As the world of vintage chronographs becomes increasingly well-charted, growing numbers of savvy collectors are turning their attention towards dive watches from the last century. Although dive watches can be characterised by a comparatively pared-down aesthetic, it is also a class of watchmaking that stands out for both its precision engineering and an ongoing pursuit of optimal functionality.
Of the many dive watches manufactured in watchmaking’s golden age, few have made a mark quite like Jaeger-LeCoultre’s famed Polaris — a desirable, purpose-built and technically important timepiece. Here, we take a closer look at the finer details of an extraordinary example offered in our online sale.
An elegant aesthetic, with enhanced legibility
Functionality and legibility are of paramount importance when designing a great tool watch, and divers’ timepieces consequently often have a relatively austere appearance. The Polaris reference E859, however, is an exception to this rule. The watch has a refined and tasteful aesthetic, with legibility enhanced by its black, luminous dial, and functionality afforded by the Memovox alarm movement.
Although the elegance of the Polaris — with its uncluttered dial and sleek, faceted lugs on a 42 mm case — might not have been a selling point at the time of its release, it is now definitely something to be taken into consideration.
Chimes that can be heard underwater
The watch’s good looks are accompanied by several impressive technical achievements. First, the E859 is powered by JLC’s reliable 17-jewel, calibre K825 automatic movement, which is found in many other alarm-equipped Memovox watches. This is particularly useful in the E859, because its chiming capability enables the wearer to keep track of dive times — thanks to the use of a 16-hole-bearing exterior caseback designed to improve resonance, the chimes can be heard easily underwater.
Also of note is the super-compressor construction of the oversized stainless-steel case. Unlike a standard dive watch, super-compressor cases are designed to become more watertight as one goes deeper. As water pressure increases, the caseback’s water-sealing rings are increasingly compressed, not only ensuring the water resistance of the watch, but also prolonging the lifespan of the greased O-rings.
Fewer than 1,800 were produced in total
Aside from personal taste, the two most important factors when contemplating the purchase of a fine vintage wristwatch are rarity and condition. In the case of this 1967 Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris, both of these boxes can be checked with confidence.
Adding to the rarity of this piece is the fact that it features ‘Jaeger-LeCoultre’ printed on the dial, while many feature just ‘LeCoultre’. Those featuring ‘Jaeger-LeCoultre’ on the dial were often originally sold in Europe, while those featuring only ‘LeCoultre’ were typically sold in the United States.
Furthermore, it is rumoured that only a very small series of the Polaris was actually made in 1967 — possibly as test watches for its new dial design, which was far bolder than the previous 1965 version, with larger luminous plots. The additional luminous material was supposed to help improve visibility for divers while underwater or when outside at night.
Finding clean examples of the E859 is increasingly difficult, especially considering that just 1,714 pieces were produced in total for both the 1965 and the 1967/1968 versions. The example offered in our Watches Online auction (13-27 June) features an unblemished dial, complete with intact luminous plots — attributes that reflect the pride and care taken over this marvellous watch by its previous owners.