Revisiting all the History of JLC Diving watches is a passionate Dive into the Beauty.
Even if I'm a Polaris Lover, there is not only the Polaris to consider, as some other very interesting watches existed, before and after this Cult Watch.
For those interested by the Polaris, I will brievely speak of it, here, as I did a Review you can read here:
The main purpose of this post is to :
1/ Give some justice to these models which lived and still live in the shadow of the Polaris.
2/ To enhance the fact that JLC has a strong tradition in the Diving Watches, till nowadays, with the new Diving Models.
1/ The Vintage JLC Diving Watches:
All began in 1959, when Lecoultre Watches, the American Division of Jager Lecoultre, had the brilliant idea to launch an Alarm Diving Watch.
A brilliant idea, because this " concept " didn't already exist, and that the use of an alarm watch, which vibrates a lot, under the water, is obvious...
The Diver doesn't have to perpetually have a look on his watch, to check his diving timing!
A/ The Memovox Deep Sea Alarm ( Ref E 857 ):
This is maybe the rarest JLC Vintage Diving watch, as only 1061 pieces were produced between 1959 and 1962.
This reference didn't even exist in the JLC or Lecoultre catalogues, at this time...
Only a few ads represented this watch, and allowed us to have an idea of this timepiece, showing it with a bracelet.
In fact, there were 2 kind of Memovox Deep Sea Alarm, the American Model, and the European Version...
The American DSA:
The rarer European Version:
I always have a doubt with the Vulcain Nautical, but I think that this is the first Alarm Diving watch ever released...And if the Vulcain was released before, the DSA is obviously the First Automatic Alarm Diving Watch...for sure.
The movement is the caliber 815 automatic, which is the same than the famous 825 we find in the Polaris and in some other Memovoxes, but without date...
The watch is water resistant to 100 meters, as every serious Diving Watch.
The domed plexy is another characteristic we find in a lot of diving watchs of this era, and gives a lot of charm to this watch.
As a first incursion in the world of Diving, this DSA can be considered as a ground of experiences, which reinforces its interest.
You have to know that on the European and American models, the bezel doesn't turn, which is quite strange for a watch which is a tool for divers...But this can be compensed by the possiblity to set the Alarm which works even under the water...
Even the hands are strange...I mean that on a Diving watch, the luminous hands are important...Not all the models were equipped with luminous hands, as shown on the pics of my personnal watch...Which was certainly one of the very first series.
A last word about the very nice case back...
A word, and better, a pic...
You will see a nice engraving of a diver in action.
If you want to know more about this model, please click here to read the review I made about it!
B/ The Polaris:
One year after the Deep Sea Alarm, JLC began to work on a new watch, with an improved case ( Piquerez ), Water Resistant to 200 meters, an internal turning bezel, and an Alarm.
So, in 1963, came the first protoypes, ( 50 pieces ) which, in fact, will give birth to the the Polaris with thin metal indexes, in 1965, ( 500 pieces, ref E 859 ).
Then, from 1967 till 1970, came the Painted indexes, maybe more useful in a Diving watch...
So, a total of 1714 Polaris was produced between 1963 and 1970...
There also was a So Called Polaris II, a very funky Diving watch, oversized ( around 44mm diameter! ), in a Tonneau shape...
Ref E 870, made in the early 70ies, in 1120 pieces, housing a Cal 916, a so called Speed Beat movement ( 28 800 vibrations per hour )...
A stylized Case back, looking like a sea shell:
Do you prefer it in Red? ... No problems, here you are.
Even if a bit Funky, this is surprisingly a nice watch to wear, which comfortably fits the wrist:
And here, the ad of the era...
And another funny one:
The Polaris should be considered as the 1st real JLC Diving Watch, IMO, as it bears all the characteristics of such a watch..Luminous hands and indexes, turning bezel, big water resistance, which was not the case of the very sexy and appealing Deep Sea alarm, for the reasons written above...
C/ The Master Mariner Deep Sea.
Note that all the Master Mariner weren't diving watches...
Among the 3 Diving Watches ever made by JLC, this is, with the exception of the Polaris II, the most original one, with its cushion case...
Here, no alarm, just a Internal Turning Bezel, 2 crowns, and a water resistance to 2OO meters, and the date.
