Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Top Gear Wrist Watch Season 21 - James May's Vintage Memovox

It's been a while since an update was done on Top Gear wrist watching. And to be honest, it's not that I didn't want to, but the boys from Top Gear aren't helping either. They haven't worn anything they haven't worn before. And on the occasion that I catch something that I think I haven't seen before, it's too far away for me to be certain. There was this one vintage watch on one James May's wrist that was first seen last season but for the life of me I just couldn't pick it. Watches from the 60s all look alike! So like any sane people would do in this situation, I gave up and not give it another thought. Until this current season.

As James may showed off his multitasking skills at the risk to his own life (driving, narrating, looking at the camera and NOT at the road, performing some fancy card trick with a top hat and doves in tow) my attention went straight to his wrist. And yes. That round vintage watch with a silver/beige dial is back.

This time I had help.

@initiahjh, a fellow watch enthusiast and connoisseur whose knowledge in all things vintage *ahem* is second to none. Plus apparently he was searching for something just like what May was wearing so I completely trust his insight. There were tell tale signs on this watch, and as you can almost make out from the below and above screen grabs, courtesy again of @initialjh, these were enough to go on.

So what are these tell tale signs? 1. 2 crowns- one each at 2:00 and 4:00 positions. 2. Something that looks like a disc in the middle of the dial. 3. You can just make out the triangle on this inner disc. and 4. Date window. From these visual clues @initialjh came to the conclusion that the watch is most likely the Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Alarm watch, from the 60s.

I won't bore you with a history lesson, so feel free to skip the next paragraph. Otherwise, here's the abridged version:

Jaeger-LeCoultre first introduced the mechanical alarm watch, the very first Memovox (the voice of memory) in 1950, with the Calibre 489. This was then followed by the very first automatic winding bumper alarm movement in watchmaking history in 1956 with the Calibre 815. The one on James May's wrist is powered by the Calibre 825, which is essentially the 815 with a date. This first came about in 1959. In 1970, the Calibre 916 replaced the bumper winding system with a full winding rotor and the balance frequency was increased frm 21,600 vph to 28,800 vph. The current iteration Calibre 956 is a direct descendant of the Calibre 815.

On the left is the original manual wind Memovox from 1950. On the right is the Calibre 815, the first automatic winding alarm with a bumper movement (see the springs?) The Calibre 825 looks the same as the 815 but with an added date function on the dial side.

The vintage Memovox is getting quite difficult to come by, especially one in good condition and original dial and hands. Here is an excellent post about all the variations of the 60s Memovox.

However, if you're like me and wouldn't mind a modern day version (and pay roughly 2-3 times the price of the one from the 60s) these are a lot easier to find. The current Memovox is part of the Master range, and with it comes the JLC 1000 hour control test. The watch case proportion is very well balanced at 40mm in diametre and about 8.6mm in height. Rather than having a hammer hitting a post and giving a buzzing sound for the alarm, the hammer hits a gong, giving it a very crisp note, which actually sounds quite melodic. The volume and quality is amplified if you have the watch sitting on a wooden bedside table, for example, as the wood reverberates the ring and the further improves the acoustics. Another great thing about the Calibre 956 is that it incorporates all the latest bells and whistles, including ceramic bead winding system, variable inertia balance and quick date setting.

Great. I think I just talked myself into a Memovox. Sigh.

Nothing new to report on the other 2 hosts. Clarkson seem to have gone back to his trusty Omega Planet Ocean. The length of absence corresponds roughly to the time it would've taken for the watch to be completely refurbished at the factory in Switzerland. And Hammond hasn't been showing his wrist lately. Someone should write to the producers. And the tame racing driver? Some say that he is so fast that if you strap a watch to his wrist (if he had a wrist) it would go backwards. And he believes by fitting a tourbillon to the engine it would counter the gravity effect on the pistons and make the car go smoother and faster. all we know is... He's called the Stig!


Anonymous said...

Jaeger Lecoultre did not introduce the world's first mechanical alarm watch, Vulcain did in the 40's. JLC came out with their own in the 50's so Vulcain was definitely first. JLC did however introduce the first AUTOMATIC alarm watch but that was many years after Vulcain had developed the world's first mechanical alarm watch.

The Sydney Tarts said...

Hi Annonymous. I know Vulcain came out with the FIRST mechanical alarm watch. What I said was JLC FIRST introduced the alarm watch... so it's a FIRST for JLC and not for all time.