Alarm watches are unique in the watch world. Even in an industry governed by idiosyncratic tastes, timepieces with alarm functionality often remain on the horological periphery for many enthusiasts. Despite that, there are a few brands that immediately come to mind when the topic is mentioned among collectors. Among those, there is one that is widely considered a Holy Grail: the original Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Polaris from 1968.
As one of the more identifiable models from the history of Jaeger-LeCoultre, the 1968 version is also one of the rarest. Less than 2,000 were produced in the original run although there have been multiple Memovox (sans Polaris) reissues over the years, most recently in 2016 with a boutique edition of 500 set within the Master Collection.
This year, however, marks the 50th anniversary of the very specific Memovox Polaris and Jaeger-LeCoultre chose to honor this golden jubilee with the launch of the new Polaris Collection based entirely off the original alarm watch’s design but extended into different arenas such as chronographs, worldtimers, and time-only models.
This new Polaris Memovox (Jaeger-LeCoultre switched the Polaris identifier in front of Memovox in accordance with the collection’s name) functions similarly to the 1968 model. Three crowns offer control over the alarm function and time setting. The first crown allows you to wind the alarm function and then set the alarm and date when it’s pulled out, the middle crown doesn’t pull out and allows you to adjust the bidirectional inner rotating bezel, and the lower crown is the one that allows you to adjust the time.
With the crowns, it’s worth noting that despite the nautical provenance of the original Memovox Polaris, and the fact that it is rated for a water resistance of 200 meters, none of the crowns are actual screw-down crowns. This, and the fact that the watch features a bidirectional bezel, means that it is not ISO-compliant so it should never be used for any sort of scuba diving.
This is neither a good or a bad thing. Overall, the new Polaris Collection allows Jaeger-LeCoultre to embrace a sportier side that it has lacked over the past few years. With the focus on building out the Master line plus the dominating presence of the Reverso, there hasn’t been much room for the growth of the luxury sports segment within the Jaeger-LeCoultre catalog. In that regard, the Polaris Memovox is not a dive watch but is a sports watch with a dive heritage that can be positioned at the head of the greater Polaris Collection.
When setting the alarm function, which is indicated by the arrow on the center dial, you must align the marker with wherever the hour hand will pass it by, a difficult task to do to the exact minute. After being fully wound and properly set, the alarm goes off for around 15 seconds, emitting a deep, guttural growl of a ring rather than the harsh, high-pitched, screeching buzz you might be used to if you’ve been around other alarm models. It’s a pleasant ringing that has a much fuller sound than that of your typical alarm clock. There was more than one time in the week that I wore the watch, that after forgetting I had set the alarm earlier in the day, I was awakened after dozing off on the couch by its persistent yet gentle, loud yet soft, alarm.
Another distinguishing trait of the Polaris Memovox is the distinctive dial architecture with its mix of various finishes across the three concentric circles. There’s a smooth opaline finish on the inner rotating bezel that is complemented by a grained finish where the applied Arabic numerals and trapezoidal indexes that are filled with a pool of “faux-patina,” vanilla-colored SuperLuminova are set, and a snailed finish across the minute-track. Finally, the inner circle with the alarm indicator features a sunray finish. This set of finishing is, as mentioned, directly inspired by the 1968 Memovox Polaris and is the dominating trend throughout the greater Polaris Collection, connecting the line of six timepieces together.
The cases in the Polaris Collection feature a blend of brushed and hand-polished finishes with sharp lugs. The trio of crowns is one of the sole factors that has been redesigned from the original Memovox Polaris. They were overhauled for a better grip and now include a “JLC” logo rather than the original cross hatch pattern.
Inside the 42-mm watch (the same size as the 1968 version) is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 956 with a striking mechanism and gong. This caliber is actually a direct descendant of the original automatic alarm movement developed by the brand in the 1950s. It has a 44-hour power reserve.
The choice to remain at 42 mm was a great one. However, the watch sits high on the wrist due to the closed caseback extension meant to amplify the alarm. That’s one of the reasons the alarm sounds much louder off your wrist rather than on. At 15.9 mm thick, it’s difficult to wear with a dress shirt and if you have a small wrist, it has a dominating presence. Despite that, the fantastic rubber strap, which features a Clous-de-Paris pattern, helps make the watch exceedingly comfortable to wear. It also utilizes a steel folding buckle.
On the caseback, there’s a well-designed anniversary seal at the center commemorating 50 years since the original Memovox Polaris and a vintage dive helmet.
At $12,600, the price is definitely steep but is justified thanks to its limited-edition status and the overall execution. Not only is the new Polaris Memovox a fitting tribute to one of horology’s most cherished alarm watches, but it is a beautiful watch in its own right. The design was ahead of its time in the late 1960s and still feels fresh and unique in its own way. There’s a whole lot to love about this watch, filled with whimsy and heritage and still as distinctive as it was 50 years ago.
You can read our review of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Chronograph here.
You can read our interview with the Jaeger-LeCoultre Product Design Director Lionel Favre about the design challenges of the Polaris Collection here.
You can read more about the history of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Polaris here.