The case is 37 x 36mm big, with a nice domed plexy, which gives it a nice allure...
A nice and legible dial, as requested for a Diving Watch..
And as we speak about the dial, there was an amazing US version, called HPG, another appellation for a high beating movement , cal 164, beating at 28 800 vph instead of the cal 883 with its 19800 vph.
In both cases, the name of this watch is a bit different depending on the catalogues...
In the 1968 European Catalogue, the watch is called " Master Mariner Plongeur " ( Diver )
In the 1969 American Catalogue, it's called " Barracuda Deep Sea ".
It was produced between 1968 and 1971 in 1532 pieces.
Here, the link for those who want to know more about this watch:
And a last pic to end the topic about the Master Mariner, a Lady Diving version...The Master Mariner Dolphin, quite small ( 30mm, AFAIK ), released in 1967....
Conventionnal shape of case, plexy dial, legible dial, turning bezel, JLC thought about women who wanted to dive, obviously, offering them a real tool watch!
D/ The Diving Chronograph( Ref E 2643 ) :
Well, it's difficult to name it as it was given different appellations and presentations...
In the French Catalogue from 68 / 71, it was called " Chrongraphe étanche " ( Water Resistant Chronograph ).
But in the US Catalogue from 1969, its name was " Shark Deep Sea "...
And for the European catalogue, it was " Vogue Chronograph "...
In all the cases, the Water Resistance was up to 120 meters.
Another difficulty with this Chrono is that we had basically 3 variants, with 3 different bezels, a GMT, A WorldTime ( which in fact was more decorative than useful ), and a classic diving one...
The Classic Diving Chrono:
Here's the WorldTime:
What I understood is that in the USA, this Chrono was deliverd with the 3 aluminium bezels, with a Tachymeter only on the Classic Chrono and on the World Time.
The Hands were in all cases luminous, and the case was oversized ( 41mm Diameter ).
I don't have the number of pieces produced during the few years when this Diving Chrono was made, alas.
The movement was the caliber 726, a non in house chrono, in fact, as it was a Valjoux 72 ( Thanks, Clavi, for the confirmation! )...
2/ The " Vintage Competitors "...
Here, I will not present an exhaustive list of the Diving watches made, but only the most representative...
A/ Panerai, which, AFAIK, was the the first, in collaboration with Rolex, to release Diving Watches, since 1936...
- The California Radiomir, in 1936 ( Ref 3646 ):
Here the pic of the respectful re edition:
Which used a Rolex Case, movement and dial, under Panerai specifications.
- The " Normal Radiomir" ( ref 3646 ) from 1938, same than the Cali but with a Panerai Dial
- The Luminor 6152 and 6152 / 1 which used a Rolex Cortebert movement ( the same than the Rads, or an Angelus movement with 8 Days power reserve and a small second), in the years 40:
- The Egiziano small and normal from the mid 50ies ( ref 6254 for the small, GPF 2/56 for the normal ) :
Don't know who ot credit for this last pic..Sorry!
Note that all the Vintage Panerai were 47mm diameter, except the normal Egitiano which was ...60mm!
Since 1953, and even before as we saw it with Panerai, Rolex has an undiscontinued tradition and legitimity in the real Art of Diving Watches.
From the 6200 to the 16610, the Vintage Deep Sea and the modern one, the Sea Dwellers, how many watches Rolex produced?
This is just amazing, stunning, mad...
Have a look at Jeff's review about the Rolex Sub, you will learn a lot!
Here are some pics borrowed to bMike Wood,and Philipps, our 2 Rolex Killers! LOL
Let's not forget Tudor, which was the choice of the French Army...
As the 5513/ 5517 was the pick of the SAS: ( credit pic to Bernard )
Or the Sea Dweller Triple 6, 16 660:
Indeed, Rolex made a lot for the Diving Watches!
Another great competitor, when we speak of Diving Watches is without doubt Blancpain.
We all know the story.
Once upon a time, there was a guy Called Bob Maloubier ( a French Officer ) who wanted a reliable Diving watch, and adked Blancpain to make it...
The Fifty Fathoms was born, by coincidence..In 1953, like the Sub Rolex.
Here, the original model, and below, the 50th Anniversary Re Edition...
