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Review: The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Memovox Timer

by Frank Chuo on June 22, 2020
Overview
Brand

Jaeger-LeCoultre

Complication / Type of Watch

Alarm
Timer

Recommended Retail Price

SGD23,300

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Memovox Timer

Think of alarm complications today and your mind inevitably wanders towards Jaeger-LeCoultre. While the Le Sentier manufacturer wasn’t the inventor of this useful complication, nor was it even the first to fit an alarm in a wristwatch, it has indeed created the most iconic alarm wristwatch known to date: the Memovox. The tale of the Memovox – literally ‘the voice of memory’ – began in the late 1940s. Post-war economic recovery had brought forth a surge of energy and inventiveness, and Jaeger-LeCoultre harnessed its mastery of chiming mechanisms to develop an alarm watch. In 1950, the first Memovox was born and the rest, as they say, is history. The decades that followed saw new variants of the Memovox introduced, including the Memovox Deep Sea in the ’60s, and the Memovox Polaris in the ’70s.

This year, 70 years after the first Memovox, Jaeger-LeCoultre introduces not just a refreshed Master Control Memovox model, but also a novel, limited edition variant featuring a never-before-seen complication on a Jaeger-LeCoultre watch. Here, we bring you the low-down and our thoughts on the new Master Control Memovox Timer.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The Master Control Memovox Timer is housed in a newly updated case for the Master Control series. More graceful than ever, the case is polished with the sides satin-brushed for visual contrast. Ever present are the two Memovox crowns at the 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock positions. Considered a signature element of the Memovox, the twin crowns fulfill different roles; the first is for winding and time-setting, the second is for the alarm complication. At 40 mm x 12.39 mm, the new Master Control Memovox Timer is modern in size but should still wear comfortably on the average wrist.

The finish on the new Master Control case for the Memovox Timer is surprisingly nuanced, with a mix between polished and brushed surfaced. Our favourite bit is the polished bevel along the lugs that tapers off at the proximal end.

As beautiful as the new Master Control case is, the real star of the show remains the dial of the Memovox Timer. The watch goes full contemporary with its two-tone blue dial. The dark blue parts are sunray-brushed while the light blue bits are opaline in finish. Then there’s also the curious inner ring that has been relief engraved with Arabic numerals and the script ‘MEMOVOX’. This is where the alarm function of the Memovox Timer is displayed. Here, the user has two ways of setting the alarm, as opposed to just one in previous models. The first is the conventional Memovox way, that is, to a desired time via the central disc. The second is a novel method – a first for Jaeger-LeCoultre – using the new Timer function, which enables the alarm to be set according to how many hours should elapse before the alarm rings (indicated by the red-JL-tipped hand). This functionality may be useful in day-to-day situations like getting a particular number of hours of sleep at a given night, or ensuring your bœuf bourguignon has been cooked for a sufficient number of hours in your overpriced Dutch oven.

The red JL-tipped hand offers a hint of passion to an otherwise cool dial.

Moving outwards of the central alarm indicators, we see the more familiar time and date displays. The hours and minutes are indicated by a pair of lume-coated dauphine hands, and the seconds are indicated by a long lancet hand. We like the simultaneous use of both applied Arabic numerals and arrowheads to mark the hours; we feel that it keeps things a little more interesting. Also of note is how the arrowhead markers interact splendidly with incident light, thanks to its polished, multi-faceted design. Outboard of the hour track is, of course, the minute track which sits on the perimeter of the dial and is embellished with lume dots at every 5-second interval.

The date display sits at the 3 o’clock position on the dial. We feel that the date display could be positioned a little better as it does appear to be off-balance relative to the hour track and hour markers. In fact, removing the date function altogether would almost certainly improve the looks of the dial. On the flip side, we have to admit that the date function is immensely pragmatic, and for a watch whose role is to facilitate punctuality, perhaps it isn’t such a bad idea to have the date handy on the dial.

The Master Control Memovox Timer is neither small nor ultra-thin, but it should fit under all but the tightest dress cuffs.

