This year Jaeger-LeCoultre's Polaris collection welcomes two new members with technical upgrades that push them into the realm of professional-spec diver’s watches. The new arrivals – Polaris Mariner Memovox and Polaris Mariner Date and – are compliant to ISO 6425 specifications, are both depth-rated to 300 meters and feature a unidirectional inner-rotatable bezel with a 15-minute marker. More importantly, the Polaris Mariner Memovox is fitted with a sapphire crystal caseback allowing the user to see the hammer in action when the alarm does its thing.
The Polaris Mariner Memovox is the latest in a long series of alarm diving watches from the Le Sentier brand. The story begins in 1950 when Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced the Memovox, its first wristwatch with an alarm. The period through 1950’s and 60’s is considered the Golden Age of recreational diving, pretty much every important diver’s watch – from the Rolex Submariner to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and the Seiko Ref. 6217-8000/1 ‘62MAS’ – was released in this time. The alarm complication eventually rolled out to Jaeger-LeCoultre’s diving watches too with the launch of the Memovox Deep Sea in 1959. It made perfect sense – the watch had a visual timer (on the bezel) as well as a vibrating alarm to inform the user about time spent underwater. However, it was nearly a decade before it appeared in one of the coolest diver’s watches the brand ever made, the Polaris Memovox.
Unveiled in 1968, the Polaris Memovox featured a super compressor case with three crowns and a multi-layer caseback that optimized the alarm’s sound transmission under water. The first crown is for time setting, the second rotates the inner bezel for dive timing, and the third rotates the central disc to set the alarm time. The outer case had 16 holes that amplified the alarm tone while the inner case sealed and protected the movement. The watch was depth-rated to 200 meters and featured an inner rotatable bezel to measure the time spent underwater. The Quartz Revolution that swept the industry in the coming years ensured that less than 2,000 examples of the Polaris hit the market, adding to its allure and desirability.
After a limited edition to mark the 40th anniversary in 2008, Jaeger-LeCoultre presented an entire collection inspired by the 1968 diver that included the Polaris Automatic, the Polaris Chronograph, the Polaris Chronograph WT (World Time), the Polaris Geographic WT, and the Polaris Date. The flagship model was a limited edition Memovox that channeled the distinct looks – the super compressor case, triple crown, trapezoidal hour markers - of the original from 1968. The Caliber 956, the manufacture’s first automatic movement with alarm function, powered this watch. The striking mechanism involved a hammer hitting a metal gong fixed to the solid caseback.
A PERFORMANCE UPGRADE
We got a hands-on look at the new Polaris Mariner Memovox and Mariner Date a week before the official launch. Both of them feature a stainless steel case that is 42 mm in diameter. The key design codes of the Polaris are all there – brushed surfaces with polished and beveled lugs, and glass-box crystals. The crown used to set the notched inner-bezel is screwed-down to avoid any unintentional movement. The bezel can be moved in one-minute increments around the dial. An orange security band on the crown stem serves to warn users if the crown is not screwed-in completely.
Both models feature a blue gradient dial that recall the ones seen on Polaris models. The dial comprising three concentric circles is finished in different textures - while the center of the dial has a sunray-brushed finish, the middle ring has a grained texture. The outer band that holds the trapezoid-shaped indexes and Arabic numerals has an opaline finish. Legibility is excellent - the hands, numerals and indexes are coated with Super-Luminova, the minutes hand and the hour hands light up differently in the dark ensuring there is no confusion in reading time underwater. The running seconds hand is tipped in orange for daylight visibility, with a central luminescent section to avoid any possibility of confusion with the other hands.
The Polaris Mariner Memovox
The case profile is slightly thicker on the Mariner Memovox (15.63 mm) considering it houses an upgraded alarm-function movement. The manufacture’s engineers have revised 2008’s Caliber 956 to accommodate the transparent sapphire caseback. Since the gong is not attached to the closed caseback anymore, the striking mechanism had to be redesigned with the gong now attached to the case side.
You can flip the watch over to see how the hammer goes when the “school-bell” sound of the alarm comes on. Through the open-worked rotor, you can see the côtes de Genève decoration matching the fine finishing on the movement plates. The top crown is used to wind and set the alarm by turning the central disc of the dial so that the triangular pointer lines up with the desired alarm time, it is also used to set the date. The central crown operates the inner dive bezel and the lowest crown sets the time.
The Polaris Mariner Date
The Memovox is cool, but the Polaris Mariner Date has a real tool watch feel to it despite its trappings of elegance and luxury. I was impressed by how well it sits on the wrist and the build quality. It offers the classic diving-watch functions of hours and minutes, a unidirectional inner bezel, it comes with an instantly-jumping date display and running central seconds hand.
The 42 mm super compressor case is 13.92-mm-thick and as is typical of this type of case, it has two crowns on show - the upper crown for operating the inner bezel and the lower one for setting time and date.
This watch runs Caliber 899, a self-winding movement that Jaeger-LeCoultre uses in the Master Control line. Unlike the earlier versions that had a power reserve of 43 hours, the updated Caliber 899 used in the Polaris Mariner Date is good for 70 hours.
Both watches are presented with a stainless steel bracelet with a folding buckle. The three-link bracelet has brushed central and polished outer links and is extremely comfortable on the wrist. In conclusion, the two new additions sit well within the Polaris family that now has a great range of vintage-inspired and thoroughly modern timepieces.