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A Little Potted History Of The Memovox & My Recently Acquired Cal 911

  1. SpikiSpikester @ ΩF Staff Member Mar 18, 2013

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    Not long ago I picked up this 1967 LeCoultre Memovox, cal 911, recently serviced by Zaf Basha. (Coincidentally, this is also a birth year watch for me although I didn't realise it when I bought it.) So, I thought it deserved a little write up and, of course, a few pictures.

    A Bit of History
    The Memovox was developed in 1949, following the development of wrist alarms by other manufacturers which since the first one in 1914 had been beset by problems. The first JLC Memovox was the manual wind cal 489 & was available to the public from 1951. Cal 489 was in production between 1950 & 1958. There are plenty of different case materials, dial furniture and sizes, but they al have the characteristic double crown arrangement. The bottom crown is a traditional winder and time setter. The top crown winds and sets the alarm time.

    [Edit: Cal 489 was available in both shock protected (Parachoc) and non shock protected versions. The shock protected versions being classified as P489.]

    In 1953, cal 814 was introduced as an iteration on cal 489 - with design changes that were probably introduced to facilitate better mass production. [Edit: Cal 814 was also produced in a P814 version, as well as a K814 version (designating the alternative Kif shock protection). In between cal 489 & cal 814, 2000 transitional movements designated cal 601 were made.]

    Cal 814 was produced until 1964, when it was replaced by cal 910 (non-date) and cal 911 (date version). These were produced until 1979 in large numbers - 75,000 cal 910/911's were made in total. These were all manual wind movements. [Edit: With the 910/911 movements, only the Kif shock protection system was used & the use of the K designation was dropped - although I'm not sure exactly when that was. You can see on my watch below that it still carries the K911 designation.]

    My Example
    This particular watch has a serial no dating it to 1967 & is in a stainless case with a slightly unusual 14k solid gold bezel which adds a bit of jazz & light reflectivity to the case. It has a diameter of 35mm excl crown(s) and is 41mm lug to lug & a smoke grey dial which is showing some patination.

    P1040829.JPG P1040831.JPG P1040833.JPG P1040835.JPG P1040838.JPG K911 caseback.jpg K911 movement.jpg


    Bumpers
    From 1956, JLC also produced automatic versions of the Memovox starting with the bumper cal 815 (from 1956-1966) which was a non-date & a date version as cal 825 (from 1959 to 1969). Approx 84,000 of these movements were made. The engineering problem these had to cope with was that the alarm post obstructed the rotor, so some redesign of the post and rotor was needed to allow both functions to exist in the same movement. [Edit: Both the 815 and 825 were also available as P815/P825 and K815/K825 variants.]

    The most famous use of these two movements was in the highly collectible and expensive divers watches. The 200m rated Deep Sea used the cal 815 and was produced between 1959 and 1961, with only 950 watches produced. The 42mm Polaris used both the alarm complication and JLC's super compressor technology, which was a precursor to today's Master Compressor watches. The Polaris used the cal 825 movement and was tested to 600m. It was produced from 1965 to 1969. Trying to find one of these for under £20k now is quite a challenge...

    Fully Automatic Versions / The Speedbeat
    A full bi-directional rotor version appeared in 1969, being cal 916 (over 32,000 movements produced until 1978). [Edit: It was produced as a Kif protected mechanism only & the K designation was not used. I haven't seen one myself, so does anyone have a 916 they can post a picture of to confirm that ?]

    The 916 was a date version movement, which required a redesign of the alarm mechanism to allow the rotor to swing freely through 360 degrees. It also ran at 28,800 beats p/hour, compared to the 18,000 beats of all the previous calibres and is often called the Speedbeat, for obvious reasons. This movement developed into cal 919, then cal 918 - which was still used up to 2005 in the Master Compressor series. Cal 918 might have been used a bit longer, but I don't have the catalogues between 2006-2009 to check ! The current MC Memovox is the "Tribute to Deep Sea" which uses a cal 956 and is a lovely update to the original and rare 1959-61 Deep Sea model.

    Most versions of the Speedbeat are afflicted by 70's style cases whose designs haven't stood the test of time (and so aren't very sought after), but there are some in classic Memovox style cases which are very attractive. These can typically be identified by the classic styling, a "JL" logo at the 9 o'clock position & by the "Speedbeat" legend on the caseback - if anyone wants to get rid of one of these let me know :)
     
  2. X350 XJR Vintage Omega Aficionado Mar 18, 2013

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    Thanks for the great writeup of these iconic watches. :thumbsup:
     
    allwoundup likes this.
  3. jinson Mar 19, 2013

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    Yes, thanks for the very nice write-up. I love these older Memovox watches. Here's my cal 814 10K gold filled "Golden Heritage Time Reminder." The flyer I have indicated it was a product of Vacheron & Constantin - LeCoultre Watches, Inc., Division of Longines Wittnauer Watch Company. LeCoultreMemovox1.jpg
     
  4. ulackfocus Mar 19, 2013

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    Nice write-up. One thing missing was the different shock protection. If the caliber designation had a K, it used Kif and if it had a P it used Parachoc.

    The 815 and 825 date calibers had an interesting quirk you touched on by mentioning the alarm post interference. Even if the alarm was not wound, when it came close to the time it was set for the rotor made a much more audible clicking. You can stop this by pulling the alarm crown out.
     
