Jaeger-LeCoultre Introduces the Master Control Memovox and Memovox Timer

The famous alarm watch returns.

Having revived the Master Control models of 1992 earlier this year, Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC) was surely going to do the same for one of its longest-lived complications, the vibrating Memovox alarm. And so it has, with two new alarm watches in fact: the Master Control Memovox and the Master Control Memovox Timer.

Both are powered by the same base movement, but the limited-edition Memovox Timer features an additional countdown function for the alarm.

The cal. 956 with an open-worked, pink gold rotor

Initial thoughts

The base-model Master Control Memovox looks just like the Memovox of 20 years ago, and it is a good look. Now the case finishing has been upgraded, as has the movement – which is now visible through a display back – creating a tidy package that’s just right. And price-wise the new model is comparable to recent JLC alarm watches, which is fair, albeit still a bit pricey.

A little bit more funky and countdown scale in relief, the Master Control Memovox Timer is a lot more expensive, almost 35% more expensive than the base model. It does have an added countdown function to go along with the fancier dial, but it is too expensive.

Ringing since 1951

The Master Control Memovox is a moderate 40 mm in diameter, though fairly thick at 12.39 mm, a necessary consequence of the movement. Compared to its namesake watch of the 1990s, the case has grown slightly larger, but more importantly has an improve finish. It features contrasting polished and brushed finished on the tops and sides respectively, separated by a polished bevel.

And though larger, the dial still has good proportions, with the date window and rotating alarm disc well positioned relative to everything else.

Functionally it’s straightforward: the four o’clock crown is for winding and setting the movement, while the other is for the alarm and date. The crown at two o’clock winds the secondary spring that powers the alarm, and in its second position, sets the alarm time, as well as the quickset.

It’s powered by the cal. 956, which is descended from the cal. 916 of the late 1960s. Over the years the movement had been upgraded into several iterations, though the basic architecture remains recognisable.

The latest cal. 956, however, is the first JLC alarm movement visible through a sapphire back. That’s possible because the alarm’s gong (essentially a small, flat metal ring) is now mounted on the inner wall of the case, whereas in the past it was attached to the inside of the case back.

The first open back on a Memovox

Despite the upgrades, the fundamental function of the alarm remains the same: a vibrating hammer repeated strikes the gong, creating a metallic, vibrating ringing.

The large, flat alarm hammer (right)

Limited to 250 pieces and available only at boutiques, the Master Control Memovox Timer is essentially identical, with the same case and basic functions. But it has been endowed with a two-tone blue dial, with a central alarm scale featuring polished, relief numbers against a frosted surface..

Besides the facelift, it also has an extra complication. Along with the standard rotating alarm scale to set the time of the alarm, it also features a red hand in the shape of the JLC logo.

The red hand is for the countdown function – it points to the period of time that will elapse until the alarm sounds. It’s nifty, but not earth-shattering, and results in a substantially more expensive watch, making it difficult to swallow despite the extras.

Key Facts and Price

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Memovox
Ref. Q4118420

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Memovox Timer
Ref. Q410848J

Diameter: 40 mm
Height: 12.39 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 50 m

Movement: Cal. 956
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, and alarm
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic (alarm mechanism is hand-wound)
Power reserve: 45 hours

Strap: Calfskin

Limited edition: Only Master Control Memovox Timer, 250 pieces
Already at boutiques and retailers; Memovox Timer is boutique exclusive
Price: Master Control Memovox – US$11,600, or 17,300 Singapore dollars; Master Control Memovox Timer – US$15,600, or 23,300 Singapore dollars

For more information, visit Jaeger-LeCoultre.com.

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Editorial: The Rise of the Indian Watch Collector

A vast market poised to grow.

Years ago, while attending a wedding in the southern Indian state of Kerala, I noticed most men in attendance were uniformly dressed – crisp, white linen shirt and matching mundu. Some milled about, some laughed over the most recent ministerial gaffe making the rounds, and others waited impatiently for the evening to end. For an outsider, the plainness of their attire seemed at odds with the occasion they were attending, except for the occasional glint of gold on their wrists, which caught my eyes more often than I’d anticipated.

The heavy lustre of their Rolex watches, as most were, stood out because of the simplicity of everything else. Observing closely one could notice the subtle nods of affirmation exchanged between the men as they glanced at each other’s timepieces.

