Ever thought about the relationship between sound and time? When you look at a watch you’re not only looking at the dial, but also in some way internalising the beat of the tick-tock. The sound of time can be enthralling and as you enter this beautiful universe where chiming time takes precedence, you simply cannot ignore the ingenious complication of the minute repeater.
A repeater chimes the time on demand. It involves the activation of a pushpiece for the purpose. While a simple repeater can strike the hours and quarters, a minute repeater will use separate tones for hours, quarter-hours and minutes to sound the time down to the minute. Three different sounds are generally used for the hours, quarter-hours and minutes.
Why are they so sought-after? For one, they are the oldest and most traditional of watch complications. The history of the minute repeater has a very practical side to it. Believe it or not, they were useful in telling time in the dark before we had electricity! They were also a boon for the visually impaired.
Edward Barlow, an English cleric, invented a mechanism that could strike the time on demand in 1678. At the end of the 18th century, Breguet produced the mechanism heralded as the basis for modern minute repeaters. There have been numerous enhancements and several improvisations since.
The big brands of the horological world have all entered the world of minute repeaters. Today Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Christophe Claret, Bvlgari, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin, Voutilainen to name a few continue to innovate and come out with exceptional pieces.
But making a minute repeater is no child’s play. Each minute repeating mechanism has about a 100 components, each of which has to be manufactured in a particular manner. That’s only the starting point! To integrate these components into a small case of a wristwatch is another story of skill altogether. It is something that only a master watchmakers with years, or rather decades of experience can accomplish, and that too, after a painstaking assembling process that can last between 200 and 300 hours. Much of the precision has also to do with the fact that the striking of small hammers on differently tuned gongs sound the time. The perfection of the sound of the gongs is yet another story.
(Making of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie)
Being extremely complex repeater mechanisms, collectors, connoisseurs and watch lovers covet minute repeaters. Who wouldn’t? After all, they are true masterpieces of precision engineering.