  5. Gavin It's the quiet ones you have to 'watch' out for. Mar 19, 2013

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    Thanks for the nice writeup. Love how the classic memovoxes evolve to the Deep Sea Alarm and Polaris and to the funky Snowdrop and highbeat models in the 70s.
     
  6. SpikiSpikester @ ΩF Staff Member Mar 19, 2013

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    When I was writing it, I knew I hadn't covered that. But I also wanted to go to bed :)

    As you asked so nicely, I 'll try to add it tonight ::bleh::
     
  7. SpikiSpikester @ ΩF Staff Member Mar 19, 2013

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    Now edited to include the shock protection information ::book::
     
  8. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Mar 23, 2013

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    This happens because the alarm release is triggered, and this allows the hammer (I think this is what you are calling the rotor) to release and flop around. Even my modern Master Compressor Memovox with the Cal. 918 does this:

    [​IMG]

    The older watches tend to buzz more than ring, where the newer models have that old "school bell" tone to them:



    Here is a video of a Cal. 814 I serviced a while back, showing the alarm being actuated and the hammer running:



    The hammer strikes a post mounted to the case back to create the buzzing sound as shown in the photo above. On the modern version there is actually a gong inside the case back:

    [​IMG]

    Big fan of the JLC alarm watches, and enjoy servicing the older models too, although parts can be difficult to find these days.

    Cheers, Al
     
    DaveK, Eve, rainbowfix and 2 others like this.
  9. woodwkr2 Mar 23, 2013

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    Al,
    How would you compare the tone on the vintage JLC alarms vs. the AS1475s? I've got a couple of the latter, but have never splurged on the former.

    Super cool complications. And they actually work. Put one of those suckers on the bedside table, and you'll wake up in a startle thinking there's an earthquake. (The vibrations resonate in my bedside table/stand and make quite a racket).
     
  10. woodwkr2 Mar 23, 2013

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    You don't see too many of those fluted bezels on the Memovox pieces. Very classy, and kind of reminds me of the rolex watches from the 80s.
     
    bushcamper likes this.
  11. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Mar 24, 2013

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    I would say the JLC is a bit softer....

    And yes I am a fan of alarm watches, and some can be very simple like the Memovox movement, and some more complicated - this is a Benrus I serviced a while back:

    [​IMG]

    Note the dot under the 12 o'clock marker - this is actually a window in the dial, and behind it there is a little red/white flag that indicates if the alarm is set or not. You will also notice there is only one crown, but the watch is manual wind for both the time and alarm mainsprings. Takes a little bit of thought to make that work with just one crown.

    Here is the movement - it's a Langendorf Cal. 1241, and you will also see a slotted screw head sticking up on the balance cock. There is a cover that is screwed over the movement before it's put into the case, and this screw allows the user to adjust the rate of the watch without removing the cover and exposing the movement to any damage.

    [​IMG]

    I made this video to show how all the functions of this little movement work for winding, setting, and triggering the alarm...



    All cool stuff.

    Cheers, Al
     
  12. woodwkr2 Mar 24, 2013

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    Very cool. Thanks for the demonstration on the Langendorf movement. The single crown makes my Vulcain 120 Cricket based watch look like a piece of cake to operate. Winding of both the main watch and alarm mainspring is done by either winding clockwise or counter clockwise, and the pusher's only function is to deactivate the alarm:

    Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 10.11.47 AM.png
    Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 10.12.17 AM.png
     
  13. ulackfocus Mar 24, 2013

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    I've got a NOS case, dial, crystal, and one crown for a Benrus Wristalarm and just need the movement. I think it's an AS but not sure.

    [​IMG]

    I'd love to complete it and wear it as a sort of beater / alarm watch for work since I don't want to damage the JLC.
     
  14. woodwkr2 Mar 24, 2013

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    With that crown configuration and no date, it's going to be an AS (A. Schild) 1475. Do you have hands, stems, and crucially, the appropriate caseback with the post sticking up?
     
  15. ulackfocus Mar 24, 2013

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    Just got another crown for it, and the caseback is attached to the cast. A stem isn't usually a big thing to have cut to the appropriate length (I hope) but I don't have hands.
     
  16. woodwkr2 Mar 24, 2013

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    A stem is easy to size. The hands may be an issue. Your best bet might be to scour the bay for a donor watch with a cruddy dial that way you get the correct hands. Otherwise it can be very difficult.

    I've got a Tudor Advisor with my watchmaker now. I sent it with a nearly NOS AS1475 movement should he need parts. The Tudor looked to be in good shape, so I may end up with a great condition movement for you.

    It'd be interesting to get real numbers, but the AS1475 was one of the most popular and ubiquitous of the alarm movements, so aside from specific hands or signed alarm crowns, tracking down parts or donor movements shouldn't be too bad.
     
  17. ulackfocus Mar 24, 2013

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    I was thinking exactly that. :thumbsup:

    Cool! Let me know if/when you're ready to sell it.
     
  18. cmphelp Nov 4, 2013

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    Hi there,

    just join the group and as a first thing I would like to congratulate you for all the information provided.

    In your question "if anyone has seen the same example but w/Cal. 916" it happens to be the owner of one of these, I believe, rare examples. Does anyone knows the value of this watch? Thanks JLC Memovox HPG Cal.916 (b).JPG
     
  19. JohnSteed Nov 24, 2013

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    This is an amazing discussion! Glad I stumbled upon ...
     
  20. ELV web Mar 5, 2014

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    I only joined this forum a week ago but I stumbled thorough this thread while googling last year and it prompted me to snatch this up :) thanks for such an inspiring write up.
     
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