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Borrowed Time: Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox

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.

JLC Polaris Memovox 1968 - vintage
A vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Polaris. Credit: Analog/Shift
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.

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox
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.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox dial CU
Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox dial close-up
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.

The alarm rings once the hour hand passes it by, making it difficult to set to the exact minute. In this image, the alarm is set to ring a few minutes after 7:00.
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.

The caseback of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox.
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.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox - drawings
A sketch of the new Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox during the design process.
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.

The case features a brushed finish.
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.

Wristshot of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox
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.

Clous-de-Paris pattern on the rubber strap.
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.

Vintage Eye for the Modern Guy: Rolex GMT-Master II, 2018 Edition

Few watches hold as much distinction as the Rolex GMT-Master and GMT-Master II. From the series’ first introduction in 1955 , with the Ref. 6542, to its later transition into the GMT-Master II in 1982 with the Ref. 16760, all the way to today’s modern references, the series in all its adjustments through the years has remained as one of the most iconic “travelers’” watches throughout it all. For this reason, it was no surprise the newest GMT-Master II, the Ref. 126710BLRO, made such a splash at BaselWorld 2018 as it reintroduced a few of the series’ most appreciated features: a “Pepsi” bezel, an accompanying steel case, and the long-missed jubilee bracelet.
The last model of the Rolex GMT-Master II we covered in “Vintage Eye” was the Reference 116710, also known as the “Batman,” so-named for its black-and-blue ceramic bezel. This watch has been the standard-bearer for the series since 2013, and while it has come to be appreciated by many, it lacked the iconic red and blue “Pepsi” bezel that has been a hallmark of the family since its original release. In fact, the iconic feature hadn’t been seen on a steel watch since 2005, when Rolex switched from the aluminum bezel insert it had used since 1959 to the modern ceramic (from 1955 to 1959, a much more fragile Plexiglas insert was used). The explanation for the missing “Pepsi” bezel has been that the red-and-blue ceramic insert was difficult to produce, and so even when Rolex released a watch in 2014 that featured that insert, it had to be released in a white gold case (the Reference 116719), which raised the price and thus stymied demand to an extent.
Meanwhile, the dressier Jubilee bracelet has long been absent from this tool watch in favor of the hardier Oyster style, and hadn’t been seen in the series since the GMT-Master Ref. 16700 produced from 1989 to 2001. In fact, the Jubilee hadn’t been seen in any great quantities since the most popular GMT-Master, the Ref. 1675 produced from 1959 to 1980 (pictured above, via Fratello Watches). Yet this year’s new reference contains each of these elements — the bezel, the material, and the bracelet, and has done so while incorporating other aesthetic statements linking the modern watch to the style and mission of its ancestors.

The newest model is housed in a steel Oyster case with thick lugs, crown guards, and a screw-down crown; like many of the watches through the series’ history, it’s sized at 40 mm. Strapped on a jubilee bracelet, it has a prominent red-and-blue ceramic “Pepsi” bezel— the red symbolizing daytime hours, the blue representing the night— that is bidirectional and assists the wearer in tracking the time in another of the world’s time zones. Within the bezel is an outer ring engraved with repeating “Rolex” wording (common on the brand’s contemporary watches), with a subtle minute ring just inside of it. The black dial is a traditional GMT-Master II configuration, with a white-gold applied triangular hour marker at midnight, rectangles for the 6 and 9 o’clock spots, a cyclops date indicator at 3 o’clock, and applied circular markers for the remaining hours. Sweeping over the Rolex logo at the top of the dial and the additional descriptors toward the bottom are a white-gold “Mercedes” hour hand, sword minute hand, lollipop seconds hand, and triangle-tipped red GMT hand.

