When discussing wrist watches and their complications there are frequently plenty of discussion about chronographs, GMTs, perpetual calendars and the like. One compilation that is not as frequently discussed is the option of an alarm in your watch. While we see alarms frequently in digital quartz watches (sometimes two or three) there are still mechanical alarm watches being made out there, as well as many vintage options to choose from.
Alarm watches have been around since the early part of the 1900’s when Eterna first patented an alarm wristwatch in 1908. That patent was put into use when the watch was manufactured and sold in 1914. Below is a video of an early Eterna alarm watch in action.
Although credit for the birth of the modern day wrist alarm goes to Eterna, it wasn’t until the Vulcain Cricket line in the 1940’s that the function would gain in popularity. Earlier offerings were either too complicated, inaccurate or just not loud enough. Vulcain was able to overcome these shortcomings to produce more desirable alarm watches. This lead to Jaeger-LeCoultre getting in on the game in the late 1940’s and progressing the style with the development of the Memovox, the first automatic watch with an alarm.
There continue to be made mechanical alarm watches and while it may not be the most popular complication, it can be a fun addition to ones collection. If you are shopping, here are some affordable options.
One great way to get in the door with an alarm watch is to look to the Russians and Japanese. Seiko produced it’s Bell-Matic line of alarm watches between 1967 and 1978 in a variety of case and dial variations. A sampling can be found at the Seiko watch photo database and there is a forum dedicated to the timepieces as well. This provides a great resource for the beginning collector to know what to look for when shopping for a vintage Bell-Matic.
Russian brands have been producing affordable alarm watches for many years under a variety of brands. You can find many vintage pieces on eBay as well as new models as well from several reputable sellers. I was able to get lucky enough to pick up a nice vintage Poljot alarm watch from a flea market for $5 over the summer. There are a number of styles to choose from and are a great option.
If you want to go vintage you can find a number of Swiss options at affordable prices including Waltham, Vulcain, Alsta, Benrus and many, many more. It just takes some shopping around to find one that you find attractive and in the condition you prefer, but you can find some very classy mechanical alarm watches in great shape for between $200 – $600.
This is by far not a comprehensive list of options, but a jumping off point for those looking to get their feet wet with a mechanical alarm watch. They may not be terribly useful these days, but there is a certain bit of enjoyment to be had in wearing one.
by James Enloe