The Minute Repeater Watch: What It Is & Our Choice Of The Top Ones
The Minute Repeater Watch: What It Is & Our Choice Of The Top OnesRafael Dominguez2022-04-20T01:56:15-04:00
If you’ve made it as far as the minute repeater complication guide here on Bespoke Unit, it’s safe to say that the mechanical watch bug has infected you. It’s also led you down the path, and face-to-face with, arguably the most intricate watch complication ever.
For centuries, minute repeaters have been a sign of wealth; in the modern-day, this remains unchanged. What has indeed changed is the technology with which the most talented watchmakers are equipped when crafting chiming watches.
Computer modeling, among other cutting-edge techniques, has brought about the most technologically advanced watch movements. As evidenced by the pieces we highlight on this page, this technology has not been left out of minute repeaters.
Henceforth, we will be highlighting the top minute repeater marvels produced by the most brilliant watch brands. We’ll also be breaking down how the chiming of a repeater watch can help you tell the exact time.
Most watch collectors have never had the chance to experience a minute repeater in person. Even fewer have had the honor to own one. Nevertheless, their exclusivity, opulence, and scarcity are hardly a reason not to gawk over high-def internet pictures.
The links above can be used to skip directly to any specific selection. Alternatively, continue scrolling down for the specifics on repeaters, as well as an overview of how they work.
A minute repeater watch, one of the most complicated watches that exist, is characterized by some very specific functions that are not shared with the majority of mechanical watches. The first and most prominent of these is the chiming function.
The second is the slider or pusher that triggers the movement to chime. As opposed to other chiming watches, the minute repeater does it “on command” when actuated, as opposed to a grandfather clock that chimes every hour on the hour, for instance.
More specifically, a minute repeating mechanism will sound off to indicate the time down to the minute. To do this, it employs three different tones created by internal “hammers” which rhythmically impact a “gong”.
The hammer is a solid component within the watch movement which is actuated to impact another component of the movement to create a sound. The components to be “hammered” are long circular rods that completely encircle the movement; these are known as the gong.
To be able to tell the time via sound, a minute repeater must be able to make three distinctive sounds: one for the hours, another for the quarter-hours past the whole hour, and a third one for the minutes past the most recent quarter-hour. Together, the sounds represent the current hour, quarter hours, and minutes displayed on the dial.
Aside from minute repeaters, there are also repeater watches (only indicate the hours), as well as quarter repeaters (indicate hours and quarter hours).
How Does A Minute Repeater Watch Work?
Generally, minute repeaters contain two hammers, each of which makes a different sound when it strikes the two gongs. Here’s how they come together to resound the time:
Hammer #1 makes a “ding” sound, for example, and will sound the number of hours. So, if it is currently 01:xx AM/PM, hammer #1 will only hit the gong once. You can consider this the hour repeater.
Hammer #2 makes a “dong” sound and will sound the number of minutes after each quarter-hour, so consider it the minute repeater. If the time is xx:20, hammer #2 will hit the gong 5 times, producing 5 minute repeater chimes (minute 20 is 5 minutes past the last quarter-hour)
The combination of hammer #1 and hammer #2 consecutively hitting the gong will create a third type of sound, the “ding dong”. This dual-tone sound indicates the current quarter-hour.
To bring it all together: if the time is currently 1:17 AM/PM, hammer #1 will sound once, then hammer #1 and #2 will produce each of the separate tones once indicating one quarter-hour, and then hammer #2 will ring twice. Mathematically, it would look something like
1 * tone #1 (hours) + 1tone #1 & #2 (quarter-hours) + 2 * tone #2 (minutes) = 01:17
Phonetically, the sound would be “ding”, “ding dong”, “dong” “dong”.
Although we tried to be as clear as possible in our explanation above, let us know in the comments if you’d like additional details on this topic.
The First Repeater Clocks
With how complex a minute repeater movement is, it’d be easy to assume that the complication could be one of the most recently devised. Yet, this is not the case.
The earliest repeater timepieces trace back to the late 17th century. English watchmaker Daniel Quare has been credited with the first repeater in accordance with a patent filed.
His creation chimed only the hours and quarter-hours, making it a quarter repeater, so it was not accurate to the minute. If you’re wondering, the goal of such a chiming mechanism was to aid the visually impaired in telling time.
The First Minute Repeater Watch
The first minute repeater pocket watch would come from the hands of German watchmakers almost 50 years later in the early 18th century. And though they functioned when operated properly, the mechanism was not perfect and prone to partial chimes.
During this time, a minute repeater pocket watch was intended to help the visually impaired to know the time.
Marie-Antoinette Pocketwatch containing minute repeater complication, among others.
Breguet’s Repeater Pocket Watch
Abraham Louis-Breguet, the often-named mastermind behind the tourbillon, would likewise leave a permanent mark on the repeater watch. Whereas previous minute repeaters employed a bell for activating the mechanism, Breguet was the one to implement the gong into the timepieces.
This allowed the size of a repeater pocket watch to decrease substantially, while also making for more pleasing chimes. Additional inventions of his would also help perfect the complication, mitigating issues with incomplete chimes and muffled sound.
