‘European Market’ E857 Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm
In 1959, before the formula for what would become a dive watch was well-established, JLC had a go. And what they came up with was markedly different to what we think of as a dive watch today, leaning more into their technical ability to leverage complication. What resulted was this, the E857 Deep Sea Alarm. And it’s never looked better than here with a heavy pumpkin tritium patina and purple-ghosted bezel, all on what’s commonly referred to as the ‘European Market’ dial. Where the American market Deep Sea Alarms had that name printed large across the dial (we are a very literal people), those that went to the EU had just this restrained JLC and a sterile center. An extra dimension of appeal but likely one of fewer than 200 EU examples.
Rather than a rotating bezel to time intervals underwater, the E857 used an alarm complication. Set through the second crown and rotating inner dial, the alarm noise was amplified through a gong welded to the caseback which made the whole caseback reverberate. Professional divers seemed to prefer the usability of having a more visible time interval and, as such, the diver’s alarm never truly caught on. The Deep Sea was then discontinued until just recently. It’s a bit like the apocryphal story where the Americans developed a pen for antigravity at great expense whereas the Russians just used a pencil. Rolex took the ‘Russian’ approach to diving, JLC the American.
To my eye, the EU dial makes for one of the most beautiful dive watches ever produced. The E857 is thought to have been made in around 950 examples, roughly 750 US market dials and 200 EU. Auction results for the EU dial have soared from 20K USD in 2015 to 72K for a bit around the market highs a few years ago, now roughly speaking around 50K. There aren’t nearly as many produced to reference market values as say contemporary peers like a Fifty Fathoms or Submariner, but that’s kind of the point. This is a dive watch you buy to impress yourself, because almost no one will know what it is. But if they do, this one of very few non-chronographs that straddles the divide between tool watches and complication. It tells the world nothing, but, particularly in this spec, it tells watch obsessives you know precisely what you’re doing, as grizzled as they come.
This E857 has a deep and lovely patina in all ways, really. The dial is clean and clear, I believe those marks you see are on the crystal and very much not the dial. The bezel has ghosted to a purple and the tritium is a deep pumpkin. Its case is full with a light ‘sleeve polish’ from daily wear but full overall. It comes with an extract from JLC confirming a production in 1960 from a well-regarded NYC retailer.