Spotlight On: Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Memovox
by Hugh Taylor | September 18, 2017
Under the spotlight today is a highly distinctive piece from Jaeger-LeCoultre. The Memovox was one of the first wristwatches to feature an alarm, which meant when it first came out in the 1950s it was big news. Its calibre is perhaps best reflected by the fact that it’s strapped to Don Draper’s wrist in season one of Mad Men. Today’s edition, the 144.2.94.S, is a modern, relatively small version in rose gold. Here’s what I think of it and where it stands alongside its relatives.
The Memovox is well known in watch circles and it was once one of the watches of the moment for businessmen, who made use of its practical function. It wasn’t the first wristwatch with an alarm—a crown earned decades earlier by Eterna—but it was expertly made and technically cutting-edge. It was also beautiful, in fact its quirky look, with the twin crowns and sector dial, would go on to keep it in production to this day.
The present model takes its design cues from the 1956 edition, which was the first automatic wristwatch with an alarm. This layout is also used on the current Master Memovox, however the present version is 4 mm smaller, at 36 mm, and it comes in a black dial and with a clear caseback. For me, these are two big plus points as I prefer a smaller case, especially in a dress watch, and the movement on display is an excellently finished JLC in-house calibre, which adds an extra visual dimension.
The dial and case of the 144.2.94.S are a touch crisper than the original. The vibe is very much stripped back and clean, combining Arabic numerals with sharp, faceted triangle hour markers and hands. The two main design changes on the '56 version are the inner circle, a rotating disc that adjusts the alarm, which now features the word Memovox in delicate letters, and at 12 o’clock the numeral is removed in favour of the current JLC logo. Again both of these tweaks are clear improvements to me.
The modern case also has more elegant lugs and proportions than the fifties and sixties pieces, and its big crowns emphasise its dual-crownness, which is one of its key selling points. All in all the case is immaculate. It’s high-polished and faceted, cut from a solid block of rose gold. It sits very comfortably on the wrist and the strap is faultless.
As far as functionality goes, working it is pretty much the same as it has always been. The top crown sets the alarm and date and the bottom one winds the mainspring and sets the time. The alarm can be set for up to 12 hours ahead. Being a mechanical alarm it’s not particularly loud on the wrist, but if you take it off and keep it on the bedside table it will wake up most heavy sleepers. Also, the chime is not offensive.
Finally, where it stands alongside its peers. The Memovox has been in fairly steady production ever since the fifties and has come in a range of styles from ultra-thin models to world timers. Many vintage Memovoxes can still be found with quite good value price tags, which make them quite appealing, especially for those looking for the retro chic Mad Men look, but as I hinted at, I think the newer ones are a small step up visually, particularly in rose gold, albeit at over twice the price. As for the current offerings, there are two Memovoxes available in the Jaeger-LeCoultre catalogue, one in steel and the other in rose gold. The rose gold comes in either a marine blue or white dial. These are great and ideal for the larger watch fan, but again a touch more expensive than the 144.2.94.S which for me with its black dial is the pick of the bunch.
For more information, visit our dedicated pre-owned and vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre watches page.