Noting the inherent advantages, watchmakers of the time promptly implemented his innovative mechanism. And although the mechanism has been further improved over time, the gong is yet another of Abraham Louis-Breguet’s genius creations that persist in the most coveted timepieces of the modern-day.
In early 2019, Jaquet Droz released a one-of-one variation on their Bird Repeater watch. Where previous versions implemented various birds, this piece unique presents falcons, in commemoration of the UAE’s national symbol.
If you’re not familiar with it, you must know that Jaquet Droz’s minute repeaters boast functionality like none other highlighted on this page. In fact, many of them qualify as automata, due to the mechanical animations that the dial figurines make.
In this exclusive example, the two dial-side falcons are presented in 18K white gold, both of which are products of hand-engraving and hand-painting. Likewise, the rest of the dial is gold and equally artistic. The trademark off-center dial is black onyx and is contrasted by mother-of-pearl segments of the dial.
Naturally, shrouding this mechanical artwork is an 18K white gold case, sleek and polished. The caseback, too, is a work of art; it exhibits the complexities of the movement itself.
The Bird Repeater Falcon is a pure demonstration of watchmaking and artistic talent, much like that of founder Pierre Jaquet-Droz. It also highlights how haute horlogerie can be playful, almost whimsical while staying true to tradition.
For many mechanical watch collectors, a Patek Philippe minute repeater, any Patek Philippe minute repeater, will often rank as their “grail” watch. Indubitably, Patek makes some of the most outstanding timepieces in the world, and their minute repeater models are no different.
For our purposes, we’ve chosen to go with the Grand Complications Minute Repeater reference 5078G-001. This may come as a surprise given that Patek also manufactures legendary timepieces, such as the multi-million dollar Grandmaster Chime, which also possesses minute repeater functions.
Yet in the 5078G, Patek concentrates on the simplicity and elegance that defines the majority of their watches.
The complication is presented in a traditionally-sized 38mm white gold watch case with a cream enamel (“email”) dial. There are also applied Breguet numerals, as well as Breguet hands, via which Patek makes the slightest nod to Abraham Louis-Breguet himself. Lastly, we have a small second subregister at 6, which beautifully counters the Patek Philippe marquee across the watch’s glossy face.
The caseback may just be as big a showstopper as the front of the timepiece. Patek’s R 27 PS minute repeater caliber, finished to the utmost standards, is a feast for the eyes.
This movement is really a case of “the more you look, the more you see”. There are countless different angles for light to reflect, additional gold accents and components, along with contrasting metal finishes. The time and effort input is absolutely evident, and what makes for one very special minute repeater watch from Patek Philippe.
All of that being said, it’s worth noting that, in 2019, Patek Philippe introduced the reference 5303R, a mechanical watch with both a tourbillon and minute repeater complications. While the price of the 5303 is greater, the elegance of this 5078G is wholly unmatched.
The Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel is a phenomenon of modern horology; it also embodies the creative and technologically advanced powerhouse that Jaeger-LeCoultre has become in the present day.
The watch is the product of JLC pushing the limit and coming out the other end with a watch that can, at first glance, be slightly intimidating. There seems to be a lot going on here. Yet further inspection arises a sense of wonder.
The majority of the dial has been skeletonized to exhibit the caliber. The hammers are front and center (4 & 8 o’clock), and the gongs are presented in blue for clear distinction.
Accompanying the minute repeater complication is also a perpetual calendar, the apertures for which can be seen surrounding the silvered and grained dial. The hands and indices on the dial are also in blue, following the theme of the gongs.
Finally, and as if all of the above wasn’t enough, there’s the gyrotourbillon. It’s what happens when watchmakers are given creative leeway, powerful computers, and extensive budgets. And it’s just beautiful.
As we’ve seen reflected in the above minute repeater selections, it is when dealing with grand complications that we are able to see how far a particular brand can extend its own boundaries. The Royal Oak Offshore Grand Complication, a limited edition of 3, is Audemars Piguet’s way of showing us what they can really do, horologically speaking.
They’ve taken the Royal Oak Offshore model, a watch known as a premium sports timepiece, and demonstrated how the familiar profile can be completely transformed.
The case remains almost the same, still coming in at 44mm. In this instance, though, it’s constructed of sandblasted titanium almost throughout.
The dull hue of the titanium ensures the watch’s sporty essence remains. Yet, inside lies an undercover beast; the sapphire dial reveals the highly-complicated mechanisms of this perpetual calendar chronograph minute repeater.
The recent craze around regular Royal Oak models may have led some to forget about AP’s past, one which is permeated by much more interesting complications than just dates or chronographs.
With the Royal Oak Offshore Grand Complication, Audemars assures watch aficionados that they’ve not forgotten their past. And that if anyone is able to fuse the old with the new, and make it absolutely stunning, it’s the folks from Le Brassus.
If you’ve enjoyed our guide on the minute repeater complication, make sure to check out our other horological resources below. Also, if there’s any special watch model you think should have made our list, make sure to let us know in the comments!