Which Brand Made The First Alarm Wristwatch?
Pocketwatch movements with alarm functions have been around since the 1600s, but the first production alarm pocket watch wouldn’t arise until the end of the 1800s.
Employing a similar mechanism to that of the previously mentioned pocketwatches, Eterna (1914) was the first to conceive a wristwatch with an alarm. It employed a rotating bezel for configuring the desired alarm time.
Unfortunately, this first mechanical watch with an alarm was inefficient and error-prone. Its alarm was also very short and drastically drained the energy from the single mainspring of the watch.
Many decades would pass before a practical alarm wristwatch would appear.
The Vulcain Cricket [First Popular Mechanical Alarm Watch]
In the ’40s, Vulcain would introduce the Cricket alarm watch, one which would bring them much recognition and success. Boasting a hand-wound movement with twin barrels, the watch possessed a simple and reliable mechanism for setting the alarm.
It also possessed a pusher that would “turn off” the alarm when it was ringing. If fully powered and unrestricted, the alarm could ring for as long as 25 seconds.
Additionally, the case back of the watch was marked by holes which allowed for the “chirping” sound of the alarm to escape. Naturally, the sound of the alarm is what earned the watch its name.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox [First Automatic Watch With Alarm]
Soon after Vulcain’s Cricket found success, Jaeger-LeCoultre would release their own take on the mechanical alarm watch.
Unlike the Cricket, JLC’s Memovox possessed a bump rotor that wound the timekeeping barrel while the alarm barrel could be ‘charged’ by winding a second crown.
The setting of the alarm also moved to the second crown. Moreover, the alarm indicator was redesigned into an innovative inner dial disc that could be rotated to configure the desired alarm time.
How Does A Mechanical Alarm Work?
The mechanism for an alarm watch can be very complex, especially in some of the examples we cover further down the page. As you’ll see, there’s even an alarm timepiece where the alarm can be scheduled to sound off a month out.
In its most basic form, the modern alarm watch contains two separate mainspring barrels. One of these will power the watch’s timing functions, while the other stores energy for the alarm complication.
JLC Calibre 956 Automatic Alarm Calibre
The barrels may be wound solely via a winding rotor, or via a second crown as was the case with the first Memovox mentioned earlier. There must also be an indicator for setting the time at which the alarm should go off.
Again, this can be very simple or extremely complex. A simple alarm could be set to activate at 12pm, for example. A complex one could be configured to engage at 12:45 PM on the 15th day of next month, with today being the 20th day of the current month. Evidently, the latter mechanism must also track the calendar rather than simply a specific time within the 24 hours of the day.
When the configured time is reached, the alarm barrel will be triggered to release its potential energy, generally acting upon a hammer that will rapidly oscillate back and forth against a gong, generating the alarm’s sound.
PP minute repeater movement with dual hammers and gong. Image: Patek.com
The terms “hammer” and “gong” may sound familiar if you’ve read through our guide and list of the best minute repeaters. These high complications also possess the same two components, though they act differently.
The difference with the alarm watch is a lack of control in the action of the hammer. In minute repeaters, there are multiple hammers as well as a very specific rhythm in the strikes against the gong. Alternatively, in the alarm movement, the hammer will strike the gong rapidly until it runs out of energy.
The Modern Alarm Watch Landscape
In the present day, mechanical alarm watches have seemingly fallen out of favor. A truly helpful tool in its heyday has been completely eclipsed by digital watches and other technologies.
There are not many brands producing alarm complications in contemporary times, except for a handful. Luckily, the ones that do, do so with skill and craftsmanship. We’ve brought together our favorite ones, so let’s take a look.
Top Alarm Watches
1. Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Memovox Ref. Q141848J
The modern Jaeger LeCoultre Memovox offering, now the Master Memovox, draws direct inspiration from those first versions released in the 1950s. The aesthetic design and function may be as far as the similarities stretch, though.
The Master Memovox is a top-of-the-line Jaeger-LeCoultre watch in every sense. Beginning with the steel case, every aspect of the watch is skillfully executed.
The dial, which looks blue at first glance, actually possesses three different finishes of blue that make for ideal legibility. Furthermore, there are applied hour indices that impart additional depth and complexity to the face of the watch.
Lastly, we consider the heart beating within. A JLC 956 caliber, certified by the individual 1,000 Hour Control tests to withstand temperature and atmospheric changes as well as shocks and magnetism.
There’s a reason why the Memovox model family has lasted until today, especially knowing the fate of most other alarm collections. It’s a handsome watch, perfectly executed by masters of watchmaking, made even more useful by a date function. If there’s something not to like here, we haven’t found it yet.
- Brand – Jaeger-LeCoultre
- Model – Master Memovox (See on JLC’s site.)
- Price – $11,100
2. Vulcain Cricket X-TREME Ref. 211931.202BRF
As was the case with the Memovox, the Cricket has been upgraded in essentially every single way when compared to the first model from the ’40s.
The classical profile has been replaced by a bold and aggressive dive watch design, at least in this fantastic Cricket X-TREME. The case is black-treated titanium and steel, and the textured black dial possesses blue luminous indices. The alarm indicator remains unchanged though; it’s still found on the dial as an additional, albeit shorter, hand at center.
Unlike the original, this Cricket alarm touts an automatic movement, a manufacture caliber nonetheless, with date function. The caliber is also neatly and agreeably finished with Geneva stripes and blue accents.
Although the looks have evolved drastically, the heritage in the Cricket X-TREME is alive and well. Sometimes it takes daring changes for watch brands to survive, and Vulcain has proven that their flagship model is adaptable enough to weather these hardships as well as the test of time itself.
