Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Timer
If there’s a watchmaker you should know about that flies under the radar, it’s Jaeger-LeCoultre. Creator of some of the finest movements to ever wear someone else’s badge—here’s looking at you, all of the top three—Jaeger-LeCoultre has masterminded many of the most impressive and intricate mechanisms to ever sit atop a wrist. But it’s not all complexity and high horology; some of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s best inventions are the ones that are the simplest, and yet most clever. Here are three different ways Jaeger-LeCoultre used leftfield thinking to create something unexpected.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Parking
When Jaeger-LeCoultre first released its revolutionary new alarm watch in 1950, the Memovox, I expect it was pretty pleased with itself. No more glancing at your wristwatch over and over again; simply set the alarm disc to your chosen time and let the watch do the rest. On the ground, in the air and even underwater, the Memovox alarm was genuinely a handy little device to have around.
But Jaeger-LeCoultre being Jaeger-LeCoultre, this wasn’t enough. There was more that could be made of this most practical of complications. Today we think of tourbillons and minute repeaters as the mark of the best watchmaking, outdated functions with no real use—but back then, people actually needed their mechanical wristwatches to get them through the day.
So, Jaeger-LeCoultre had a brainwave. It was the 1950s, and the streets of Manhattan were brimming with cars. A car was no longer the commodity of the ultra-wealthy; soon, every Wall Street broker and Madison Avenue ad man was to be seen tearing through the streets in their shiny, new automobiles. And so, parking had become a problem.
The first parking meters had started popping up in the mid-1930s, and quickly spread through city after congested city into the forties and fifties. By the sixties, Manhattan was to be patrolled by meter maids, writing tickets for traffic violations from unpaid parking to a lapsed ticket. Of course, no high-flying business executive wants the worry of a parking meter on their mind, and so Jaeger-LeCoultre stepped in to help.
Back then, the mechanical meters were programmable in half-hour increments, and so Jaeger-LeCoultre adapted the disc of its Memovox to have these quick references easily available to its motorcar-operating owner. Park the vehicle, feed the meter, set the watch—and when the alarm goes off, you come back to beat the police and save yourself a fine.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox International
The 1950s was also an era of vast growth in international travel, thanks to the technological leaps in aviation through the Second World War. The first jet airliner, the de Havilland DH 106 Comet, took flight in this decade, setting in motion the journey to fast, affordable, global tourism.
And not only that, but the 1950s also saw the installation of the first transatlantic telephone cable, as well as the introduction of semiconductors in telecommunication technology, and the sixties, the first telecommunications satellite, Telstar. All this reduced the price of telecommunications both domestic and international, prices falling dramatically.
As the reach of mankind became further and faster, the world shrank around it. A communication was no longer a letter sent from London and read a week later in New York—a businessman could have breakfast in England and shake hands with his American associates over lunch the very same day. All of a sudden, people needed to know what time it was around the world.
Of course, Jaeger-LeCoultre was quick to capitalise. But developing a ground up worldtimer would be costly and slow—surely there was an easier, quicker solution. Once again, the Memovox is here to save the day. Still completely functional as an alarm, the Memovox International was converted to double down as a worldtimer with nothing more than a lick of paint.
As the watch already had a disc that rotated once every twelve hours, the geniuses at Jaeger-LeCoultre realised that it could also be used to read the time internationally. So, all the major cities of the twenty-four time zones were separated into twelve categories, to be aligned with the corresponding hour markers so the time of each city could be read at a glance. All you need to know is whether it’s AM or PM.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Memovox Timer Q410848J
These practical solutions are perhaps out of reach of the modern watch. With smart phones connecting everyone in the world in an instant and giving each of us access to all the information ever learnt by humanity, it seems that a mechanical watch has lost its usefulness and become somewhat redundant.
Of course, Jaeger-LeCoultre has found a way around that. For someone who wants to wear an elegant, beautiful watch, but still wants to have access to some degree of usability, the limited edition 2020 Master Control Memovox Timer offers exactly that. Never mind a chronograph for timing when the chicken is cooked or your kids should go to bed, something you have to remember to check—what you need is something you can set and forget, quickly and easily.
The Memovox alarm has always been a straightforward device to set, simply pointing the arrow on the alarm disk at the hour of your choosing for the alarm to sound—but that’s not always the way we want to use an alarm. More often than not we want an alarm that goes off in half-an-hour, an hour, five hours—a specific duration. With previous iterations of the Memovox, that would require a bit of mental arithmetic, figuring out what the time will be after those hours have elapsed and setting the alarm to that.
Not with the Memovox Timer, because just inside of the triangle used to set the time of the alarm is a numbered track, counting all the way up to twelve hours in half-hour increments. Now, if you know the number of hours you want the alarm to sound after, you can align the corresponding number on the disc with the red indicator and you’re done. The alarm will go off after those hours have passed.
And in true Jaeger-LeCoultre style, this additional functionality didn’t require a whole redevelopment of the movement—although the calibre 956 has been reworked so you can now see the alarm hammer and gong in action—but by simply adding the hour track to the existing disc and the red indicator to the end of the hour hand. That’s it! It’s such a genius idea in its simplicity that Jaeger-LeCoultre has even chosen to sign it—look closely and you’ll see that the red indicator is in fact the Jaeger-LeCoultre logo.
It’s said that there are no new ideas, but clearly Jaeger-LeCoultre has taken no notice of that and continues to surprise us with new and ingenious concepts, however complex or simple. The Master Control Memovox Timer continues a long trend of inventing the unexpected, using simplicity and creativity to yield ever more functionality from what already exists. Long may it continue.
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