Then, the FF for the German Army, ( circa 68 ):
Or the earlier Mil Spec ( Around 1960 ):
Credit pic: Dr Strong.
These are true tool Watches, with a tough finish, a basic, but reliable AS movement, but a lot of power, and charm.
These FF were produced for a bit more than 20 years, ans count a lot in this Diving World!
Here again 2 legendary watches, The Sea Master 300 released a few years after the first Rolex sub, and the Sea Master Professional 600, so called Plo Prof, at the end of the 60ies:
Here theSM 600 Ploprof ( stands for PLOngeur PROFessionnel ), bigger ans thicker than the SM 300, very fine, well balanced, and even elegant.( Don't know who to credit )...
As you have certainly noticed, all these Diving watches comes with a single crown, and an outside bezel...
And there are some other, of course, like Seiko.
But, since 1956, date of Mr Piquerez invention ( re to the Compressor Case), we will see, at the end of the 50ies, and the beginning of the 60ies, a new kind of Diving Watches, which have an " air de famille " with the JLC Vintage, and which are multicrowns ( 2 or 3 )...
E/ The Compressor Cases:
Honor to the Watch that is the closer to the JLC Vintage Diving, the ...Vulcain Cricket Nautical!
In collaboration with Hannes KELLER, Vulcain realized one of the first ( I always have a doubt, between the Vulcain and the JLC Deep Sea Alarm ) Diving Alarm Watch...
A Mechanical manual winding movement, a ring that sounds like a Cricket, a big water resistance ( as all the compressor cases: 200 meters), this is a perfect toolwatch, mechanically sophisticated...
Then we saw some other watches with this contruction of case, like Enicar, of course, with the Sherpa, the Memostar, or the Super Divette, but also ....
Longines, with its Diver from the beginning of the 60's, a true nice appealing watch.
IWC, a bit later ( 1965/66, I believe), with the reference 812:
Another myth in the Diving Watches!
Universal, with its Pole Router Sub: ( Credit Pics: Steve G..Thanks, my friend!)
All the Compressor Cases are sized at 42mm, have a very close design, but are truely appealing, with their own personnality!
So, the JLC vintage watches have a nice place in this range...
They didn't have the bigger water resistance, maybe, compared to the Plo Prof or to the Rolex sea Dweller, but they were quite innovative, with their nice in house automatic movement ( except the Chrono ), and their Alarm.
The funny thing is to observe that while JLC changed the shape of their case, as for the Polaris II, some other took the same direction, as Blancpain with their 70ies FF, or Omega, with the Plo Prof, for example.
2/ The Modern JLC Diving Watches:
In 2002, JLC released a new watch which stated the re birth of the brand with Diving Watches...
The Master Compressor Memovox:
JLC invented for this watch, and for the whole family of Memovox Compressor Watches, the technic of the compression key crown," which ensures optimal water resistance by supercharging one of the 4 toric gaskets of the crowns " ( JLC Catalogue 2003/ 2004 ).
This is an alarm Diving Watch, water resistant to 100 meters, clearly inpsired by the legendary Polaris.
The Memovox Compressor, born in 2002, was discontinued in 2008.
Then, in 2007,The new References were released, more elaborated, improved in all points, called Master Compressor Diving, with basically 3 models:
- The simpler one, the Master Compressor Diving GMT
- The Master Compressor Diving Chronograph:
- The Master Compressor Diving Pro Geographic.
What has to be said is that nowadays, a Diving Watch must respect severe international rules to receive the Homologation:
- A clear indication of every 5 minutes indexes on the bezel, which has furthermore to be protected against unvolontary rotations.
- An indicator showing that the watch is working.
- Visibility at at least 25cm in the dark.
- 100 meters minimum of Water resistance.
- Anti Magnetic and Antishock.
And so on...
Needless to say that JLC Diving Watches respect these rules and conditions...
Althoug it is a good thing, there is nothing exceptionnal, here.
All the brands have to submit their watches to the same tests to get the Homologation.
What is particular with JLC is that their watches still present some nice specificities:
The Compressor Crown(s) for all the Diving models.
Titanium Grade 5 ( Which is not a JLC Exclusivity, of course, but not that current, too! ).
A Great Water Resistance: 1000 meters, and 300 For the Pro Diving model.
