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Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Memovox, the sweet sound of...
History & Masterpieces

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Memovox, the sweet sound of time

Wednesday, 01 May 2019
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Marie de Pimodan-Bugnon
Freelance journalist

“One must be absolutely modern.”

Arthur Rimbaud

It takes passion, a healthy dose of curiosity and a sense of wonderment to convey the innumerable facets of watchmaking…

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4 min read

“Memovox reminds, notifies and awakens” – a 1950 advertisement alerted the public to the merits of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s new alarm watch. Classically elegant, resolutely functional, it would be the first in a long line of timepieces that still stand out today.

In 1950, Jaeger-LeCoultre launched a new model for businessmen. With its alarm function intended to remind them of their appointments, the Master Memovox – whose name means ‘voice of memory’ – became the first in a long succession of alarm watches that Jaeger-LeCoultre has constantly improved, on both aesthetic and technical levels.

Memovox Tribute to Polaris 2018 © Jaeger-LeCoultre
Memovox Tribute to Polaris 2018 © Jaeger-LeCoultre

The very first reference was equipped with Caliber 489, a manual-winding movement. Its gold case with its classically understated style bore an additional crown serving to control the alarm function. While the watch appealed to white-collar workers during the post-war boom period, Jaeger-LeCoultre decided to take it in an entirely different direction. In 1956, the Master Memovox welcomed a new caliber and became the very first self-winding watch with an alarm function. The brand no longer targeted businessmen, but instead sporty individuals and adventurers of all kinds. Its finest asset was its functionality and the alarm found a wide range of applications. In 1958, as travel was becoming ever more widespread, the Maison presented a new Worldtime model as well as a Memovox Parking model serving to monitor parking meters and warn the wearer when time was up.

Underwater icon

In 1959, the Memovox gave a vivid demonstration of its sporting nature. Equipped with self-winding Caliber 815, the Memovox Deep Sea became the first diver’s watch equipped with an alarm – a practical function designed to offer divers enhanced security. As the world was taking an ever more passionate interest in adventure and explorations of seabeds, space and the Earth’s poles, the Memovox naturally kept pace. Housed in a 42mm case – a particularly large size for the period – the 1963 Memovox Polaris once again innovated with an unprecedented triple caseback system that increased the volume of the alarm under water by preventing its sound from being muffled by contact with the diving suit. In 1967, the watch’s sporting spirit was once again highlighted by several aesthetic adjustments, including luminescent baton-type hands, numerals and hour-markers. This design would become a benchmark and an inspiration for the Memovox Polaris collection unveiled by the Maison 50 years later, in 2018.

Memovox Polaris 1968 © Jaeger-LeCoultre
Memovox Polaris 1968 © Jaeger-LeCoultre

Meanwhile, the saga of this legendary model continued in step with successive improvements. In 1971, high frequency made its grand entrance to the collection with Caliber 916 and its 28,800 vibrations/hour, fitted inside the Memovox Polaris II. In 1998, the Master Control Memovox was introduced, powered by Caliber 914 whose reliability was certified by one thousand hours of testing. Two years later, the Master Grande Memovox was equipped with a perpetual calendar complete with moon phases, and for the very first time with a suspended gong. 2002 witnessed the introduction of the Master Compressor Memovox.

Still going strong

Over the years, other models have paid tribute to the spirit and the aesthetic of the most memorable Master Memovox references, leading up to the 2018 launch of a new Polaris Memovox collection of five models with a vintage touch, inspired by the 1968 Memovox. They are an automatic with a nicely balanced, sporting design; a chronograph in steel or pink gold versions, both with an in-house movement; a titanium chronograph with a world time function for travellers, and a Polaris Date that revives the design tropes of the 1968 model. Not forgetting the Polaris Memovox, a 1,000-piece limited-edition anniversary model with three crowns: one to set the alarm, a second to adjust the inner rotating bezel, and a third to set the time. Keeping time is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 956, a direct descendant of the first automatic alarm movement which the brand developed in the 1950s. Constantly updated and improved, it remains a rare example of a movement still in production 60 years after its creation and witness to a long-running saga of watches that give an elegant ring to time.

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