For a culture obsessed with jewellery – India is the world’s second-largest consumer of the precious metal according to the World Gold Council – the country has taken predictably well to fine watches. Timepieces in precious metals form a substantial proportion of the gifts given to grooms – a practice that is, in a small but undeniable way, bringing the appeal of horology to a larger, otherwise untapped audience.

A market in its infancy

But the sales of luxury watches in India are far lower in proportion to its population as compared to say, China. According to trade body Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH), Switzerland exported 1.99 billion Swiss francs of watches to China in 2019, with the equivalent figure for India being just 149.7 million francs. From that, one can extrapolate that watch sales within China are over 13 times larger than in India.

There are many economic and social factors that underpin this wide gulf, but one of the most obvious is the high import duty on watches – an extortionate 30%. Because of this high rate of duty, many Indians have historically preferred buying luxury watches abroad, often in Dubai or London, choosing to rock them on their wrists as they stroll past the customs declaration desk the airport.

It is also partly because of the high, and sometimes fluctuating unpredictably, rate of duty that many large brands had to sometimes offer watches at a lower retail price in India than in other countries, so as to offset some portion of the consumer’s tax burden.

The Mumbai skyline at dusk

The Indian watch collector

However, what prompted this article was to awaken the reader to the arrival, or more accurately, the unveiling, of the serious watch collector in India. Since the liberalisation of our economy in the early 1990s, disposable incomes for the upper-middle class have grown to a point that has allowed watches to evolve beyond being instruments of utility. There has been a steady increase in those that proactively seek out watches as items of pleasure, signifiers of professional and entrepreneurial success, and most importantly, but only more recently, as works of art.

Only in the last 20 years have the powerhouses of watchmaking penetrated the Indian landscape beyond metropolitan cities. This has been achieved in part due to the efforts of multi-brand retailers such as Ethos, which have embarked on a strategy of opening stores in smaller Indian cities, as well as going online with their entire catalogue. This has had an indelible impact on the tastes and preferences of the watch-buying public.

Ethos’ chief executive, Pranav Saboo, has an optimistic view of the trajectory of the Indian watch market, and opines that though the number of Indian watch collectors and aficionados is miniscule, it is developing quickly in size and maturity.

In the early stages of the rise of the Indian watch collector, as in almost every other country, there a minor craze for easily-recognisable watches, a trend that Rolex capitalised on very profitably, and continues to. This gave rise to a movement (pardon the pun) towards watches that are regarded as icons – the Nautilus or Royal Oak or Submariner, for example.

The Ethos watch store in Chanakya Mall, Delhi. Photo – Ethos Watches

But now, there are a small and select few who’ve gone beyond just pining for well-known designs. There is a conscious and deliberate effort on part of serious Indian collectors to seek out watches made by independent watchmakers. Testament to this is the popularity of Nomos and H. Moser & Cie.

That is driven in part by the fact that Indian watch collectors and enthusiasts are engaging themselves with aspects of watchmaking that were, till very recently, brushed off as esoteric, such as technical appeal of a particular movement, or the quality of finishing applied to internal components, and more crucially, the design philosophies of various brands.

As a watch enthusiast myself, it is gratifying to know that appeal of the story and provenance behind a watch is growing in a very real way. There really is a greater and more educated appreciation for the details that constitute a fine example of horology.

And this engagement isn’t just gassy conversation and showboating amongst a niche group of buyers. Watchmakers are taking notice of it too, and are starting to cater to it.

One example of this is the development of the Nomos J9 – a limited edition of 25 pieces created specifically for an Indian watch-collecting group of the same name. The designers of the watch managed to include the traditional Indian devanagari script on the seconds sub-dial.

Ethos played an integral part in facilitating development of this limited edition – by bridging the gap between collectors and the brand, showing that retailers are playing an active role in the creation of a culture that appreciates horology, and are thinking beyond just the expansion of their customer base.

The Nomos Club Campus J9 India edition. Photo – Ethos Watches

Local watchmakers

It isn’t just sheer coincidence that these developments have taken place around the same time that a home-grown, independent watchmaker launched its first offering to the Indian public. Bangalore Watch Company made its debut in 2017 with modestly priced but thoughtfully designed automatic timepieces powered by Miyota movements. The brand has held its own surprisingly well, helped in no small part by the sentimentality towards a locally-made product.

This attachment to domestic brands was exemplified by the resurgent popularity of watches made by HMT, which first started its watch business in the early 1960s by producing extraordinarily affordable mechanical timepieces for mass consumption.

