In the world of horology, as in other parts of life, not everything has a story. Not every watch revolutionized the industry, and not every movement changed how people told time. But many pieces, no matter their historical significance, have brought joy to their wearers. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Vintage Chronograph is one of these watches. It’s a piece loosely inspired by the 1959 Memovox Deep Sea diving watch (below, photo courtesy of our friends at Monochrome Watches) — a piece that housed the first automatic alarm movement — but doesn’t have a long heritage of its own in the long history of the brand. Instead, the Deep Sea Vintage Chronograph seems like the diving watch JLC would have made if it had the inclination for an underwater chronograph a half-century ago.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Vintage Chronograph (Ref. 203857J, below) has a 40.5-mm steel case, containing within it the JLC Cal. 751G automatic movement, which holds a 65-hour power reserve. Within the Memovox-inspired bezel resides a black textured dial, complete with triangular hour markers colored with faux patina; two subdials to count up to 12 hours and 30 minutes, respectively; and a small cursive “Automatic” toward the 6 o’clock position. Other features to note are the long lugs previously popular in vintage diving chronographs, the plain chronograph pushers, and the unique hands that are popular on vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre pieces. The watch, released a few years ago at SIHH 2012, can be found at various dealers for around $8,000.
Comparing it to the Memovox Deep Sea Alarm of late 1950s, we find, naturally, many similarities. The unique bezel, with aged-looking triangles for the quarter-hour marks and the plain engraved lettering for the other hours, is almost a direct reproduction of the one on the vintage alarm watch. Also, the hour, minute, and seconds hands are all practically identical to those on the historical model, and it would even be fair to argue that the cursive-script “Automatic” toward the bottom of the dial is a direct homage to the cursive “Deep Sea Alarm Automatic” seen on the Memovox. The differences between the models are also apparent, however —from the chronograph complication replacing the alarm; to the many changes made to the dial to compensate for the new, modern movement (pictured below); to the longer lugs of the Vintage Chronograph compared to the slightly shorter ones seen on the Deep Sea Alarm.
Overall, I think the modern Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Vintage Chronograph does an admirable job of both honoring one of the more famous models in JLC’s long history, and of being a very interesting and handsome piece in its own right. Many consumers might appreciate that the piece is more an homage than a direct replica, in fact, as most will find the chronograph a more useful function for daily life than a mechanical alarm. The lack of a “true” history within the JLC brand might make it slightly less popular among vintage-watch enthusiasts, and while less popularity is not always a good thing for watches — specifically in the area of resell value — it does make this one a distinctive timepiece for a wearer who appreciates its pedigree, and one he is far less likely to encounter on the wrists of his watch-loving friends.