And some nice and interesting addition of complications, which we'll check one by one...
A / The Diving Pro Géographic :
Obviously the most original Diving Watch, due to its mechanical Depht Meter...
I personnaly know 3 other watches, the IWC Deep One, the Panerai Depht Meter but this last one is an electronical Depth Gauge, added to a Mechanical Movement, and, AFAIK, the oldest of the Depht Meter Watches, the Favre Leuba Baty 160, in hte middle of the '60ies.
So, at the end, there are ( AFAIK ) only 2 full mechanical and recent Depht Meters, the IWC and the JLC...
The Deep One has the advantage to be the first Depht Meter wristwatch.
It was launched in 1999, and was released in less than 900 pieces, due to an important cost, and a problem of reliability.
The white pointer indicates the current dephts, while the yellow one gives the maximum depht...
The major problem was the presence of water in the tube which may cause a misfunctionment of the system...
But this was a great watch, indeed!
The Pro Diving Geo is much more elaborated...
The whole system of the Depth Meter is absolutely water resistant, so you have no risk of misfunctioment, as it was the case on the Deep one.
Seeing it working is a great and amazing show, as you will admire all the components of the Depht Meter playing their partition...
JLC added in this Diving Watch another complication you can see on the last pic, a second time zone, selected by the Cities Disk, at 6...Which is nice, for the international Divers who don't have to set their tool watch during their trips...
A last word on the size of the watch: 46,3mm and an unbelievable thickness: 19, 8 mm!
And I don't speak of the whole dimension, " Horn" and compressor keys included...
Fortunately, the impressive beast is light, due to its Titanium Grade 5 case, but the first impression is something like.."Wow How could I wear it? "...
I think that this is a very interesting tool watch, and not a watch to wear with a suit...So Why not using it in the right conditions?
Yes, an Electronic Depht Gauge will always ( like watches ) be more accurate than a mechanical one, but this last one is maybe more magic, don' you think so?
B/ The Diving Chronographs:
I thought a bit about it, do you know how many Diving Cronos are on the market?
Not a lot!
We have Ulysse NARDIN, With the Maxi Marine Chrono,
Panerai with the Pam 194 Chrono Sub Left on the pic..Credit to Patrick K..Thanks, mate!)
Blancpain with the FF Chrono,
IWC, with the Aquatimer, and that's quite all, I think..
So, it's quite rare to see a Chrono in a diving Watch, although, strangely, it's useful on this kind of watch...
This is a very legible watch, with its big hands and its well designed dial...
I love the small parts of rubber on the pushers!
Here, on the wrist, with a nice presence, even if, personally, I prefer the simpler Diving GMT:
Note that if the Titanium model is water resistant to 1000 meters, the Rose gold version is 300 meters WR.
A Tradition for JLC as we saw that in the late 60ies, this brand already released a Diving Chrono, at a time when quite nobody did it ( Blancpain apart, with its legendary Air Command).
C/ The Diving GMT:
Here again, I don't think there are many GMT Diving Watches on the market.
Except Blancpain, in year 2000, with the FF GMT, I don't see other GMT Diving Watches stricto sensu, filling the rules of a Diving watches, of course...
So I exclude the Panerai Arktos Pam 186, the Rolex GMT, because they don't have a Diving Bezel...
This is amazing how a Bracelet or a strap may change the general look of this watch!
And my favourite, with the simple rubber strap, which gives it a more evident tool watch look, as it is!
This is not a small watch, as the case is 44mm big, and 16,25mm thick, but this is the idea we can have of a toolwatch, because it's its first use, isn't it?
Anyway, the simple dial, not overcharged, gives a balanced look to this Diving, and maybe the rubber strap is more appropriate, as I found it more comfortable than the rubber articulated or the titanium bracelet, but, once again, I'm not a " Bracelet " guy....
Since this year, it also exists a 46,3mm version of this watch, unlimited, but which is visually speaking, really bigger and thicker, my favourite being again the 44mm version.
The true contenders are difficult to find, as, once again, except the Blancpain FF GMT ( year 2 000) I don't have in mind any other...
But I'm not sure at all that this Blancpain has to be considered as a Diving Watch, as all the conditions are not here, by the fault of a non graduate bezel...
