A mechanical alarm might not seem like the most useful watch complication when your iPhone and Amazon Echo can easily take care of getting you to that morning meeting on time, but to many of us there's something undeniably charming about a buzzing mechanical timepiece. A particularly handsome alarm watch is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox, which took on many shapes and sizes over the years. Here are a few versions to know right now.
Actually, before we get into the watches, it's important to understand how a mechanical alarm works. Basically there's a second spring inside the watch that powers a little hammer that rapidly bangs on a metal gong when the mechanism is triggered. You manually set the time on the dial, wind the alarm, and then wait for the ring to go off. Some watches are quiet, but most are more than loud enough (and often abrasive enough) to wake you up.
The very earliest Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox watches date back to sometime around 1950 and set the tone for the line that would develop all the way up to today. At the core is the central dial disk, manipulated with the second crown on the right side of the case. By turning this disc, you wind and set the alarm. It's a 12-hour schedule (so you're not sleeping 14 hours, sorry) and you simply line up the arrow with when you want to wake up. It's an approximation, but you can get within about 10-15 minutes pretty easily.
The early Memovox had slim cases that ranged in size, but by the 1960s Jaeger-LeCoultre had settled around 37mm, which is what you have in the all silver model and bullseye-style black and white model here. The size is a nice middle ground that wears well and looks surprisingly modern. These are definitely dressier watches, but JLC didn't stick to that formula forever.
The most collectable Memovox, I'd say, is the Polaris. In the early 1960s Jaeger-LeCoultre made less than 2,000 of this hybrid alarm and dive watch and they've become extremely collectable. You can see from the two examples here, one from 1960 and the other from 1968, that some of the smaller details on the dial and case changed, but the basics remain the same. The three crowns (all marked with hashes on the outside for added grip) adjust the alarm function, the hands, and the inner bezel, and the case has a double-caseback system with one sealed for underwater action and an outer one with perforations to let the sound out.
After the original Polaris, Jaeger-LeCoultre made a few sequels, including the Polaris II. This Polaris II dates from 1970 and looks every bit the decade it's from. The larger barrel-style case is anchored by a link bracelet and has dusty blue accents on the bezel and inner dial sections. The alarm function is the same, but this time the bezel is external and is rotated by hand, hence the missing crown. There are also modern limited edition re-issues of the original Polaris (that are actually well done), but good luck finding one of those still for sale.
Jaeger-LeCoultre isn't the only brand that made popular mechanical alarm watches. The list of others is relatively small when you think about how many manufactures have their own chronographs and calendars, but Vulcain and Tudor both stand out as titans in the field. Tudor has its Advisor alarm watch, a more minimal take on the complication that it still makes today. Until last year's North Flag watch with an in-house movement, the alarm module in the Advisor was Tudor's only in-house mechanism. Vulcain's Cricket alarms have been worn by presidents and other famous figures and have been the centerpiece of the brand's offerings since 1947.