Established as a state-run, tool-manufacturing company – its name is short for “Hindustan Machine Tools” – HMT was once the biggest watchmaker in India, producing over seven million watches in 1991. But due years of unsustainable losses resulting from stiff competition from Indian and imported quartz watches, HMT shut down its watch division in 2016.

But the Indian watch community has recently begun to see value in the sturdy and evergreen aesthetic of HMT watches – as well as its homegrown appeal – resulting in the reopening of the company’s watch division in 2019.

The cumulative effect of these trends bodes well for the industry as a whole and Pranav Saboo of Ethos predicts India may rise into the top ten largest watch markets – it was ranked 24 last year – within the next decade.

A watch enthusiast himself, the author is a lawyer with Ashira Law in Bangalore. He read law at Jindal Global Law School and the University of Cambridge, and was a 2018 Pegasus scholar to the Inner Temple in London.


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MB&F Introduces the LM101 MB&F x H. Moser

A funky, harmonious marriage.

Partners for more than a decade in the supply of hairsprings, H. Moser & Cie. and MB&F have recently announced their first watch collaboration. Both mark their 15th anniversaries with a pair of watches that each brand designed for the other, blending the defining traits of both. MB&F helped styled the Endeavour Cylindrical Tourbillon H. Moser x MB&F, while Moser added its signature aesthetic to the LM101 MB&F x H. Moser.

A refreshing take on MB&F’s simplest Legacy Machine, the new LM101 has a steel case and the option of four dial colours in Moser’s signature smoked finish – Funky Blue fumé, Cosmic Green fumé, red fumé, and Aqua Blue fumé – each limited to 15 pieces. The watch incorporates the aesthetic sensibilities of H. Moser & Cie on the front, along with a slight redesign of the movement.

Initial thoughts

Based on the photos, the new LM101 is one of the most appealing recent watches from MB&F, though that isn’t really a surprise since it synthesises the elements that have made both brands successful – and the elements remain successful when combine together.

The most apparent is the sunray-brushed, fumé dial that is very much Moser. Although the brand did not invent the look, the smoked finish has become synonymous with the brand – and the fumé effect also translates very well on the LM101.

While the Moser fumé finish has been added, the traditional sub-dials (for the time and power reserve) of the LM101 have been removed. This streamlining boosts the much-liked simplicity of the LM101, and really allows the smoked dial to take centre stage.

The steel case has been tweaked to give it a thinner, more refined bezel, though the dimensions remain the same. Though the watch sounds thick due to its 16 mm height, the number is mostly due to the generously-domed sapphire crystal that accommodates the arched balance bridge.

At 40 mm in diameter, the LM101 still remains as one of the most wearable MB&F watches. And the fact that the case is steel also makes it special, as it is only the third instance that MB&F has used the metal.

From left: funky blue, cosmic green, and red

Revised mechanics

While the dial is now more striking than before, the oversized, 14 mm balance wheel remains ever prominent. The motion of the balance wheel can be fully appreciated because of its slow, 2.5 Hz beat.

Though the movement is largely identical to the calibre found in earlier versions of the LM101, it features one crucial upgrade: the balance is fitted to a Straumann double hairspring made by Precision Engineering, Moser’s sister company.

The Aqua Blue edition is available only at Dubai retailer Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons

While the standard LM101 balance has a single hairspring attached above the balance, the Moser edition is equipped with a pair of hairsprings, each coiled in an opposite direction to the other.

Because the two hairsprings together expand and contract with near-perfect concentricity, the isochronism (where the period of oscillation is constant, regardless of amplitude) is far superior to a standard, single hairspring.

The twins hairsprings visible over the large balance

And the movement also received a facelift on the back. Instead of the usual rhodium-plated finished, the bridges have been given a black, NAC coating for a more modern and edgy look.

Key facts and price

MB&F LM101 MB&F × H. Moser

Case diameter: 40 mm
Case height: 16 mm
Material: Steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: LM101 engine
Features: Hours, minutes and power reserve indicator
Frequency: 18,000 beats per hour (2.5 Hz)
Winding: Manual wind
Power reserve: 45 hours

Strap: Calfskin leather

Limited edition: 15 pieces in each colour
Availability: Now at authorised retailers; Aqua Blue edition only at Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons
Price: US$52,000; or 75,300 Singapore dollars

For more, visit Mbandf.com.

Update June 8, 2020: Correct link to MB&F homepage inserted.

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