In the last twenty or so years, the watch world has been inundated with reissues. Some brands seem to have become reliant on their back catalog for inspiration, while others are taking a more measured approach to the trend. Jaeger-LeCoultre is in the second camp: the Swiss maison responsible for the iconic Reverso has continued to produce modern watches at the pinnacle of horology while being highly selective in revisiting their past designs. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Tribute to Deep Sea reference Q2028440 revisits the brand’s debut diver, the Memovox Deep Sea Alarm.
When Jaeger-LeCoultre set out to develop their first dive watch, they wanted something that set it apart, so they looked to their existing Memovox line. Instead of the common 60-minute dive bezel, they decided to utilize an alarm to indicate when a set time had elapsed. The result was the first-of-its-kind Memovox Deep Sea Alarm, released in 1959. Setting the alarm would provide both visible and audible reminders, with the latter being even more pronounced underwater, where sound travels more efficiently. Jaeger-LeCoultre released two models: one for the European market, with a more simplified dial; and one for the American market, with bolder dial text, a 60-minute chapter ring, and “LeCoultre” branding (JLC was branded as LeCoultre in the US due to intellectual property issues). Produced from 1959 to 1962, only 1,061 were made, making it an ideal candidate for the brand to revisit. And in 2011, they did just that, recreating both versions of the watch in a limited run: 959 for the European edition, 359 for the American.
At hand is the American edition of the Memovox Tribute to Deep Sea, practically identical to its forebear, with a few concessions to modernity. The original 39.8mm case size was increased nominally to 40.5mm, and the hands now feature a generous application of luminous paint to match that of the 5 triangles throughout the dial and bezel. The included strap may look like your typical tropic rubber, but is in fact embossed leather, and features a traditional polished buckle. The 14.5mm thick case remains a true reproduction: long, polished lugs with a slim chamfer that runs the length of the case give way to a brushed, gently curved midcase. The screw-down caseback is polished features the exact diver motif as the original watch, with the watch’s specifications added around the perimeter. The vintage style push-pull crowns maintain the low profiles from the 1959 model, with a 2 o’clock crown that winds and sets the alarm and a branded 4 o’clock crown winds and sets the time. Everything is capped off with a domed plexiglass crystal—just like the original. And just like the original, the watch features 100m water resistance.
Surrounding the dial is a fixed 12-hour bezel with a matte black aluminum insert featuring Arabic numerals and triangular lume plots at the cardinal hours. The entire dial features a beautiful grainy texture. The peripheral ring is fixed and features a two-tone silver and black minute scale with 5-minute numerals surrounding long, unlumed minute hashes. The syringe hands are now filled with lume and extended perfectly to the interior and exterior edges of the minute hashes. The real standout is the rotating central alarm disc, with its solitary lumed triangle and elegant text. To set the alarm, one uses the 2 o’clock crown and lines the center triangle up with the desired end time relative to the minute hand; the resonant alarm will strike when the minute hand arrives at the alarm indicator. As one might imagine, one can find themselves with entirely upside-down dial text, a charming quirk they won’t encounter in any other timepiece.
The Tribute to Deep Sea features the hand-assembled and -decorated JLC 956 caliber, introduced in 2008 and finding its roots in the original Memovox Deep Sea Alarm movement, the JLC 815. While the 815 featured a thumping bumper movement, the 956 has been thoroughly updated for modern times. In addition to a two-toned central rotor mounted on ceramic ball bearings, the movement features 23 jewels and a variable-inertia balance, helping it achieve 45 hours of power at 4hz. Another important distinction from the older alarm movements is the alarm mechanism itself. Featuring an independent barrel to ensure alarm use doesn’t drain the main power reserve, the striking mechanism on the JLC 956 acts upon a case-mounted brass gong, whereas the older movements struck a peg attached to the caseback. This means improved reliability and durability, while maintaining the recognizable buzz of the original Memovox watches.
Versus the Competition
There is no shortage of vintage divers to choose from, and at present, no shortage of vintage diver reissues to choose from. But divers with alarms are scarce. The only other modern piece—outside of the Jaeger-LeCoultre marque—is in fact another reissue, from the other alarm watch brand, Vulcain. The Vulcain Nautical Seventies, however, falls short of the Memovox Tribute to Deep Sea as the former overcomplicates its dial and lacks the refinement of the latter. Along with JLC and Vulcain, plenty of brands currently have alarm watches in their catalogs, including the Glashutte Original Senator Diary, the Breguet Reveil, and the Ulysse Nardin Sonata. That said, if it’s a vintage diver reissue that you long for, you simply cannot go wrong with one of the faithful Fifty Fathoms recreations Blancpain has released, whether it be the MilSpec or the “No Radiations”.
With only 100m of water resistance, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Tribute to Deep Sea is not really about serious diving; with little flash and modest dimensions, it’s also not a showstopper. The Tribute to Deep Sea, then, is for the enthusiast with a passion for heritage and innovative design who enjoys the bit of quirk provided by the rotating dial and the buzzing alarm.
One of the most authentic recreations in recent memory, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Tribute to Deep Sea offers the owner an opportunity to own a piece of history with all the perks of modern watchmaking. With so few of the new editions released, it’s an opportunity not to be missed.