Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Alarm Watch, the One and Only Useful Complication

I’m hard pressed to think of any useful watch complication, except one.

It’s not a chronograph. When was the last time you actually had to time something? Unless you were on Apollo 13, probably never.

Moonphase? Get real. Nobody needs that.

A rare, vintage Girard-Perregaux alarm watch. Only 350 of
this reference 9490 were made between 1972 and 1976.
Day/night indicator? That might be helpful...if you live in a cave. Otherwise, it’s obvious whether it’s day or night.

GMT watch? I’ll grant you this can be useful if you frequently scoot between time zones, but adding or subtracting seven, eight or however many time zones you need, is often faster than correctly setting the GMT function.

Even day and date complications are less than useful. You’re more likely to set the date wrong on your watch (or set it out of sync) than you are to need it.

One watch complication, however, is as valuable as a water in a desert: An alarm. While seemingly half the world’s population relies on their phone’s alarm to wake them, there’s the ever-present risk that a software glitch will render your alarm mute. Or your phone’s battery will die before the sun comes up. Or you’ll accidentally set your phone to complete silence. In other words, phone alarms are fragile creatures.

But a mechanical alarm watch is virtually failure-proof simply because it’s mechanical. It’s always going to work, as long as you wind and set it. Mechanical alarm watches make great primary alarms, or backups, if you’re the type of person who has a rational fear of alarm-not-working, and need to set a second alarm just in case.

Alarm watches are also useful for baking cakes, reminding you when to leave for the airport, waking up before you reach your station if you sleep on the train, alerting you to put the wash in the dryer, telling you it’s time to feed the parking meter, and reminding you to pick your kids up at school. There are as many uses for an alarm watch as there are things you need to do or remember.

A chronograph may make you look like pilot, but an alarm watch is that down-to-earth complication that gets you up for your day job.

Alarm watches are part of horology’s rich heritage. Vulcain’s Cricket, released in 1947 was the first mass produced and wildly popular alarm watch, succeeding where other companies had failed. Other manufacturers followed with their own alarm watches, including Jaeger-LeCoultre, which first sold its Memovox in 1951 and Tudor, which released its Advisor watch in 1957.

Although there are far fewer alarm watches to choose from than say chronographs, there are some surprisingly good — and, of course these being watches—expensive alarm watches. One of my favorites is the Glashutte Original Senator, which stands alone because the alarm can be set up to 30 days in advance.

For smaller wrists there’s the Breguet Le Réveil du Tsar 5707, weighing in at 39 mm.

Did I forget to mention the prices for these two watches? That’s on purpose. You can find them easily, I’m sure. Just take a deep breath before you look.

Tudor still makes their Advisor alarm watch  and Vulcain makes the President (which was previously called the Cricket) . The 40 mm Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Memovox has a handsome, simple look, and comes in two prices: heart-stopping and I’ve-seen-worse.

But the real treat comes with buying a vintage alarm watch. There’s a sense of connection with history when you wear a watch from a long time ago, especially because in the era before clock radios and phone alarms, watch alarms were vital tools. Buying a vintage alarm watch can be tricky, though—I recommend this informative Hodinkee article, which tells you how to look out for fakes and Frankenwatches. You can still find Seiko Bell-Matic alarm watches, a horological gem, manufactured between 1966 and 1978. As a general rule, vintage alarm watches are not only more historical, but also less expensive than new ones.

Put an alarm watch on your wrist. You’ll be surprised how often you use it.

No comments:

Post a Comment