Minute repeater Telling Time By Ear
The minute repeater, one of the most demanding watchmaking complications, can take a variety of forms
Invented in the 17th century, well before the use of electricity, repeater pocket watches provided a practical means of telling the time at night, thanks to the sounds they produced. The quarter repeater (which sounded the hours and quarter-hours) was invented by English clockmaker Daniel Quare. It was later perfected by Thomas Mudge, another clockmaker, who in around 1750 introduced a mechanism that also sounded the minutes – hence the name minute repeater. At that time, repeaters used hammers to strike two different bells. Towards the end of the 18th century, the French horologer and physician Abraham-Louis Breguet had the idea of replacing the bells with gongs – strips of tempered steel nestled inside the case – which meant the size of the mechanism could be considerably reduced. By the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, this system was further miniaturised to fit inside the case of a wristwatch. The minute repeater generally comprises two hammers and two gongs, activated on demand by a pushpiece. The hours are sounded with a low tone, the quarters with a sequence of high and low sounds, and the minutes with a high tone. The minute repeater, because of the demands it places on watchmakers, remains one of the most complex watch complications, even today.
It continues to reappear in new and unusual forms, whether combined with a grande sonnerie, designed to offer superior resonance, integrated into an ultra-thin case or displayed on the dial.
Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Grande Sonnerie Carillon Supersonnerie © Audemars Piguet
The Grande Sonnerie, grand indeed
In 2020, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe gained something in common (apart from their reputations, which date back much further!). They both produced a Grande Sonnerie: the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Grande Sonnerie Carillon Supersonnerie for the former, and the Patek Philippe Grande Sonnerie Reference 6301P for the latter. A Grande Sonnerie sounds the hours and quarters, and can be distinguished from a Petite Sonnerie in that it also sounds the hour before each quarter. Something else these watches have in common is that they both feature three gongs rather than the usual two. To these already fiercely complex creations is added a minute repeater (their third common feature), which strikes the hours, quarters and minutes on demand. Since 1892 and 1924 respectively, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe have continued to push the limits of expertise in the field of minute repeaters.
Patek Philippe Grande Sonnerie Reference 6301P © Patek Philippe
Resonance = performance
Launched by Armin Strom in 2019 to mark the tenth anniversary of the brand’s manufacturing site, the Minute Repeater Resonance is synonymous with precision. Thanks to its enhanced resonance, the watch also offers greater precision – of the order of 15 to 20% – and consequently greater energy efficiency. This is also beneficial for the operation of the minute repeater, whose sound is transmitted optimally through the extremely hard grade 5 titanium case. The generous volume of the case (which has a diameter of 47.7 mm) also improves sound propagation, further showcasing the complication.
Minute Repeater Resonance © Armin Strom
Ultra flat – and pitch perfect
Bulgari, which has set more than its fair share of records for thinness, continues to push our understanding of what’s possible. In 2016 the brand introduced an ultra-thin hand-wound mechanical watch with a minute repeater: the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater. The BVL362 calibre, measuring just 3.12 mm deep, propelled the minute repeater watch into a totally new realm: that of ultra-flat movements. In order to optimise the sound produced by such a slim watch, the resonance from inside the case was amplified by openworking the hour markers, creating tiny sound holes.
Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater © Bulgari
From shadow into light
The Endeavour Concept Minute Repeater Tourbillon by H. Moser & Cie, with its understated dial, might look simple. Appearances can be deceiving, however. This watch is anything but – in fact, it’s fiendishly complicated. This is clear from the dial, because that is where both complications (which are some of the most complex to achieve...) can be seen: the flying tourbillon at 6 o’clock and the minute repeater between 10 and 11 o’clock. The gongs are also visible from the dial side, making this technical feat even more astonishing. They had to be placed in a single layer in order to keep the watch within reasonable proportions, and they are curved in order to stay clear of the flying tourbillon. These feats of ingenuity are set against an Electric Blue dial – H. Moser’s latest colour.
Endeavour Concept Minute Repeater Tourbillon © H. Moser & Cie.
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