Within the monobloc case is Rolex’s new in-house automatic Caliber 3285, which, like all other GMT-Master II movements since 1982, allows the GMT hand to be set independently from the hour and minute hands; the movement has a power reserve of 70 hours and is COSC Chronometer certified. The new watch should become available later this year, and will be priced at $9,250
We would have trouble attaching the designs of the newest GMT-Master II to any specific historical reference, but we can discuss those traits prominent on the watch and seen throughout the tenure of the series. Foremost is the “Pepsi” bezel on a steel case: these features, however difficult for the brand to procure in the recent past, have long been the trademark of the GMT-Master, which is why their return is so desirable in the eyes of many collectors. Then there is the Jubilee bracelet, and while historically it has been the less popular choice of bracelet for the model compared to the Oyster style, it nonetheless channels an important era for the series and helps distinguish the modern piece. Outside of these key features, you’ll notice the similar dial configurations, 40-mm oyster case, and crown guards — all of which have been consistent elements on the GMT-Master II since its first development, and most of which have been consistent on the GMT-Master since its very first references
Still, the watch is unlikely to be mistaken as a vintage piece, and has been crafted by the brand to invoke its history while still maintaining its timely individuality. Besides the combination of historical features not seen in decades, with modern Rolex finishing practices to give away the watch as a contemporary reference, there are some other key traits to note. Namely, the bezel insert — like the one on the “Batman” watch that preceded it— is slightly beefier, made of ceramic, and most significantly, engraved, in comparison to the historical versions that were slimmer, aluminum, and printed on the inserts. The dial of the watch is modernized, most obviously by the “Swiss Made” marking at its bottom and outer repeating “Rolex” print on its edges, but also, possibly most importantly, by the lack of a faux-patina accenting so common on watches today — a clear indicator of the piece as a resolutely contemporary object.

Outside of aesthetics, ceramics, and improvements in finishing, the watch also holds some modern technical advancements. You’ll notice these most in the revisited “Easylink” 5-mm extension link on the watch’s “Oysterlock” safety clasp, which allows the wearer to easily extend or decrease the diameter of the bracelet; and also in the movement, which has an additional 20 hours of power reserve over its Caliber 3186 predecessor, seen in the last GMT-Master II iteration. Rolex has mentioned often that the new watch features more than 10 patents in its design, and it does seem to feature some of the brand’s best technical work as of yet.
Like most Rolex watches, the GMT-Master and GMT-Master II series have been marked through the years by gradual changes and improvements on a relatively consistent design. The newest reference is no different in this regard, but it is different that Rolex has explicitly recalled the history of the watch in the modern design. It was only a few years ago the brand seemed adamant against “homage” pieces, but now, after the widely popular — and still incredibly difficult to obtain— vintage-channeling Rolex Cosmograph Daytona released two years ago, and this year’s similar-ethos GMT-Master II, it seems Rolex may have had a change of heart in light of the growing vintage-inspired trend. What this means for the future is hard to tell, as it seems unlikely there will be a full-fledged vintage re-creation in any of the brand’s series any time soon. However, it does seem that Rolex is more open to further paying tribute to its history in newer watches. I might suggest revisiting the Milgauss next with some vintage flair — maybe with an outer red-tipped bezel and honeycomb dial? — but that’s just me.
Flying Ace: Tracing the History of the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch

IWC’s Big Pilot’s Watch became an instant classic when it was re-released in 2002. But its history stretches much further back in time. In this feature from the WatchTime archives, we explore the Big Pilot and its many evolutions over the decades.

The history of IWC’s popular Big Pilot’s Watch stretches further back in time than the histories of most wristwatches. IWC first made the watch for the German Air Force in 1940. Observation watches inspired the styling of this 55-mm-diameter timepiece, which encased pocketwatch Caliber 52.T.S.C. This timepiece has left its mark on the design of pilots’ watches today – together with comparable models from German manufacturers like A. Lange & Söhne, Wempe, Laco, and Stowa.

Distinguishing characteristics were the military triangle flanked by two dots at 12 o’clock, a sans serif typeface for the numerals (which include a 1 that looks like an unadorned vertical bar), and rhombic hands. Each of these features can still be found today on almost all current IWC pilots’ watches. Even the Mark XVIII preserves the family’s design, although its prototype, the Mark 11 pilots’ watch created for the Royal Air Force in 1949, used other marks and hands.

But the successor of the original model wasn’t unveiled until 2002, when IWC re-released the Big Pilot’s Watch with a 46-mm-diameter steel case and in-house seven-day Caliber 5011. With its large, eye-catching size and sleekly simple design, this watch soon distinguished itself as a masculine statement on the wrist. In addition to the characteristic dial, the conical crown is another unmistakable feature, and a user-friendly one, too, because the crown’s shape makes it easy to use when wearing gloves.

