To most historians, the year 1968 was defined mostly by tragedies and setbacks — the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the escalation of the war in Vietnam, unrest and protests on college campuses — but to students of horological history, the year offered some bright spots. One of these was undoubtedly Jaeger-LeCoultre’s introduction of the now-famous Memovox Polaris, a diving watch with a mechanical alarm. That iconic timepiece is the inspiration for the Swiss brand’s headliner release at SIHH 2018: the new Polaris collection, comprising five new models. Here’s what we found out about them.
Available in the new range are a three-hand automatic; a chronograph; a chronograph with world-time function; and two models that most closely channel the look and feel of the original 1968 model, the Polaris Date and the Polaris Memovox. The collection is unified — despite the inclusion of two complications that were never associated with the original Polaris Memovox — by several elements that call back to that ’68 vibrating diver. Each dial consists of three concentric circles with contrasting finishes: sunray in the center, graining on the outer circle with its vintage-inspired Arabic numerals, and opaline for the rotating inner rotating bezel flange. That rotating flange, and the second crown that operates it, is the other major feature from the historical model that unites the new family, which is in a sense an extension of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s limited-edition “Tribute to Polaris” model from a few years ago. The hands are large and luminous-coated, and the indices have a trapezoidal shape that echoes those on the original Polaris.
The Polaris Automatic is the simplest of the new models, with just a three-hand time display and no date, offered in a stainless steel case with alternating brushed and polished finishes and measuring a contemporary 41 mm in diameter. Its inner rotating bezel has a diving-inspired scale (though it’s bi-directional rather than unidirectional, so best not to actually use it for diving). Inside is Jaeger-LeCoultre’s automatic 896/1, with a 40-hour power reserve. The dials are in black or “ocean” blue, and the watch is available on either a leather strap or a newly designed three-link steel bracelet with a new folding buckle. Prices on the Automatic range from $6,600 to $7,600.
Another case material, titanium, makes an appearance in the range’s largest and most complicated model, the Polaris Chronograph WT, a traveler-friendly watch whose second crown (at 10 o’clock on this model) controls an inner rotating city disk with 24 world cities representing the world’s 24 major time zones. (This is, of course, in addition to the two chronograph pushers to operate the built-in stopwatch.) The wearer simply rotates the disk to see at a glance what time it is anywhere in the world. The movement powering all of this functionality is Jaeger-LeCoultre’s manufacture Caliber 752, with automatic winding and a 65-hour power reserve. Ocean blue and black dials are available on this one, also. The prices are $14,500 on calf leather, $14,600 on alligator leather.
The final two members of the new family are designed to pay the closest homage to the original. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Date, while not encasing a mechanical alarm like its famous predecessor, is about as faithful a replica as you’ll find in terms of aesthetics. This model’s trapezoidal indices are treated with a vanilla-colored Super-LumiNova meant to evoke the aged look that the tritium-treated indices of those early Polaris watches now sport. The case is stainless steel, 42 mm in diameter, and has a box-shaped crystal over the dial like the historical model; also like the vintage piece, its caseback is solid and features an engraved Scuba diver’s helmet, and its dial has a date window at 3 o’clock (a feature left off of the new Polaris Automatic). Behind that engraved caseback beats Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Caliber 899/1, with a 38-hour power reserve. As the 1968 Memovox Polaris was designed as a serious diver’s watch, this tribute model boasts a 200-meter water resistance (as opposed to 100 meters in the previously discussed models). It is available on a new rubber strap with a clous de Paris pattern, which is perhaps better for diving than the original’s leather strap. It is priced at $7,750 on a strap and $8,700 on a steel bracelet.
Finally, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox, which is a limited edition of 1,000 pieces, channels most directly the spirit of the original timepiece, containing a crown operated mechanical alarm function driven by the modern Caliber 956, a direct descendant of the very first self-winding alarm movement, created by Jaeger-LeCoultre, in the 1950s. This movement, which packs a 44-hour power reserve, ticks inside a 42-mm steel case that is water-resistant to 200 meters. Like the Polaris Date, it sports the vanilla-colored, “aged patina” luminous indices, the solid caseback with divers’ helmet engraving, and is available on either the patterned rubber strap or a steel bracelet; both versions are priced at $12,600.