Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Jaeger LeCoultre Polaris Rant

Memovox "Polaris"
Model Ref No. E859 was a diver watch especially designed and produced for the American market between 1965 to 1970. Polaris looks like this:

Calibre 825
18000 vibrations per hour
17 jewels
Shock Protected
Direct Centre Seconds
Black Dial
Tritium Hour-markers
Calypso, Baton and Dauphine option Tritium Hands (but argument rages over the originality of Calypso variant)
Nylon Straps
Case Diameter 42mm
Organic Glass
22mm Strap width
Diving Alarm watch - Self winding Calendar
Stainless Steel Case
W.R. to 650 ft.

There are many more pictures collected by Polaris enthusiast Mike Margolis here.

JLC issued a watch called the AMVOX1:

which draws inspiration from Polaris, but is in no way a proper dive watch (50m W.R. rating and illegible bezel). This picture was the first on the internet and taken by the mighty Jaw at ThePurists. I posted my first hand impressions of it here.

The official press shot looks like this although the released watch had a modified bezel to aid orientation of '0' minutes:

I love Magali Metrailler's visions, but IMHO they need interpreting more by some guiding lights at JLC before production. Products that stand the test of time (and sometimes achieve cult following) are usually devoid of rag and fluff and concentrate on function, useability and have a real purpose. Here is a mock-up of how I think AMVOX1 can be improved functionally even without destroying Magali's design vision of a car intrument:

Sadly it does not look like JLC will re-issue a proper Polaris having seemingly felt the job was done with Compressor Memovox (picture below right). Check out how much closer to the original it could have been in my mock-up (picture below left) even including the new features of compressor keys and crescent shaped alarm time window :

However, what would be nice is a real successor to Polaris. Vadim at ThePurists mocked up the perfect new Polaris to my specification:

Thanks Vadim, great artwork.

Velociphile’s Fantasy Polaris Reissue Specification.

I think there are three ways of approaching this:
1. a no compromise facsimile
2. an update
3. a softly tuned up replica that can satisfy those who want #1 with some appropriate and advantageous updates.

Clearly there is nothing to discuss if we look at #1, the no compromise facsimile; just make Polaris again with everything the same except for the free sprung balance from Autotractor. JLC have already done #2, the Compressor Memovox; a controversial, unsatisfying effort to Polaris cognoscenti. So I think we’re aiming at #3.

I've tried to make my spec as true to Polaris as possible, but I think I’ve taken some good advantage of incorporating new things discretely.

Features as follows:
- Alarm
- Date at 3 o'clock
- Inner timing bezel - one way ratchet for safety
- Centre seconds
- WR to 200m

Velociphile's new features:
- Dual time function.
- Power reserve on back

Personal bias, but I think you could add hands like the DualTime giving a discrete and useful function. Clearly, they’re not seen when not used so don’t detract from the Polaris face. As for power reserve, I find that sooooo useful and such an unfortunate omission on the Compressor Geo. I think we can pop that function on the back so it’s not seen in normal use.

Moving on to the body, it should be replica shape and size - absolutely the same as Polaris. Velociphile's new features: Titanium - Lightweight and more scratch resistant. As for precious metal versions, no thanks!…….. Oh all right then, 50 platinum ones it is.

Dial should be a replica design: absolutely the same as Polaris; in particular the type face and colour. Velociphile's features: No stupid words like 'replica' or 're-issue' or 'ltd edition' on the dial. Anti reflection surface finish.

Hands to be exact replica shape.

The movement is obviously a highly contentious and emotive feature. I’m going to stay away from being prescriptive here knowing that JLC can be trusted to put in an awesome movement. Velociphile's features: Autotractor style features such as ceramic bearings and super strong balance wheel bridge design, free sprung mass adjustable balance. And how about applying a coaxial escapement as Daniels' patent is nearly expired. The aim of these being to give a reliable, durable and low maintenance movement.

The back to be replica design with 're-issue design feature or words' if necessary. Velociphile's features: Flip open solid Ti back to reveal movement under sapphire glass. Power reserve hidden inside.

Crowns. Three on the R/H side to match original. Preferably no keys, but I think JLC would never do this. Personally, I foresee the crowns as being the main stumbling block for JLC. The question is “How can JLC re-issue Polaris with the original R/H 3 crown design without compromising the credibility of the use of their key system in other Compressor series watches?” As I thought more, I realised that we might have to accept the use of keys there, but I’ve tried to consider how they could even package let alone have their (ugly IMHO) visual impact lessened.

Velociphile's new features: Middle screw crown - not too inconvenient for time setting etc. Outer crowns to use new, more discrete key system (maybe a half key design which I suggested before it was released on the chronogrpah) so not to clash with the centre crown but allow quicker setting than a screw crown for alarm and bezel functions. It's not true replica detail, but it might just be acceptable to JLC and fans.

Strap to be modern material version of original strap and buckle. Velociphile's new features: should be supplied with both Ti bracelet and above strap. Micro-adjust version of both. Wet suit adjustment clasp. How about 60s style bracelet - much like unloved Master series.

Crystal to be sapphire with new type of non scratch antireflection coat! That’s it.

And finally,

I'm not hung up on a 'replica' as such, I'm not interested in JLC copying it, but I'm interested in them making Polaris as part of their product line - I mean more like it should have never been stopped.

Take the Speedmaster, give or take some straight lugs and the switch of movement from Cal 321 and some words on the dial and there you have it: the same watch made for nearly 50 years. Awesome. And it doesn't stop Omega from making masses of other things. You can choose a new one or seek out a straight lug vintage one. With Polaris you haven't got the choice.

I remember discussing design of mountain bikes with a high up employee of a very well known brand at an engineering seminar. I asked how they saw the ultimate suspension bike in the future; how they were developing towards it, giving the rider the best performance and so on. Answer: "Nah, we're only interested in new product designs and style to keep ahead of the Taiwanese copies....." Smoke, mirrors, fluff and meddling - not progress towards a better MTB.

I work in R&D and we forever keep finding that we're right first time out of the box with a new system/idea. When we try modifications it usually makes things worse not better. Like a band's first album is very often the best, Polaris was perfect first time and in fact the Compressor Memovox is the copy.....
Imagine a developed, newer Polaris with the new movements and materials of 40 years of progress that's what I'm after.

Let's hope JLC have a change of heart.

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