Review: Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Mariner Memovox
There are dive watches and there are dive watches. There are a lot of dive watches, in fact. Choosing one isn’t so much a process of evaluating the pros and cons of each, weighing up the strengths of one and the weaknesses of the other because, well … let’s be real, they’re all pretty similar. Ultimately, it’s a question of the name on the dial, the price on the sticker, and rarely about the functionality of the watch itself. That’s true of most, but is it true of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Mariner Memovox?
Since watchmakers first cottoned on that they could make their watches resistant to water, they’ve been trying all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to make the most of it. I’m sure Rolex would have you believe that it fashioned the first timepiece designed to take a dunk, but the truth is that the maker of the famous Oyster watch borrowed its technology from the century before.
One of the earliest known water-resistant watches was to be found at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, where a watch manufactured by W. Pettit & Co. was to be found dangling on display in a goldfish bowl full of water. The screw threads used to seal it weren’t the only inspiration borrowed by Rolex it seems, who repeated the same goldfish bowl stunt in jewellers’ windows almost a century later.
But anyway, as tolerances became finer, gasket technology improved and alloys became more corrosion resistant, the requirements for a diver began to homogenise into one standard blueprint. Legibility, reliability, functionality and of course water resistance were drawn up into international standards to ensure the safety of the professionals using them, and to stand out was merely to improve on the format already established.
Take a look at a Nokia phone from the early 2000s, as screens started to become a little bigger and technology started to offer a little more than just calls and texts. Cameras started to appear, resulting in the phone-camcorder hybrid N90. The Blackberry changed the game with its full keyboard, and so Nokia responded with a full-size expandable keyboard in its 6820. Handheld gaming was growing in popularity, and so Nokia entered the fray with the N-Gage.
Rolex used to put it’s dive watches in goldfish bowls to show off waterproof capabilities
What you ended up with was a wild and varied array of designs, devices in all sorts of colours and configurations, until displays started getting bigger, touchscreens improved, and everyone evolved into the final form of the generic rectangular smartphones we have today. And once Blancpain established a blueprint for the dive watch in 1953, everyone else followed suit.
Thing is, there’s one manufacturer that just can’t seem to get on board with the idea of jumping on the bandwagon with everyone else. Jaeger-LeCoultre just isn’t a bandwagon rider, it’s a bit of a maverick, does things the way it wants to. If Jaeger-LeCoultre were a jet fighter pilot, it would definitely buzz the tower even when it was told not to.
So it goes like this: a dive watch was a diver’s lifeline, told them how long they’d been using a tank, how long they’d taken for decompression—all the stuff that stands between them and becoming shark food. The bezel is the tool watchmakers committed to for this variable, a simple time-tracking mechanism, but there’s one problem—it needs you to remember to look at it to be of any use.
Seems like a bit of a blind spot, so Jaeger-LeCoultre sought to work the problem out. The recipe was this: take one Polaris dive watch, sprinkle a little Memovox in it and voila—the Memovox Polaris, a dive watch with an alarm that actively reminds you not to die. It still had a bezel, internal of course—a simple external ratchet wouldn’t do for Jaeger-LeCoultre—but it was complemented by the easy-to-set and surprisingly loud double layer resonance chambered alarm.
The first Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox movement was introduced in 1950. It was manually wound and featured the iconic two crown alarm
This may not be the era of the gentleman diver anymore, but once again we find ourselves in a bit of a mire. When a new diver is released and the only difference from the old one is a millimetre in diameter and lugs a hair thinner, we’re in trouble. Things are getting stale. What we need is something fresh and interesting to get the blood pumping from its current lugubrious state.
And like it did back in the 60s, Jaeger-LeCoultre is here once more to remind us that diving watches can actually be a bit more interesting than the sea of black and steel bobbing out to the horizon—and I mean that quite literally, because this new Polaris Mariner Memovox is actually blue. And orange. Michael Bay would love it.
Read the on-paper spec and what emerges doesn’t sound so great: 45 hours’ power reserve, a day off the benchmark, 42mm case, over 15mm thick, which is pretty chunky, 300 metres of water resistance, the least you’d expect from something branded as a pro diver. At €17,400, it seems like it’s asking a lot.
But that’s not Jaeger-LeCoultre’s perspective. That wasn’t the perspective the brand took when it decided air temperature changes were a good way to power a clock, or flipping the case over was a good way to protect it. What Jaeger-LeCoultre brings to the table isn’t typically measurable by the standards we’ve come to expect, and that’s why the Polaris Mariner Memovox seems to blend in at first glance—but let’s look deeper.
The original Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Polaris was introduced in 1968
Like the watch Jaeger-LeCoultre chose to make its mark in the sixties, the Polaris Mariner Memovox too gets an alarm, powered by the calibre 956 and wound and set by the top crown—which also doubles as the quick date in reverse. Only this time, you get to see it, and that’s worth the price of entry on its own. There aren’t many divers with the capabilities this has that also reward you with a view into the engine room.
But it’s not just that, it’s the little touches. Like the crown that adjusts the internal timing bezel, which has an orange security ring warning revealed when it’s pulled open to set. Or the hour and minute hands, which feature different coloured luminous paint to tell them apart. It’s typically Jaeger-LeCoultre in its approach to thoroughly overengineering every aspect of its operation.
Is that good enough? It doesn’t have to be, at least not for the masses. This isn’t a watch that’s bought without thinking, just because that’s the watch you buy when you get your bonus or that promotion, it’s one you choose because you’ve considered your options and you’ve decided you want something that doesn’t sit well on paper, that files the rule book somewhere between yesterday’s newspaper and the bin.
Ultimately, that sixties watch sat in the shadows of its simpler, more successful counterparts. It’s obvious, really—the N90s and 6820s of this world have no place in broader utility, too quirky and too specialist to be cost-effective enough and catch-all enough to make the numbers work. But that’s what makes them great, that demonstrates the wacky genius that went into making them. To achieve success, you need compromise—but for the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Mariner Memovox, those rules don’t apply.
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