The Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris watches hands-on
Jaeger-LeCoultre has been around for almost two centuries, builds great calibers and is known around the world for his iconic Reverso. But mentioning just the Reverso would not tell the whole story about the brand's know-how that has produced oustanding mechanical calibers, some of them currently equipping other watches of the Richemont Group too.
Among its various modern collections there is also the Polaris, a re-issue of the Polaris Memovox from 1968 for which, a few years ago, they reintroduced a "Tribute to 1968" version that is today quite sought after by collectors.
The Polaris Memovox
Born in 1968 it was produced in 1714 units and is still today one of Jaeger-LeCoultre's rarest and most collectible watches. The combination of mechanical complexity and case structure have consacrated it to history. The original version was an "alarm watch" with deep diving specs coupled to a mechanical alarm system.
It was equipped with a double case back, one allowing for water tightness and a second one featuring 16 holes so as to allow the sound of the hammers to be easily heard. The combination of these two different features is not trivial and if we consider how long it took Audemars Piguet to develop the Royal Oak Concept SuperSonnerie, a waterproof watch equipped with a minute repeater complication, we realize how vast was Jaeger-LeCoultre knowledge in this field already 50 years ago.
A modern reinterpretation
As it is common when reissuing modern versions of iconic watches, the design and the most recognizable details of the watch are preserved so as to give continuity with the past; the changes pertain mainly to the use of modern materials, a slightly refreshed and modernized shape and the introduction of new calibers along with mechanical complications.
The new Polaris confirms these rules by leaving virtually unchanged the design of the indexes and the font of the arabic numbers while introducing a gold case, new dials and a new caliber that combines for instance a chronograph with a world time complication.
It is clear that the new Polaris collection is a nod to the Polaris Memovox from 1968. It is the same concept often used in the American basket circles; Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are the three players that have marked the NBA's history in the last 30 years. Yet each player has been inspired by his predecessor and adapted that style of play to his own style.
The dial of the Polaris, though holding on to the original design, has evolved. There are three different finishes altogether: a sunray decoration in the center, a second grain-finished finish and a totally opaque external crown with applied minute indexes. The variations in look generated by the wrist movement is ample and reaches its best look and feel with the blue dial.
Almost all major brands have introduced a blue dial (Rolex has launched the Yacht Master I, the Date-Just and the Sky-Dweller; Patek Philippe the 5711 and 5712; IWC launched a blue Portugieser, etc...) yet few have had the courage to adopt it on a watch of evident vintage appeal.
The mechanical complications
The combinations available are able to satisfy the most demanding buyer. Let's look at them in detail:
It is operated by the caliber 898E/1 with 40 hours of power reserve and Côtes de Genéve decoration, bluish screws and a winding rotor sporting the JL logo. It is 41mm wide and 11,2mm thick, is water resistant to 10 bars and has two crowns; the one located at 4 o'clock is to set the time while the one at 2 o'clock operates the inner ring.
This is the entry level to the collection and is available with blue or black dial and 3 different straps/bracelets. The stainless steel bracelet is new and combines polished and brushed surfaces. Retail prices are €7.750, €6.850 and €7.000 respectively, depending on the leather/bracelet combination chosen.
Unlike the previous model it sports the date window at 3 and is powered by caliber 899A/1 with 39 hours of reserve power reserve. Case dimension grows to 42mm and thickness to 13,1mm with water resistance raising to 200mt. It is only available with a black dial. It comes in stainless steel on a special rubber strap with "Clous de Paris" motif. The suggested retail price is €7.850 and represents the most professional and robust version so far.
This is the reissue of the Polaris 1968 equipped with the 45 hours of power reserve caliber 956. 42mm wide and 15.9mm thick, it is 200mt water resistant and comes only with a black dial.
Since it features a mechanical alarm, it has three crowns; the crown at 2 activates the alarm, at 3 is the crown that manages the inner ring and the crown at 4 is to set both time and date. The strong green lume is guaranteed by a vanilla colored SuperLuminova®. Only 1000 pieces have been produced each retailing for €13.100 and is available only with a natural rubber strap, just like the Polaris Date.
It is a bi-compax chronograph with 30 minute counter at 3, 12-hour counter at 9 operated by caliber 751H that features a skeletonized rotor and offers a 65-hour power reserve. The case is 42mm wide and is water resistant to 100m.
Aside from the classic version in steel, Jaeger-LeCoultre offers a rose gold version coupled to an elegant anthracite dial and the same specs available on the steel version too.
You can opt for a blue or black dial and various bracelet combinations; they all retail between €10.100 and €11.000 whereas the gold version with a brown alligator strap stops at €24.900.
Polaris Cronograph World Time
with its world time function it represents the top of the collection; the case is in titanium and the diameter is increased to 44mm, while the caliber 752 guarantees about 65 hours of power reserve.
At hour 2, 3 and 4 there are buttons and crown to manage the time and chronograph while at 10 there's a crown to rotate the outer ring containing the 24 time zones and the corresponding reference cities. Retail prices are between €14.700 and €14.800 depending on the version selected.
Jaeger-LeCoultre has been able in my opinion to reinvent a classic sportswatch without losing sight of its heritage while offering unexpected combinations to the die-hard fans of the brand. I believe, in particular, that the chronograph in pink gold with anthracite dial and the chronograph equipped with world time complication are the most successful ones.
The first one, especially, thanks to the combination of vintage taste, anthracite dial and rose gold. Even the entry level model, a three hands automatic timepiece, is a great watch, able to grab the attention of younger buyers who are approaching the world of mechanical watchmaking. The cons are their retail prices, that have sky-rocketed and confirm unfortunately an unstoppable market trend.
(Photo credit: Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting by Peter Tung)
Andrea Frigerio @Horbiter®