Let’s face it, you’re probably familiar with being woken up by your alarm clock on your iPhone or other digital device. If you are like me, your “alarm clock” are the shuffling and playing noises that children make at stupid o’clock in the morning (there is no snooze button for this, unfortunately). If the former is the case, your alarm system is void of all romanticism. You simply set the time, even selecting repeat days, and you’re done – no need to ever touch it again. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but the watch enthusiast in me always loves to explore the wonderful world of mechanical timepieces. Like many other complications that exist amongst the Chronographs, Tourbillons and Minute Repeaters, there is the alarm complication. A humble complication compared to others, but its effectiveness cannot be easily forgotten.
Though the mechanical alarm complication is relatively straightforward, it is quite intriguing. Some even use a secondary tightly wound spring to create the sound. This is similar to a minute repeater. New mechanical alarm watches are considered quite a novelty as they have been largely overtaken by electronic devices. Plus, the noise they make is not as charming as your favourite song that wakes you up in the morning on your mobile device. While no mechanical watch is extremely practical compared to electronic devices, the alarm complication seems to have suffered worse than any other.
Mechanical alarm watches typically have a dedicated alarm hand that is used to set an alarm time (to within a few minutes of when you want to be reminded). Each time an alarm is sounded, the alarm spring needs to be rewound for it to work again. Some of the best mechanical alarm watches are easily loud enough to wake you up and often louder than a beeping digital alarm.
It is amazing to know how old the alarm function is. In fact, user settable alarm clocks date back to the 15th century. However, it wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that an actual mechanical alarm clock that was user-settable was successfully patented and made. In the mid-20th century, the first wristwatch housing this complication was made. Such timepieces were made by none other than Vulcain, who created the Cricket. Released in 1947, the Cricket was the first watch with a mechanical alarm complication, which used a double case back system to aid the alarm resonance – a rather simple but ingenious design.
Soon after Vulcain’s Cricket, Jaeger-LeCoultre created their alarm complication timepiece: the Memovox. First introduced in the 1950s, it sported a manual wind movement, but JLC didn’t stop there. With further development, they also created a number of alarm wristwatches – most notably making the legendary Deep Sea Alarm and the much-coveted Polaris. Though the alarm complication fell out of favour for most, some watch manufacturers still produce alarm wristwatches – most notably Jaeger-LeCoultre, with the Memovox and their Amvox range. They even reproduced the legendary Deep Sea Alarm and Polaris. Even Vulcain are still producing the Cricket till this day. Others include Glashütte Original, Blancpain, and Breguet. Can this almost obsolete complication make its way back to being popular again? That remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: nothing quite beats the charm of a mechanical alarm wristwatch.