The Movement

Driving the Master Control Memovox Timer is the new 271-part, 24-jewel Calibre 956AA. The self-winding movement has a power reserve of 45 hours and operates at a modern 4 Hz frequency. In previous Memovox watches, the way the alarm worked necessitated the presence of a solid case back. Where the alarm gong was previously attached to the case back, in the Calibre 956AA, it is now connected to the case side. With this new peripheral gong, the movement could be made 15% slimmer than before. Wisely by Jaeger-LeCoultre, what hasn’t changed is the emblematic ‘school bell’ sound of the Memovox alarm.

The Calibre 956AA as seen through the sapphire crystal case back – a first for the Memovox.

With a solid case back now not needed, the brand has opted to do without it and instead fitted the back with sapphire crystal, allowing the movement to be viewed in its full glory. The first sight that greets onlookers is that of the golden winding rotor. It is openworked so as to not entirely impede the view of the beautiful movement behind. While not exactly ‘Geneva Seal’ quality in terms of finissage, the Calibre 956AA does feature numerous well-executed decorative elements such as Geneva waves, heat-blued screws, circular graining, and sunray brushing.

The Competitive Landscape

Alarm mechanical wristwatches remain a rare bunch even today. In fact, minute repeaters, in spite of their greater complexity, are apparently more common in the market. Apart from the Memovox, most enthusiasts probably aren’t cognisant of another mechanical alarm watch – this just shows how iconic the model really is. The Master Control Memovox Timer is not only Jaeger-LeCoultre’s newest Memovox model, it is also one of the brand’s most unique thanks to its Timer functionality. The watch is a boutique-only exclusive and is limited to 250 pieces only. This makes sense as you’d want to test the waters a little with such an exotic combination of complications. Available in only stainless steel, the Master Control Memovox Timer is priced at SGD23,300. As a side note, the Master Control Memovox Timer was introduced alongside the simpler, dressier, and timer-less Master Control Memovox.

The Memovox is the king of alarm wristwatches. Its name has become synonymous with the complication.

For something that has a similar energy to the Memovox Timer, look no further than 2018’s Polaris Memovox, which is a faithful remake of the original from the ’70s. With its black dial and chunky markers, the Polaris Memovox screams contemporary, casual, and even sporty. Beating inside it is the base Calibre 956 – which comes without the Timer function and still has the gong attached to the solid case back. The Polaris Memovox in stainless steel is limited to 1000 pieces and was priced at USD12,600 which translates to just under SGD18,000, similar to the price of the aforementioned Master Control Memovox.

The Polaris Memovox from 2018 – a fitting tribute to the original from the ’70s.

For something a little more haute, there is Patek Philippe and the Alarm Travel Time Ref. 5520P. It bears mentioning that this watch is over 10X the price of the Memovox Timer, at CHF200,000. The reason for this huge premium is manifold. For one, the watch is rendered in platinum. For another, the Ref. 5520P features superlative finissage on every milimetre of the case, dial, and movement. The alarm functionality on the watch is also more sophisticated and the acoustics, superior. For more details on the Ref. 5520P (and the four nubs that stick out of its case), we recommend reading our review of the watch here.

The Ref. 5520P is as peculiar as it gets for Patek Philippe. But let not its controversial design distract you from the amazing mechanics of this watch.

Final Thoughts

The Master Control Memovox Timer is, overall, a fascinating timepiece with gorgeous aesthetics and enough innovation to excite Jaeger-LeCoultre fans and watch enthusiasts alike. The only issue we have with the watch is the execution of the date display, which is just bizarre because there are so many easy fixes for it (e.g. redesign the dial slightly, remove the date display altogether, reducing the case size a little etc.), and the payoff for not fixing it is tiny compared to the obvious ill effect it brings to the dial. Is the date display a deal breaker? Well, no. The Memovox Timer, while also a tiny bit pricier than expected, is still an amazing timepiece with plenty of mechanics and aesthetics to love.

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