- Brand – Vulcain
- Model – Cricket X-TREME (See on Vulcain’s site.)
- Price – $12,250
3. Breguet Marine Alarme Musicale Ref. 5547BR/12/9ZU
The Alarme Musicale is one of the latest releases from Breguet in their Marine line. In this version, the watch is constructed of 18K rose gold and presented on a brown alligator strap.
This automatic alarm watch’s face consists of a lustrous silvered gold dial. The same is adorned by an ocean-wave guilloché inner dial, a traditional brushed finish hour track, and rose gold center and subdial hands.
As with every timepiece that Breguet makes, this Marine Alarme exudes pure class. The alarm complication is perfectly integrated and further enhanced with an on/off indicator and alarm power reserve.
Topping off the list of complications on this Breguet alarm watch also dual time/GMT registers and a date at 6 o’clock, all of which are presented within an intricately crafted 18K rose gold case. If there’s such a thing as an ideal travel watch not lacking in luster, this Marine Alarme Musicale may just be it.
4. Glashütte Original Senator Diary Ref. 100-13-02-02-01
Glashütte Original’s Senator collection is generally recognized for its high complications, notably calendars and tourbillons. It’s also marked by its traditional Glashütte style and watchmaking methods.
With the Senator Diary, the German watchmaker has employed their horological expertise to produce a mechanically marvelous alarm watch movement. In the case of the Senator Diary, we’re talking about a 31-day programmable, mechanical alarm.
Of course, the watch is also self-winding and presented in a sporty case that conceals the technical complexity lying within.
The alarm’s registers are very straightforward. To schedule the alarm complication, you configure the date at 9, the time at 6, and then you set the mechanism to the “on” position.
The alarm must be wound, of course, but by now this should go without saying in a mechanical alarm watch. Additional functionality includes a big date, further elevating the intricacies within.
Overall, Glashütte Original produced an outstanding alarm watch that has raised the bar on what an alarm complication can be. If bigger name brands accomplished the same feat, the wait-lists would never end.
Regardless, GO presses on, persistent (and successful, may we add) in providing true horological value for the watch collectors out there willing to devote their time and look a bit deeper.
5. Tudor Heritage Advisor Ref. 79620TC
We understand if you have a hard time looking past the captivating Black Bay models that Tudor continues releasing year after year. We haven’t gotten bored of those either.
But if you do, you’ll encounter some truly intriguing timepieces, one of these being the Heritage Advisor automatic alarm watch.
This is not Tudor’s first shot at an alarm; they, too, rode the alarm trend back in the ’50s. And if they’re still making them today, you can be sure they know a thing or two about alarm complications.
The Heritage Advisor is a self-winding watch with an alarm function from Tudor. It’s constructed of steel with titanium and sports an unorthodox cognac dial.
Its dial is like no Tudor you may recognize, in fact the whole design is, and this is exactly what makes it exceptional. The uncommon alarm functionality is almost secondary, or a secret only known by those who wear it.
Nevertheless, the Heritage Advisor makes for an attractive and unconventional timepiece that remains eternally useful in its functionality and quality. Those already looking “outside the box” in the alarm complication sphere, may find further fulfillment with this “dark horse” Tudor Advisor.
Affordable Mechanical Alarm Watches
If you’ve read this far into this page and feel that you’re completely priced out from the luxury alarm watch options listed above, you’ll be glad to learn that we’ve also included a couple of mechanical alarm options that will let you get a taste of this historical complication without putting such a big dent in your pocket.
Seiko Bell-Matic Mechanical Alarm Watch
While Seiko may not be able to call themselves the creator of the first mechanical alarm watch, they do hold the crown as the manufacturer of the first digital alarm watch – the Seiko A133.
However, before that A133 was released in 1978, there was the Seiko Bell-Matic, itself introduced in 1966. The Bell-Matic was the first alarm watch with a winding rotor, whereas the preceding Memovox utilized a bumper mechanism to “charge” the watch. This same 360-degree winding rotor is the mechanism used by most modern automatic watches.
Bell-Matic 4006. eBay: edvela1720
Nowadays, the Bell-Matic can be found with a day or day-date complication and in a variety of different styles. Most are steel and sell for as little as $150 or as much as $1000, with eBay being a great place to shop for them.
Obviously, since many of these Seiko mechanical alarms are more than 50 years old, you’ll need to be patient in your search to find one in decent condition and at the right price. Nevertheless, we always say that it is the hunt that makes the experience of wearing a watch that much sweeter.
Poljot Mechanical Alarm Watch
Poljot is a well-known Soviet watch brand (now Russian) that has been manufacturing timepieces for the greater part of the 20th century and into the modern-day.
They produce a plethora of different styles and this trend is no different when it comes to alarm watches. Some are pilot styles, others are more formal dress alarm watches, and even others are chronograph-alarm hybrids.
Poljot Alarm Styles. eBay: artem_artemzp, iglemes0, maestro72_1
Poljot mechanical alarms are much cheaper than the Seiko Bell-Matic featured above, though the price should reflect the accuracy to be expected. More than anything, these are neat conversation pieces rather than the watch you count on to wake you up the morning of a job interview.
Once more, eBay is a great place to shop for them as they can be had for as little as $50.
More Watch Guides
While we think our list of the best alarm watches are pretty great, let us know in the comments what you thought of them. Where there any of your favorites that may not have made our list?
You can also check out some of our other horology guides via the quick lins below: