Fashion-Forward Alarm Timepieces
by roberta naas
There is something uniquely engaging about a watch that offers sound. In today’s world, we are so comfortable with a simple glance at the wrist to see the time that when a watch emits a beautiful tone it will make a strong impression. Such is the case with mechanical alarm watches—highly functional timepieces housing extra parts that make it possible to sound an audible tone at a preset time.
“Mechanical alarm watches are fantastic tools, especially for the busy traveler,” says Mark Wasserman, president of Vulcain USA. “They can be used in place of keeping your cell phone on all night in a hotel or needing to ask for wake-up calls, and they are reliable because they are mechanical functions that don’t rely or depend on a battery.”
Long a function reserved for clocks, the alarm sound was miniaturized and perfected enough to fit into a wristwatch just about a century ago. Eterna Watch Company patented the first alarm wristwatch in 1908, though it didn’t go into production until 1914.
In 1956, Jaeger-LeCoultre released the world’s first automatic alarm watch, the Memovox (which has since become an icon for the brand), and several top Swiss watchmakers followed suit. Today, just a few watch brands build mechanical alarm wristwatches because of the many inherent difficulties in their production.
Among the challenges involved in building alarm watches, says Jaeger-LeCoultre Technical Director Stéphane Belmont, is the power that the alarm function alone consumes. “Alarms cannot be added as modules to the caliber; they have to be conceived as such from the beginning. This requires a lot of research,” Belmont says, “especially in terms of the gong’s shape, materials, etc., to achieve the sound, and power to operate. Precision is key—the alarm should go off at a precise moment.”
Another intricacy of making an alarm wristwatch is to establish a loud enough—and long enough—sound. Essentially, the buzz of an alarm is produced by a continuous striking on a gong or hammer at a specified time via the alarm-setting button. Because the watch is mechanical, it takes power to keep the sound vibrating and audible. Most brands offer alarms that sound for 10, 20, or 30 seconds (and in a few cases as long as 80 seconds). Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Memovox alarm rings for between 15 and 20 seconds, and it is said that when the watch is placed on a flat surface, the ring is audible enough to replace a traditional alarm clock. Vulcain offers an alarm that rings loudly for 20 to 25 seconds, and also has a Cricket model that works underwater so that divers can monitor their oxygen supply and know when to surface. Similarly, Breguet has succeeded in creating an alarm watch—the Marine Royale—that works underwater at depths of up to 300 meters.
photography by jeff gale and jeff crawford