The alarm clock watches

The alarm clock watches

There are many kind of mechanical timepieces existing likely to say the time in music.

By Vincent Daveau

There are many mechanical timepieces existing likely to say the time in music: the easiest are those equipped with alarm clock functions. Here is what you need to know on these instruments whose principle is to make a sound at a chosen time by the timepiece’s owner, which is equipped with this useful function.

The time of the alarm clock

Vulcain Cricket watch from 1947 with manual winding movement and mechanical alarm clock function

We often say that the mechanical clocks have been invented by the monks in the 13th century to allow them to wake up the other members of the congregation to be on time for the celebrations and night prayers imposed by the Saint Benoît rule (middle of the night, at dawn, first hour of the day). These first instruments, mechanically like a roasting spit and not much accurate, were equipped with gears able to make a little bell sound at a given time. Therefore, the alarm clock made at the same time as mechanical clocks. However, theorganisation of the time is remained for a long time monastic. We need to wait for the coming of the building clock towers in the belfries of the cities so that a competition is created between the regular and uniform scientific time of the citiesand the changing scientific time – according to the seasons – of religious congregations.

The first Memovox by Jaeger-LeCoultre showed in 1950.

The revival of the first alarm clock

From the invention of the portable timepieces, the watchmakers have made mechanisms that allow this funny kinetic jewellery to make music because striking is consubstantial of the temporal power. Jewelleries of the powerful, the fact that these wonders compete with the cosmic clock was not enough. They had to copy the most remarkable power instruments of their time. Most of the beautiful watchesof the Renaissance have included functions able to transcribe the movements of the moon, give the date, but also to ring at a chosen hour by its owner. The striking watch was born.

Advertisement for the Memovox watch by Jaeger-LeCoultre showed in 1952.

Pocket alarm clock on the wrist

Yet this very useful function disappeared a bit during the 18th century, because were favoured other more complicated mechanical watches like the minute repeater and the striking mechanisms by the way (see our article on the minutes repeater). The brands were interested in this functionality in the beginning of the 20th century.

Avertissement of the 1970’s for the Memovox watch by Jaeger-LeCoultre.

It has been said that it is Eterna that brings the alarm clock function back into fashion in the pocket watches. These instruments met the travellers’ needs to have a timepiece able to wake them up before going to the train station they had to get off to. Obviously, the brands, once they made wristwatches studied the opportunity to make such watches for the globetrotters who have forgotten their travel alarm clock (the small that can be folded in a case) or who decided to wake up without the help of their hotel’s head porter. Alarm clock watches became thus a speciality of Vulcain at the dawn of the 1950’s.

The Nautical Seventies by Vulcain. A watch which is also able to ring under the water.

Called Cricket, their watch knew how to hold the attention of the young working persons, because it allowed them to set the time of an appointment, to show the end of a parking meter or to be used as a reminder. The Jaeger-LeCoultremanufacture has also made an alarm clock watch from 1950 tosatisfy the demand for watches able to give temporal information with sound. Jaeger-LeCoultre made many Memovox collections whose some for the drivers with the « Parking » piece and even a version designed for the divers, able to ring under water, called Memovox Polaris. Over the years, many Maisons made alarm clock watches, most with a A.Schild Swiss calibre base. Including Poljot, the Russian brand that has offered on its market a piece equipped with a similar calibre to the Swiss brand, during the 1960’s. 

Calibre 956 of the Memovox by Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Between vibration and music

For those who have never heard of the alarm clock watches, you have to keep in mind that the sound made by most of the pieces sound like a grasshopper that would echo on a saucepan. The sound is metallic and cold. To improve the  acoustics of its Memovox, the Jaeger-LeCoultremanufacture has changed the speed of striking of the hammer of its alarm clock mechanism and changed the piece riveted to the case back of the steel watch by a timbre made in a particular alloy, compatible with the transparent case backs.

The Polaris Mariner Memovox watch by Jaeger-LeCoultre, here on a steel bracelet.

The result obtained is a remarkable sound and more refined, audible even when the watch is on the wrist. However, Vulcain has not changed the sound of its alarm clock watchesbecause, is based on the piece’s particularity called Cricket because of the noise that the timepiece makes when the alarm clock goes off.