The tradition of diver’s watches
Two models in particular were to become legends. The first was the Memovox Deep Sea, launched in 1959, equipped with Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 815 and the world’s first diver’s watch to feature an alarm. Six years later came the Memovox Polaris driven by Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 825, a model that would leave an indelible imprint on brand history. Even at this early stage, the Manufacture already equipped its diver’s watches with cases featuring innovative devices – such as the Compressor system or the triple back – and with movements combining durability, precision and performance.
The history of diver’s watches is inextricably bound up with the quest for watertightness, a demand that arose in the early 20th century and stemmed from the parallel spread of sports and of wristwatches. Having shifted from the pocket to the wrist, watches were subjected to more stresses and strains than pocket-watches. In parallel with shock-absorbing solutions, the need for watertightness became increasingly acute – especially in aquatic sports such as swimming and water polo. The main watch brands began to take a close interest in this issue from the 1930s and 40s onwards, duly enriching their product ranges with a certain number of water-resistant models. Collectors can immediately recognise vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre watches by the “E” (standing for ‘étanche’, the French word for water-resistant) included in their series numbers.
The birth of leisure scuba diving
In the mid-1930s, diving specialists developed new techniques based on aqualungs, but they were never reliable enough to be widely used for sports diving. The crucial invention dates back to 1943, when Jacques-Yves Cousteau met up in Paris with Emile Gagnan of the “Air Liquide” company specialising in industrial gases. Gagnan had just miniaturised a regulator serving to fuel truck engines with town gas in order to compensate for the lack of petrol during the war years. He adapted the system to provide divers with an air supply lasting several minutes. The invention of the regulator and of compressed-air bottles marked the start of scuba diving as a leisure activity.
Scuba diving became increasingly popular around the world, particularly in the United States, which meant that Americans soon became the greatest devotees of diver’s watches. It was within this context that M. Lowe, President of Lecoultre Watch Inc in New York, suggested to the Jaeger-LeCoultre Executive Board in February 1959 that the brand should create a watch specifically intended for divers. He advised them to use Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 815, the movement that had served to power the first ever automatic alarm watch and had admirably demonstrated its functional and timekeeping performances.
World premiere: the Memovox Deep Sea
The Memovox Deep Sea, model E857, was a milestone accomplishment heralding Jaeger-LeCoultre’s grand entry into the field of diver’s watches.
This model was all the more sensational in that it represented a world-premiere innovation as the first diver’s watch in history equipped with an alarm function serving to remind the diver that it was time to return to the surface. This function was also handled by an external rotating bezel carrying a triangular- shaped marker, the symbol of Memovox watches.
Its case protected the precious mechanism from water, from magnetic fields and from impacts. On the back, a dedicated logo depicted a diver surrounded by bubbles. Powered by the automatic Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 815 with a cadence of 18,800 vibrations per hour, and fitted with a “tropical” natural rubber strap, the Memovox Deep Sea was produced in a limited edition of 1061. Like all other watches by the Manufacture, it was marketed in the United States under the name LeCoultre which appeared on the rotating alarm disc, and Jaeger-LeCoultre for other markets, displayed on the fixed part of the dial.
The Memovox Polaris I
The Memovox Polaris project emerged in the wake of the Memovox Deep Sea. Driven by a perpetual quest for innovation, the Manufacture equipped its new diver’s watch with a 42 mm case that was exceptionally large for that period! This generous size enhanced the underwater readability of the watch and resulted in a watch with a highly distinctive style. A system was developed to make the watch alarm ring louder under water.
To avoid the sound being muffled by contact with the neoprene diving suit or by direct contact with the watch movement itself, a triple-backed case was invented. To ensure water resistance to a depth of 200 metres, it was equipped with the patented Piquerez Compressor system. To guarantee enhanced security, the bezel was placed under the dial and activated by a third super-watertight crown positioned between the two characteristic Memovox crowns.
The Memovox Polaris was equipped with the automatic Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 825, featuring an alarm, date window and a cadence of 18,000 vibrations per hour. Like the case itself, the movement was exceptionally large for a wristwatch, corresponding to 14 lignes, meaning 31.6 mm in diameter and 7.5 mm thick. These spacious dimensions made it possible to endow the mechanism with all the attributes required of a sports watch: durability, precision, reliability and useful functions.
The name Polaris was suggested by the American market as being entirely in tune with the adventurous spirit typical of this period where people were fascinated by polar exploration, oceanographic discoveries and the space race.
Jaeger-LeCoultre began preliminary studies on the Memovox Polaris E859 in 1962 and a pre- series of 50 was launched in 1963. Made and marketed in a total production run of 1,714 watches issued between 1965 and 1970, the Memovox Polaris was delivered on a rubber and steel band. It is still one of the most highly sought-after diver’s watches among collectors. More than ever today, its distinctive design and its penchant for daring accomplishments continue to inspire the creative talents within the Manufacture.
In 1971, a second version was created and named Memovox Polaris II. Enriched with the latest technological breakthrough developments, it took the conquest of precision to a new level. Its Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 916 belongs to the generation of high-frequency automatic movements that the Manufacture began creating from the 1970s onwards. Its balance oscillates at a cadence of 28,800 vibrations per hour, enabling it to reach new heights of accuracy. The oscillating weight replacing the former winding system spins freely on its axis and was hence dubbed the ‘rotor’. Whichever way it turns, the device equipped with an eccentric and with two spring-clicks winds the barrel. The fact that this movement is still used today in the Master Compressor Memovox is eloquent proof of its incredible performances.
The Memovox Polaris II was housed within a revolutionary design. The extremely large egg- shaped case framed a dial in blue – the last colour still visible below water.
1,120 Memovox Polaris II watches were made between 1970 and 1972. The dials of the American models carried the initials “HPG” (High Precision Guarantee) indicating they were equipped with a high-frequency movement, while some of those for the French market featured “GT” letters shaped to form a triangle and standing for Grande Taille (large size).
Another era, another philosophy
In 2007, the Master Compressor Diving collection is writing a new chapter in the history of diver’s watches. Like its illustrious predecessors, it embodies a perfect blend of style and technical performance. Its high-tech sporty cases guarantee unprecedented water resistance as well as unique functions. They house fine watch calibres featuring precision, reliability and durability. They are intended for deep-sea diving professionals as well as the keenest amateur scuba divers.
Its strength lies in its impeccable conception and its innovative spirit. The Master Compressor Diving encapsulates the high standards, the dynamic attitude, the determination and the winning
spirit of a team of watchmaking professionals, combined with a concern for details, aesthetic elegance and authenticity