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Luxury watchmaker celebrates 50 years of its iconic Polaris Memovox diving watch

PHOTOS: JAEGER-LECOULTRE

The luxury watchmaker celebrates 50 years of its Polaris Memovox diving watch with a sports collection

At the world premiere of action blockbuster Mission: Impossible - Fallout in Paris earlier this month, actor Henry Cavill, playing a villain opposite Tom Cruise, wore a Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC) Polaris Chronograph.

It was not the Polaris' first appearance at a glitzy premiere this year. In April, British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, reprising his role as Dr Strange, flaunted a Polaris Memovox at the premieres of Avengers: Infinity War in Los Angeles, Seoul and Singapore.

The models seen on the wrists of Cavill and Cumberbatch are part of a new collection of Polaris timepieces launched by JLC at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva in January.

A big hit at the international watch fair, the collection not only celebrates the 50th anniversary of the legendary Polaris Memovox - a unique diving watch with a mechanical alarm - but also marks the luxury watchmaker's concerted move into sports watches.

The history of the Memovox, which means voice of memory, stretches back to 1950. At least four models, including the Memovox Deep Sea - the world's first diving watch with an alarm function - were put on the market before the Polaris Memovox, considered by horological aficionados to be the most iconically designed, came along in 1968.

Five models of the new Polaris collection were launched in Geneva: a three-hand automatic; a chronograph; a chronograph with world-time function; and two tribute pieces: the Polaris Date and Polaris Memovox. A sixth limited-edition model - the Polaris Geographic WT (for World Time) - has just been added to the range.

All these, as well as some rare historical Memovox pieces, including the original 1968 model from JLC's vault, are on display at a special exhibition at the atrium of Ion Orchard till Sunday.

In Singapore for the exhibition, Mr Stephane Belmont, maison heritage and rare pieces director of JLC, told The Straits Times that the new Polaris collection plugs what is missing in the company today: a sports collection.

"We're known as a classic watchmaking brand, known for classic watches like the Master Control, Reverso and Rendezvous," he said, referring to some of the brand's most famous models.

"While we've always made technical watches for sports, like the Deep Sea and Master Compressor, we didn't have a sports collection."

He said settling on the Polaris Memovox as the pillar for the new collection made perfect sense.

After all, it is the watch most praised by collectors.

"It's hard to find a vintage Polaris Memovox in good condition for under €30,000 (S$48,000)," he said.

The design, he added, is timeless.

"It was one of the first large watches - 41mm - at a time when watches were 34mm or 36mm. It was a very innovative watch because there were no diving watches with alarms then," he said.

Pricing was a key consideration when conceptualising the collection, he added.

"When you buy a sports watch, you usually wear it during weekends, so you expect it to be the same price as or less expensive than a classic watch. It was a challenge, but we wanted to package function, good design and good finishing with a reasonable price," he said of the new models, which range from $10,300 for the Polaris Automatic to $36,600 for the Polaris Chrono Pink Gold.

"It's not possible to make a Memovox at some of these prices, which is why we came up with models which look like the original, but do not have the alarm."

Entry models include the stainless steel Polaris Automatic - which comes with a simple three-hand display and no date - and the steel Polaris Chronograph, which has a sapphire caseback and an inner rotating bezel with a racing-inspired tachymeter scale.


Most talked-about models

POLARIS MEMOVOX 

$19,000 

Limited to 1,000 pieces, the Polaris Memovox is a fitting tribute to the original, with a crown to control the alarm function. It is fitted with a Calibre 965, which boasts a 44-hour reserve.

At 42mm, the stainless steel case is slightly bigger than the original. The vanilla-coloured markers have an "aged patina", thanks to faux aged lume, to give the timepiece a vintage feel.

With a diver's helmet engraved on the caseback, the watch - which has an inner rotating bezel and is water-resistant to 200m - is available with either a patterned rubber strap or a steel bracelet.

POLARIS GEOGRAPHIC WT 

$20,500

This limited-edition model (250 pieces available only in JLC boutiques) has a 42mm case which houses the Calibre 936A/1, a mechanical self-winding movement. The dial is a handsome shade of smokey blue and comes with three types of finishing: an opaline base for the city disk, a sunrayed sub-dial housing the calendar, the second time zone and the power reserve; as well as a grained finishing for the case back.

A flange, which can be adjusted by the crown at 10 o'clock, shows the 24 time zones, and the day/ night disk is divided into two black and white sections.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2018, with the headline 'Jaeger-LeCoultre dives into sports'. Print Edition | Subscribe