As we enter the second half of what has been an unusual year for watch releases, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s refreshed Master Control line stands out as one of my favorites thus far. These modestly sized, affordably priced automatic watches tend toward the dressy, but I also think they have undeniable daily wear potential. They strike me as the kind of conservatively styled, high-quality wristwatches that can be cornerstones for a solid watch collection. The designs here feel well-executed with the potential for timelessness. And of course, because we’re talking about JLC, everything is in-house. I’ve already raved about the full calendar chronograph version.
Today, we’re going to take a look at another version of the Master Control that may have flown under the radar a bit. But that’s only because it debuted alongside the limited-edition Master Control Memovox Timer with a striking blue dial. The Memovox is a long-tenured watch at Jaeger-LeCoultre, with the first examples dating back to the early 1950s. What’s interesting about alarm watches more broadly is that they are fairly rare. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of many watchmakers at all that have made alarm watches a significant part of their catalogs. Even still, because JLC is so big and has legitimately mastered so many different types of complications, the Memovox, as great as it is, doesn’t necessarily spring to mind when my thoughts turn to the Grande Maison. I’ve yet to own a Memovox, but it’s a watch that I’ve long been interested in and have come close to buying on a couple of occasions and might yet. I do have a related item in the form of an 8-day LeCoultre desk alarm clock that gives me lots of satisfaction. But I digress.
The standard, non-limited Master Control Memovox without timer that we see here has a comparatively austere silver dial with applied numerals, luminous markers, and a framed date window at 3 o’clock. The dauphine hands for the hour and minutes have a narrow cut-out with an application of Super-LumiNova. It’s hardly the kind of application of luminous material that one might expect of, say, a sport watch, but the lume is nonetheless appreciated. The Memovox’s central feature is, after all, an alarm; and this is a watch that one would likely keep on the nightstand and rely on to be woken up. This watch’s sole touch of color comes from its blued steel seconds hand. The dial has balanced proportions, a clean design, and scores well in my book for legibility. Few areas of watch design inflame opposing passions quite like the date window, and this watch of course has a quite prominent one. It’s even framed, drawing greater attention to it. This is something I generally applaud as an act leaning in. If you’re going to have a date window, I’ve come to realize, there’s no need to hide it.
Following the traditional Memovox design template, the new Master Control Memovox features two offset crowns, one for winding and setting the watch and the other for winding and setting the alarm. These large, eccentric crowns are very much part of the Memovox design language and can be found on examples of this watch going back to the early days in the 1950s, and the same can be said of the inner dial with its pointer. This is used for setting the alarm. When the hour hand aligns with it, you hear the tell-tale sound of the Memovox alarm. (Sorry that this Hands-On story lacks audio.)
As a whole, the refreshed Master Control range has a charming form factor as a result of their 40mm diameter cases with elegantly curved and beveled lugs. From there, they diverge a bit in terms of thickness, but none feel the least bit bloated. That’s the case in the Master Control Memovox, which packs automatic winding, a date window, and a namesake alarm feature into a 50-meter-water-resistant 12.39mm stainless steel case. That case design has a mid-century vintage vibe to it, but the actual proportions are squarely within what I would call the modest sweet spot of modern watch size.
Whereas previous Memovox models have come with closed casebacks with the gong affixed to the back to aid in the transmission of sound, this new model has an open caseback, which allows the wearer to view the hammer as it strikes the gong. Doing this necessitated a redesign of the striking mechanism, and now the gong is attached to the side of the case.
On the wrist, the newest Memovox strikes a fairly conservative look, but I think that this opens it up to greater versatility. The color of the dial and its hands and markers is similar as you can see, but the subtle contrast in finishes makes for a watch that is both legible and, I think, pretty beautiful. It works as a dress watch, as you can see below, but the choice of the supplied strap anticipates this watch being looked to for lots of more casual wear too.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Memovox Reference: Q4118420: 40mm x 12.39mm stainless steel case with water resistance to 50 meters, sapphire crystals on front and back. Automatic in-house caliber 956 with 45 hours of power reserve running at28,800 vph in 24 jewels. Hour, minutes, seconds, date, alarm. Silver sunray dial. Price: $ 11,600. For more, visit Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Photos, Tiffany Wade