A Mechanical Alarm Watch That Every President Owns
Forget about figuring out how to set the alarm on your new Apple Watch. The Vulcain Cricket can wake you up in the morning and you don't even have to plug it in at night.
An alarm watch is exactly what it sounds like: In addition to keeping the time, the movement will trigger a tiny hammer to ring a gong at a designated moment. In the days before digital timers, it was either a mechanical alarm clock like this—or a rooster (or, OK, a bedside clock). Vulcain was the first to shrink the technology into a wrist-size package that was still loud enough to do its job, and in 1947 it started selling the Cricket alarm watch. Since then, a few competitors have popped up like the Tudor Advisor and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox, but alarm watches are a tiny niche in the already niche world of mechanical watchmaking.
The 42mm case size is about the only giveaway that these new Crickets are modern watches.
Everything from the guilloché dials (available in a ton of colors) to the shapes of the hands to the scoring on the outside of the crown is faithful to the early Crickets from the 1940s and ’50s. Even the crystals, although sapphire and not acrylic, are domed to mimic the originals. The cream and gray guilloché dial variants are my favorites, and I'd be hard-pressed to choose between the two.
Setting the Alarm
If you've never used an alarm watch, a quick tip: The Cricket will only let you set an alarm 12 hours out. Each tick mark between the hours (you know, the ones you usually use to count individual minutes) is good for 10 minutes on the alarm scale, but you won't be able to go more than 12 hours after the current time. Vulcain helps you out here by marking the outermost scale "10-30-50" between each larger baton. You wind the crown toward yourself to power up the alarm, press that button at 2 o'clock to deploy the crown, and then use the crown to set the pointed alarm hand. (It sounds much more complicated than it actually is, I promise.)
What makes the Cricket tick is Vulcain's in-house V-11 movement. It has a rather industrial finish to it, but not in a bad way at all. The cut-out wheels and matte finishes show attention to detail without being flashy, though the large V-logo bridge floating above the movement seems like branding overkill. The movement has a 42-hour power reserve (which is manually wound and stored in two barrels), and the alarm system is fully integrated into the movement instead of being a module slapped on top. The sound is about as loud as you're going to get from a tiny metal object—think, well, a loud metal cricket—and unless you're a very heavy sleeper it should do its job without any problems.
During the mid-20th century, Vulcain Crickets proved to be one of the favorite watches of U.S. presidents. It all started with Harry Truman, who purchased a very early gold Cricket while living in the White House, starting a trend that's seen a Cricket given to every president since Truman, including President Obama. Both Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson could be seen wearing theirs frequently while in office. A 99-piece limited edition out this year commemorates the Vulcain with a mother-of-pearl dial and vintage-style logo.
The Vulcain Cricket starts at $6,700 in stainless steel and goes up to $11,000 for the limited-edition 1947 anniversary watch.