You have, actually, some competitors without GMT, like the new, very new Deep Sea Rolex, The Panerai Pam 64 ( LE from 2000), or the actual Pam 243, both 1000 meters Water Resistant, the IWC Aquatimer 1000 meters, too, and the new Blancpain FF, for example.
And let's end by the Star of the stars, the new re editions of the Polaris, which is another stunning and original Diving Watch.
Original, because this is, if I'm not wrong, the only one to get a plexy glass 200 meters water resistant, with an Alarm, and respect all the required rules and reglementation about Diving Watches, well, not all, as the bezel of the Polaris turns in both directions, which is not conform to the reglementation. ( Same obsevation for the Longines Legend Diver, and a doubt for the IWC Aquatimer, as I don't know if the bezel is unidirectionnal...)
Even if we consider the re edition of some legendary Diving Watches ( Blancpain FF, Longines Legend Diver, or IWC Aquatimer Vintage re edition ), this one is, and stays, for sure, as the most original!
As to give a conclusion to this topic, we can say that when some brands played the card of the Military playground, like Omega with its SM 300, Rolex with the 5513 / 5517, or Blancpain with its Fifty Fathoms, some others went on the Diving Register, as IWC with its 812, or the Universal Pole Router Sub and the magnificient Longines Diver, for example, some others, as JLC, but also ... Vulcain, decided to put for the originality, with their Alarm Diving Watches.
Nowadays, all this brands still exist, and present some very nice Diving Watches, even if the Quartz watches were very dangerous competitors, as more accurate, and complete for Diving activities.
We see a " revival " of the Vintage, with IWC, Longines, and JLC, who presented nice re editions, as if it was a parallel challenge.
Beside this challenge, there is another one, certainly more interesting, the originality, the innovation, the creation.
Among all these brands, JLC played its card, with these 3 Diving Watches ( and maybe more to come ), which are an interesting blend of toolwatches and technical, original watches.
Isn't Diving Beautiful?
Best to all!
The article you've done is simply amazing and deserves our heartfelt thanks and congratulations.
Me, a lover of diving watches, have enjoyed as a child reading and re-reading this wonderful work.
And if it is accompanied by much pics, you can not ask for anything more.
Thank you very much again for this impressive work.
Best my french hermano.
I really enjoyed that.
The irony of all that is the JLC watch that is closest to a "real" diver (In My Very Humble Opinion)is the Dolphin. If only it were not so small!
thank you for a superb article. I just came home - read it¨twice and will read it again. Collection of pictures/data will be for reference,Im shure Ill come back to this many times. The Dive watches are the mythical, mystical, they represent dreams of exploration and unchartered frontiers - there is a lot of romantisicm in these old pieces to feed our imagination and dreams. You so elegantly bring it out by this article. I really enjoyed this read.
You clearly show that JLC have a tradition for dive watches, however I dont consider them "professional / heavy duty" like some of the stuff Rolex/Omega has done - these are watches to be taken seriously.
You raise the question regarding the Vulcain Cricket Nautical - this was released in 1961, while their first alarm watch was released in 1947.
thank you Nicolas
all the best
As always, you present great information and fantastic pictures as reference points. I truly learn so much every time I read one of your postings. This article was so timely for me as well, because I am hunting for a new diver to purchase this year. Decisions, decisions...
I tried to pick up a vintage JLC Memovox the other day, but wasn't quite quick enough on the trigger, and lost out to another party. Sometimes things are not meant to be. You already know that I'm a fan of the Legend Diver reissue, so that's in the mix. There are some mid-level German divers, and also Panerai and Ennebi to consider also. The head spins...
I have a feeling the right diver will make itself known at some point. It will be like falling in love, the mix of that right individual, at the right time, at the right price (Well, maybe not quite exactly like falling in love!). At any rate, I hope the right diver presents itself before my next snorkeling trip, otherwise, it'll be my trusty Seiko diver accompanying me on vacation again this year.
Warm regards, from an indecisive, Daos.
As you'll have to spend a lot of thime thinking, searching, looking again and again the diffrent pieces you have in mind.
This is a very exciting period, my friend.
Let us know!
I have learned a lot and have enjoyed reading your great article.
Only the PuristS offer these kind of reviews, thanks a lot for spending your time educating us !