iconic Jaeger-LeCoultre mechanical watches with chiming functions. Among them are the following:

1. The Memovox Automatic, 1956

Three years after the inception of the Memovox, Jaeger-LeCoultre took the timepiece to a whole new level, introducing the world’s first automatic watch equipped with an alarm function. The Maison also diversified its audience further to include adventurers and sportspeople with advertisements declaring the watch as “Memovox, pour l’homme d’action” (“Memovox, for the man of action”).

Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 815

2. The Memovox Deep Sea, 1959

Equipped with the automatic Caliber 815, this timepiece was the world’s first divers’ watch equipped with an alarm. The main objective was to develop a device that would help to ensure the safety of the diver.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Deep Sea - 1965

3. The Memovox Polaris, 1965

Debuting in 1962, this timepiece came equipped with the Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 825. Born during a time in which watches were exploring the ends of the universe, the 50-piece pre-series was launched in 1963 with a 42-mm case designed to enhance the readability of the time on the dial. However, the main evolutions involved the striking mechanism, which was designed to allow a diver to hear the alarm more loudly underwater; and the triple caseback, meant to ensure that the sound wouldn’t get muffled by the diver’s neoprene suit, and also to stop any water from seeping into the case.

jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Polaris - 1967

4. The Memovox Polaris II, 1971

Introduced as an evolved version of the 1965 Memovox Polaris, the Polaris II was unveiled in 1971 and fitted with Caliber 916, which came from the family of high-frequency automatic movements that Jaeger-LeCoultre began developing in 1970. Fact: the innovations surrounding the winding system – with an oscillating weight capable of turning freely in either direction to wind the barrel — served as the major inspiration for the modern Calibre 956, which powers the Master Compressor Memovox.

5. Memovox Tribute to Polaris, 2008

Maintaining its loyalty to the aesthetic of its ancestors, Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced two Memovox Tribute to Polaris limited series in 2008: the “1965” and the “1968” models. The difference between the new models and their vintage forebears? The timepieces were developed to meet the modern standards of precision, sturdiness, and reliability, and came equipped with Caliber 956 – complete with a striking mechanism composed of a gong suspended from the caseback.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Tribute to Polaris 1965

6. Master Control Memovox and Master Grande Memovox, 1998 and 2000

The Master Control Memovox came with Caliber 914 – a performance which was certified after 1,000 hours of testing.

The Master Grande Memovox was driven by Caliber 909-440/2, which had a perpetual calendar and moon-phase, and also replaced the classic Memovox resonance caseback with a suspended gong.

7. Master Memovox Tribute to Deep Sea, 2011

Paying tribute to the original model with a limited series re-edition, the Tribute to Deep Sea came in two models — like the original, one for the Europeans and one for their U.S. counterparts — which were distinguished by their dials. One had a black dial, the other a black and gray dial with a vintage “LeCoultre” signature.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Tribute to Deep Sea

8. Master Memovox Boutique Edition, 2016

Limited to 500 pieces, the Memovox Boutique Edition pays a contemporary tribute to a 1970s model, the Memovox Snowdrop. The caseback of the timepiece has the “1000 Hours Control” symbol in the center, certifying the 1,000 hours of rigorous functioning and reliability tests undergone by this horological instrument. Click here for a detailed report on this watch.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Memovox Boutique Edition

Read more from Gurvisha Ahuja and the rest of the WatchTime India team at their English-language website, www.watchtime.in.

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