Of the many watch complications available today, most of them offer a relative usefulness in their daily wear to an average consumer. The chronograph helps measure the time it takes for your toaster to pop, the perpetual calendar gives you a horological holiday to look forward to every four years (leap years), and the GMT function allows you to keep track of the time in a second time zone, often with the added fun of a 24-hour scale instead of the generic 12-hour one.
Enter the alarm complication — a seemingly imprecise and outdated feature put out of business by cellphone alarms and bedside clocks. Then enter the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Memovox to remind us once again that the main point of a watch complication is, for many, not its usefulness or practicality (although both of these traits are certainly desirable) — but for the pleasure it brings to the watch’s owner and all the benefits associated with it.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Memovox (which we covered here in an in-depth watch review) is a modern re-interpretation of the automatic Memovox alarm watch, released in 1956 — which at the time was the very first automatic-powered alarm watch available, and an update to the manually wound version from 1950. This piece from the 1950s was characterized with utilitarian steel or gold features and a purpose-driven functionality to wake its owner from slumber, as well as less obvious uses, such as reminding one of a meeting or to pick up one’s kids from school.
However, the modern Master Memovox is a very different watch. While the reference we are taking a look at today (Ref. 1418430) is still automatic, alarm-equipped, and available in steel or gold — this modern re-interpretation has many other, and more luxurious, aesthetic elements not previously seen in the sport watches produced 60 years ago.
With a 40-mm-diameter case, and a little over 14 mm in thickness, the Master Memovox sits prominently on the wrist displaying all its fascinating traits. On its silver sunburst, sectored dial lies an outer circle with applied Arabic numerals and triangular hour markers; a date indicator at the 3 o’clock position; and an outer minute ring with luminescent accents. Meanwhile, the inner section of the dial features the rotating, adjustable alarm indicator that can be moved via the topmost of the two crowns, a layout unique to alarm watches. This piece also takes advantage of alpha-shaped hour and minutes hands, a style not often seen these days, and a blued steel seconds hand.
Powering the watch, and behind the intricately engraved caseback, is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 956—an interesting albeit nontraditional automatic alarm movement that uses a “floating” alarm system for a louder, more distinct, and cleaner sound as compared to that of previously popular alarm systems that more often produced sound by hammering directly on the inside of the case. This movement (below, with a power reserve of about 45 hours) is meant to provide power for both daily-wear timekeeping as well as the sounding of an alarm to the wearer at various set times. The idea is that if you want to turn the alarm off, you would simply need to take the watch off for a while. The JLC Master Memovox is currently priced by various dealers at $7,250 for the steel variation, and at about $17,000 for the gold.
Compared to vintage versions of the original Memovox, this modern timepiece has elements that clearly pay homage towards its heritage, but simultaneously also offers an elevated level of luxury to justify its price. Most noticeable of the homage elements are the two crowns for the alarm feature, the sectored dial with triangular alarm indicator, the square date indicator, and the perception of functionality the modern watch offers to its wearers. Obvious differences from the original include the more modern, intricately finished case and caseback, the less-utilitarian dial with alpha hands and hour appliqués, and the contemporary movement and cleaner-sounding alarm function.
However, if I had to name one flaw that the modern piece shares with its vintage counterpart, it’s that, in both, the alarm function is not easy to turn off unless the watch runs out of power. This could present a problem for daily wearers on weekends or anytime they’re looking to avoid audible interruptions, but is less of an issue for non-daily wearers and for many watch enthusiasts who wouldn’t mind the occasional pleasant chiming of the alarm.
What I like about vintage variations of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox is that they are often relatively inexpensive (at least in comparison to other vintage JLC watches), and that their designed functionality offers a certain retro charm. At the same time, I can appreciate the modern Master Memovox for its continuation of this heritage (albeit at a higher price) while also offering another layer of luxury to add interest to the series. I think there is truly something special, and even somewhat primal, about wielding the power of a mechanical timepiece that can make a sweet noise — and, for most, the minute repeater is out of reach, so the alarm watch becomes a happy medium.
For our most recent article, in which I compare the modern Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5196 to its vintage counterparts, click here.
Caleb Anderson is the Director of Outreach at the online vintage watch boutique and blog theoandharris.com. Since starting at Theo & Harris, he has garnered extensive knowledge on vintage watches, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions within the field. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on watches, and a casual runner.