The alarm function is, in some ways, an underrated and unique complication in a watch. Like most other complications, we never really need it in today’s world, where any alarm is typically set with an iPhone or something similar (who really has an alarm clock at home these days?). However, unlike most other vintage complications, it is almost never paired with another complication (you don’t have an alarm-moonphase-chronograph, for example), and for good reason – it’s hard to imagine any moonphase or, god forbid, perpetual calendar being able to withstand the vibrations of an alarm function. For that reason, alarm watches are always distinctly alarm watches, and hence occupy an interesting niche in the world of vintage complications.
The first functioning alarm wristwatch was the Vulcain cricket, introduced in 1947 at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City [if you sold a vulcain cricket before, put a pic here]. And barely a few years later, Jaeger LeCoultre in 1950 released the manually wound caliber 489, and called the watch a memo-vox; Memo stood for the latin word Memorandum, which is a “thing to be remembered”, and Vox stood for voice. What a name for a watch with an alarm functionality, and perhaps representative of the French roots of the company – the Vulcain, of course, had a pragmatic American name – the Cricket Alarm. The Memovox had two crowns, the lower for winding up the movement and adjusting the time, and the upper to wind up the alarm function in a separate barrel. After winding up the alarm, pulling out the upper crown allowed you to adjust when the alarm would go off.
This was the same watch that the Swiss authorities of the Canton of Vaud, where Jaeger LeCoultre Manufacture is located, selected as a gift for Charlie Chaplin in 1953. The 1950s was also period of time where automatic watches became increasingly popular. This led Jaeger LeCoultre to introduce an automatic version of the Kaliber 489 in 1956, which they called the Kaliber 815, making it the world’s first automatic alarm watch. The top crown controls and winds up the alarm, while a bumper movement winds up the watch (though you can still wind up the movement with the lower crown)
This current example here holds that classic movement, and the alarm is as crisp and clear as it was back in the 1950s. This watch is particularly unique as it comes with an incredible tropical dial, aged to a nice warm caramel – I’ve never seen another Memovox dial that has a patina as interesting as this one. Furthermore the hands have also aged to a tantalizing shade of brown that perfectly complements the patina on the dial. The 37mm case is incredibly sharp and likely never saw any polishing in its life. The unsigned crowns are correct for this watch, and the movement is also signed Jaeger-LeCoultre and matches the signature on the dial. This is a unique example that just looks absolutely fantastic on the wrist.