Return of the Polaris, a “Dr Strangelove” watch
- 10 October, 2019
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Polaris: few names are so fascinating, disturbing or inspirational… It’s a short step from nuclear fire to freezing polar conditions, from a protective missile to the guiding Star. Flashback to the 1960s, when Stanley Kubrick released Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a spectacularly controversial film and a message to the world that seemed to be groping its way around the nuclear armament issue and playing at scaring itself out of its wits… In 1989, this was one of the first films selected by the National Film Registry to enter the Library of Congress. A few months later – in 1965 – the Polaris was born, a watch that symbolizes these not so distant times.
It bears this magical name that resonates, referring as much to the anguish of the Cold War as to the hope raised by the new human adventures, at the bottom of the Sea, in the Sky and soon even further away… Jaeger-LeCoultre’s teams had necessarily thought about all this and the choice was risky, but also brilliant. On the other side of the Wall, there were brands bearing names such as Raketa or Vostok. They set out to conquer the Poles, once again pairing intense cold and missiles…
The Daring Wager of an Alarm in a Diver’s Model
1968: as borders were shifting and revolutions were simmering, filled with hope and challenging the existing world order, rarely had the expectation of a “new world” been so powerful. Some expressed it in the famous student riots’ slogan “sous les pavés, la plage” (under the cobblestones lies liberty). It was time to wake up and to change things. Speaking of waking up, this model thus embodied another vivid image. It could be seen as a diving alarm indispensable for those brave enough to set out to explore the World of Silence.
Or as symbolizing youth that dared and was pushing the planet to stir! The Jaeger-Lecoultre Memovox Polaris is a watch that would make its mark on watchmaking through its design, its technology, as well as by the intention behind it and its sheer rarity. Fitting an alarm inside a diving watch was a daring wager that had been successfully carried up in 1959 with the Jaeger-Lecoultre Deep Sea. The brand had successfully taken the sound of the Earth to the depths of the Ocean.
A few years on, the Deep Sea evolved and came to be equipped with three crowns, a black dial, large numerals and a rounder case with a triple back. The sound was thus louder, and the watch more functional. The design was in tune with the times. For several months in 2008, the Polaris was once again back in the limelight with a pair of tribute re-editions of the 1965 and 1968 models.
Even after vanishing for 40 years, the Polaris immediately evoked a wealth of memories among collectors and proved an instant success. The 1960s are a period easily called to mind with all the tensions, the hopes, the folly of humankind as well as the determination to shake things up and to change our old Planet. All the evocations remain as vivid as ever…
Return of the Jaeger-Lecoultre Memovox Polaris
It is every bit as beautiful, round, dark – and noisy – as ever. Divers now have computers and alarms ring out from smartphones, but the sound of the Memovox is different. It conjures up a variety of memories for each individual: a tune, a school bell, an old telephone… The Memovox is unique because it literally recreates an audible blast from the past… Such is the magic of this new re-edition of the Memovox Polaris: the past now has a specific sound.
And that’s not all. The Memovox is no longer alone, since the Polaris is now a full-fledged collection and not just a watch. An underwater alarm, a travel watch hopping between borders, a sporty model or a chronograph: Polaris timepieces come in many different guises and their name definitely remains as potent as ever.
In 2018, the pole star, ballistic missiles, ocean depths, the race against time and timezones captured inside a case: everything reflects the World as it truly is. Kubric is dead, but his work is as a vibrantly alive and speaks to us as powerfully as ever. Like the Polaris. As I said, it’s definitely a “Dr Strangelove” watch.