The Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox: A Collector’s Notes
Vintage & Auctions

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox: A Collector’s Notes

Few brands can boast the pedigree of Jaeger-LeCoultre. But its oft-forgotten accomplishments seem to accumulate around the underappreciated Memovox, a mainstay in the JLC catalog for more than 70 years without interruption, and for good reason.

By Josh Hendizadeh

The Memovox by Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of the only watches in history to be so varied in terms of look, fit, feel, and design. From its inception, the design cues that all Memovox models shared were obvious: a second crown to operate the alarm complication and a little triangle inside the center of the dial.

That is why, today, we are taking a look back at some of the Memovox’s benchmark models that helped make this line so special.

First, Some History

Introduced at Basel in 1950 (or 1951, according to some sources), the Jaeger-LeCoultre “Wrist Alarm” (later dubbed Memovox) was, at the time, among the most important releases of the era. That is because the Memovox’s in-house manually wound Calibre 489 was the first alarm-equipped wristwatch movement to separate power reserves for timekeeping and the alarm (hence, the two crowns).

Moreover, during this time, the competition between brands was fierce over who had the best alarm complication. In fact, the original Memovox from 1950 was released to compete with the Vulcain Cricket, which had come out only a year before. Nonetheless, Jaeger-LeCoultre's Memovox held its own in the market and has stayed in the catalog continuously to this very day, in some form or another.

Memorable Memovox Models

Due to the varying models being spread across half a dozen collections, it is almost impossible to build a portrait of exactly how many different references and individual watches of the Memovox were made. In fact, between the 1960s-1980s, Jaeger-LeCoultre made sure the Memovox came in every shape and design:

There was the perfectly round 43mm Memovox “Snowdrop” Ref. E 877 produced starting in the 1960s.

Next came the ovate 36.8mm Memovox “Egg” Ref. 3072-916 from the 1970s;

Then there was the squared away 38.5 x 45mm Memovox “TV Screen” Ref. E 871, also from the 1970s.

And, of course, the legendary 42mm Memovox Polaris Ref. QVE859 diver from the 1960s (a personal grail of mine).

While the brand was busy making calibres for brands like Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, and more, the Memovox provided Jaeger-LeCoultre’s designers with the perfect platform to express their creativity, no matter how eccentric, within the safety of its own catalog.

“Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Memovox is the formative alarm wristwatch,” notes watch scholar and collector Charlie Dunne. “It was and is quite different as there was an entire product line of Memovox dress watches, calendar models, divers, and even travel clocks. By the 1960s, JLC had established itself as the most important name associated with the alarm watch.”

The Memovox in the 21st Century

Today, the Memovox lives on as a sports watch in Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Polaris line. So, why has the Memovox market not matured in the same way that other Jaeger-LeCoultre model lines have?

“Some models have reached the pinnacle of collectability, such as the E 855 Lapis Lazuli and the E 855 Tortoise Shell dial Memovox,” explains Mathieu Sauret, Product and Heritage Director at Jaeger-LeCoultre. “But maybe the new models are so modern that people do not feel the vintage vibe with them.”

I would argue the same; with many brands looking to the past for a resurgence, the Memovox feels left behind.

“The Memovox is one of the most beautiful watches ever made,” says noted collector Eric Wind, owner and operator of Wind Vintage. “I fell in love with them because they have simplicity of a time-only but with the stealth complication of the alarm. I have an E 850 that I believe is one of the most beautiful watches ever made and would gladly wear exclusively for the rest of my life.”

Final Thoughts

The Memovox is long overdue for an update. I would like to see a re-edition of the “Snowdrop” or some other iconic model from the past.

This writer has one of the supreme examples of the 37mm Memovox E 855 on the planet. It is the only watch that I’ve ever HAD to have after putting it on for the first time. And I still feel the same way about it today as I did when I first got it three years ago.

To learn more about Jaeger-LeCoultre, visit the brand’s website.

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