The diameter of the case of the classical Big Pilot’s Watch has remained unchanged (46 mm) from 2002 to the present day, although current versions encase the improved Caliber 51111. Like the Mark models, the Big Pilot’s Watch belongs to the Classic Collection, whose watches have casebacks engraved with an image of the classic Junkers Ju 52 aircraft. The watch has a strap crafted by the artisanal Italian shoe and leather goods manufacturer Santoni. Over time, IWC has built the Big Pilot’s watch family into a small collection. Here, IWC pursues several different paths: the new models are more historical, more modern, more complicated or more elegant than the classic.

Classic Collection also includes four Heritage models that are definitely worth a closer look. e 48-mm-diameter Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage 48 encases IWC’s own hand-wound eight-day Caliber 59215 and date display, but an even greater effect is achieved by the Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage 55: its 55-mm-diameter case contains hand-wound manufacture Caliber 98300, which amasses a 46-hour power reserve. Here, IWC is resuming its original diameter of 55 mm. With beige luminous material and a matte case, the newcomer’s style comes very close to its predecessor, even if it has a small seconds subdial; the original model had a central seconds hand.

IWC recently unveiled the Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage in a classical diameter of 46 mm. The unlimited edition has a titanium case, and the limited edition of 1,500 pieces is available with a bronze case. All are equipped with a soft-iron inner case to protect the movement against magnetic fields – the predecessor lacked this practical detail. The 48-mm version has a little window in the caseback, which offers a view of the balance and, according to IWC, scarcely detracts from the protection against magnetism.
IWC also offers an elegant version of the Big Pilot’s Watch in the Spitfire collection. Here the 46-mm case is made of rose gold, a sunburst pattern embellishes the anthracite-colored dial, and an engraving of a Spitfire fighter jet adorns the back. This line also includes a version that features the useful complication of a digital annual calendar: the 46-mm Big Pilot’s Watch Annual Calendar Spitfire is powered by manufacture Caliber 52850, which amasses a seven- day power reserve and can be admired through the sapphire back.

But IWC also knows its way around the world of modern design.The Top Gun Big Pilot’s Watch models combine a matte-black ceramic case and a textile-look wristband for a contemporary military touch that nonetheless preserves the other traditional characteristics. Here, too, a Big Pilot’s Watch is available in the classical 46-mm size. The titanium back bears the Top Gun emblem as a relief engraving. The wristband looks like it’s textile but is actually made of patterned calfskin for greater durability.
Another member of this line is the complicated Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun, which houses automatic Caliber 51614, based on the 50000 Caliber. In addition to the correct calendar with date, day of the week and month, it also displays the moon-phase with two lunar disks: one for the Northern and one for the Southern Hemisphere. A four-color version of the Top Gun logo adorns the caseback.

Here are also elegant models that commemorate French pilot and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his famous book, e Little Prince (Le Petit Prince). e classical Big Pilot’s Watch is currently available in a 46-mm steel case only as the Big Pilot's Watch Edition “Le Petit Prince” with a blue sunburst-embellished dial. e Big Pilot’s Watch Annual Calendar Edi- tion “Le Petit Prince” knows which months have 30 days and which have 31 days, so it needs man- ual correction only at the beginning of March. IWC offers it in rose gold or in white gold, each in a limited series of 250 watches. e sapphire back reveals a planet-shaped rotor and a por- trait of the Little Prince based on Saint Exupéry’s sketch, which he included in his book.

IWC also offers the annual calendar as the Edition “Antoine de Saint-Exupéry” with a brown dial, also limited to 250 watches, but only in rose gold. The sapphire back has a view of the rotor, which is similarly made of rose gold and depicts a Lockheed P-38 Lightning – the last aircraft flown by Saint-Exupéry.

The Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “Antoine de Saint-Exupéry” requires manual correction even less frequently because its calendar mechanism also switches correctly at the end of February – and does so not only in ordinary years, but also in leap years. This steel watch also has a sapphire back. The rose-gold rotor bears the letter A – the initial of the first name of the pilot and author; another letter A is on the dial. Unlike the perpetual calendar in the Top Gun line, this watch has a simple moon-phase display. IWC uses the elegant numerals with serifs on the annual calendars and on the perpetual calendar in this edition.
IWC has also released numerous special editions over the years: the Big Pilot’s Watch Edition DFB, the official watch of the German national soccer team, was unveiled in 2012 with a silver dial. There was a version made for the Patrouille Suisse aerobatic squadron (which also had a silver dial) and various editions for jewelers with yellow, orange or red numerals. Not counting these special editions, the current collection consists of 12 different models. More than one-third of all IWC pilots’ watches are Big Pilot’s Watches

Lenvino Watch Co. Launches the Lecronos “Race for Vintage” Collection launched in Hong Kong in January 2017, is described by its founders as “a group of watch addicts with the passion and constancy of traditional watch craftsmanship” who aim to “awaken people’s minds about the core function of a watch.”

In 2017, the micro-brand launched its first Kickstarter campaign to fund the World’s First Minimalist Design Rectangular Tourbillon Watch. After 40 days on Kickstarter, it raised a total of HK$ 427,860, resulting in the most-backed tourbillon project in Kickstarter history. On the heels of this success, Lenvino Watch Co. returns to Kickstarter to introduce the new Lecronos collection.

Lecronos takes its name and concept from the term “chronometer,” a descriptor for a watch with high accuracy and precision, and with it the Lenvino team strives to create authentic, high-quality timepieces by combining traditional watch craftsmanship with vintage-inspired design codes — timepieces comparable to those from high-end luxury brands but at a fraction of those products’ retail prices.

Drawing on the owners’ passion for vintage cars, Lenvino has introduced the Race for Vintage collection, with numerous details inspired by features of classic sports cars, including a dial designed to resemble a vintage tachometer. The watches are equipped with a reliable Japanese-made movement, the automatic Seiko NH 35A, which has a 40-hour power reserve and an accuracy of +/- 20 to 40 seconds per day. An innovative approach was also used to differentiate the hour hand from the minute hand. And the company will offer interchangeable racing style Italian calf leather straps and Milanese bracelets. The retail price starts at just $149, with many additional discounted packages from which to choose. The first 100 pieces of each model will be limited editions and individually numbered, with xxx/100 engraved on their casebacks.

The dial finds inspiration in the tachometers of vintage sports cars from the 1970s and 1980s. To differentiate the design from huge fashion watches that are going out in same, the designers stripped away all “unnecessary” elements from the dial and relocating them to inside of the the crystal, which is enhanced with a dashboard-style motif.

In order to help the user can read the time clearly, a creative approach to the time display was required. Normally, people will look at the outer part of the watch to find the hour then the minute. On this watch’s dial, the outer ring hosts the hours markers and the inner ring the minutes. Both are indicated by differently colored hands, red for the minutes and white for the hours, while a disk indicates the seconds.
The racing-style, interchangeable watch straps are made from genuine Italian calf leather. The straps’ design is inspired by racing gloves and punched with patterned holes for style and cooling. Each comes with a quick-release spring bar, so that the straps can be swapped in seconds without the need for special tools, and are available in five different colors: dark brown, navy blue, brown, black, and gray.

Meanwhile, the Milanese bracelets come with an adjustable buckle that can be accommodate any wrist size and is engraved with the LECRONOS logo. They are available in four different plating colors: silver, black, khaki gold tone, and rose gold tone.
Lenvino follows strict procedures to ensure the quality of the watches it produces. Every watch is quality controlled, undergoing a technical control check, quality assurance check, and a final quality check that involves a QC engineer rigorously testing all watches for water resistance, movement performance, resistance to shocks and impacts, and other criteria,to ensure each watch functions perfectly before it is shipped to a customer. All watches come with a five-year warranty and are expected to be ready for shipment direct to customers by September 2018.

Backers of the Kickstarter project have been vocal in their praise, with one proclaiming, “The Lecronos brand… designed a dial inspired by car dials while using a classic Seiko caliber. Their trick was to use the inner face of the sapphire crystal of the watch. Bravo! At a modest cost, these Hong Kong watchmakers have managed to offer an original model that is close to the dials of cars.” Another backer simply opined, “Nice design. But which color to choose?” Enthusiast website Watchuseek offered the following: “With Lecronos, Lenvino cleverly combines traditional craftsmanship with vintage motor car racing and the result is timeless design with contemporary flair. Together with the minimalist style of the watch, Lenvino has managed to produce a clean, cool looking retro dial with a new and fun way to read time.”