This year was rumored to be the year that Jaeger LeCoultre brought a new sports watch to market – one that would join the growing ranks of the modern “luxury sport” category, and (we hoped) would bring a fresh rival to the likes of Piaget, Girard Perregaux, Audemars Piguet, and even Patek Philippe competing in that space. And they have – sorta. Since 2018 is also the 50th anniversary of the original Memovox Polaris from 1968, Jaeger LeCoultre is introducing at SIHH five new Polaris models to an entirely new collection in a variety of complications and finishes: a pair of three-handed models (one with a date, and one without), a chronograph, a worldtimer, and a limited-edition alarm variant to carry the torch for the original watch that inspired the whole collection.
Granted, these new Polaris watches are far from the modern Nautilus-killer we’ve been craving, but that’s ok – looks like we’ll be saving that battle for another day. What we do have here though, is a quintet of excellent, vintage-inspired sports watches designed for a wide variety of active lifestyles, and built with in-house manufactured movements and JLC’s exemplary finishing – and that’s probably enough to tide us over for now.
Quick background on the Polaris – it was introduced in 1968 in extremely limited numbers as the successor to the Deep Sea Alarm. The ’68 Polaris had an innovative new caseback designed to amplify the alarm underwater, while remaining fully watertight. It also employed a legible 12-6-9 dial layout with a unique rotating disc in the center for the alarm, and three-crown design (one to set the alarm, the middle to operate the watch functions, and the 4:00 crown to rotate the bi-directional internal bezel), yielding a distinctive aesthetic and functionality that would make it considerably desirable on the secondary market once discontinued. Then in 2008, as the vintage re-issue trend was just catching fire, Jaeger LeCoultre paid tribute to the Polaris’ 40th anniversary with a faithful re-edition that was even rarer than its source material – fewer than 800 pieces in that run.
The incredible scarcity and subsequent appetite for the Tribute to Polaris likely informed the new Polaris collection, as Jaeger LeCoultre seems to be putting a fair amount of equity into the hope that collectors aren’t just in love with the history and rarity of the Polaris, but its general design and utility as well. To get there, JLC is building the line around an entirely new case – one that’s subtly different than its predecessors, with short, faceted lugs, and a thinner rounded bezel. The emblematic crowns have also gotten a facelift to improve their grip. Most of the pieces in the collection carry 100m of water resistance, and have an exhibition caseback to show off their respective movements inside. Strap options throughout the collection are also markedly diverse, with rubber, leather, and a newly engineered three-link bracelet joining the fold.
As mentioned, there’s a complication and execution for pretty much every lifestyle proclivity: from everyday versatility, to globe-trotting, and even proper diving, collectors are spoiled for choice. The three-handed no-date variants will mark the collection’s entry point and will probably prove to be the most popular. Measuring 41mm, and available in both black, and blue dials with combined sunray, grained and opaline finishes, and a nice range of strap options, they’re fitted with JLC’s in-house cal. 898/1 – a bi-directional winding automatic movement with ceramic ball bearings – the same as what’s deployed in the Geophysic 1958 LE and Master Control watches (sans date and gold rotor). If there ever were a more serious competitor to the Rolex Explorer, I’d sure like to see it.
For those who prefer the spirit of the original, the collection’s Polaris Date does more than just add a date aperture at 3:00 with the cal. 898/1 – it also mixes in a domed crystal and vanilla-colored Super-LumiNova, while upping the water resistance to 200m, just like 2008’s Tribute to Polaris. The caseback is also closed, and engraved with a diver – just like the original, and a strong signal of design intent that this is the most sporty and capable of all the new options.
The biggest departure from the source material is going to be the Chronograph and Worldtimer variants, which are slightly upsized to 42mm and are fitted with JLC’s 751 chronograph caliber which has 65 hours of power reserve. The Chronograph is also the only option in the collection that adds in a rose gold-cased variant. The Worldtimer is a tad larger at 44mm to maintain legibility of the added cities rehaut, but is made from titanium to keep the weight low. It maintains the 100m water resistance of the rest of the Polaris collection though, making it an excellent consideration for a pure travel/vacation/office watch. Sadly, all the chronograph options are missing the design purity found in the center ‘alarm disc’ which has long been a signature of the Polaris. Though non-functional, its real estate is at least preserved in spirit with the three-hand models, but if you’re not gunning for vintage authenticity, the bi-compax chronograph is still a wonderful design on its own merits.
Conversely, the most faithful of the new Polaris collection is going to be the Polaris Memovox 50th Anniversary Edition, which brings all the design cues and triple-crowned signatures of the original, including JLC’s vaunted Calibre 956 – the same alarm movement used in all the modern Memovox watches, including 2008’s Polaris Tribute. Contrary to the last Tribute, the 50th Anniversary variant feels as though it’s been slightly updated, rather than re-skinned. It borrows the applied hourly elements, long sword-shaped hands and slick new 42mm case from the rest of the collection, while doubling down on vintage vibes with a liberal application of beige Super-LumiNova throughout. Your odds of scoring one are only slightly higher than the original Tribute, as it’ll be limited to 1,000 pieces, this go-around.
All told, the new Polaris collection has some winners, and is a big step for Jaeger LeCoultre, even if it does little to whet our desire for something a little fresher and more modern from the Grand Maison at SIHH this year. Pricing for the automatic model will range from $6,600–$7,600, the date model will be $7,750–$8,700, and the Memovox is $12,600. The chrono ranges between $10,000–$24,500 while the worldtimer chrono is priced between $14,500–$14,600. Stay tuned for our hands-on impressions once we’ve had a chance to see them all in-person. jaeger-lecoultre.com