One of the most difficult watch complications to produce, a minute repeater transforms a watch from mere timekeeping device to miniature music box. Below we take a look at 10 minute repeaters — and other, even more sophisticated chiming watches — that are more than just bells and whistles.
The A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Striking Time has a rose-gold case and hands and a silver dial. Unlike most repeaters and other chiming watches, it has its chiming mechanism integrated into the dial design. The black-polished steel hammers are located on either side of the large small-seconds subdial at 6 o’clock. The hammer on the right strikes the quarter hours and the one on the left, the full hours. The two gongs, embedded in a recess between the dial and the bezel, are also visible from the dial side. Every 15 minutes, the mechanism triggers the striking of one of the gongs — three high-pitched chimes for each quarter hour and one low-pitched chime for the top of every full hour. The watch has a device that can deactivate the chiming mechanism whenever the owner wishes to not be disturbed by it: Simply press the push-piece at 4 o’clock and the hammers raise away from the gongs and hold in place, thus silencing the watch. For more details, click here.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie — which went from concept watch to commercial model in just a year — is the result of eight years of acoustic research by the brand’s R&D department. The chiming mechanism, which is 10 times louder than that of a traditional chiming watch, applies the principles of stringed instruments, with gongs attached to a purpose-built copper-alloy plate that Audemars calls a “sound board” positioned between the movement and the mainplate. The principle is akin to the way strings work in an acoustic guitar, stretched over a hollow case that amplifies the sound. Gongs are conventionally attached to the mainplate, which can dampen rather than enhance the chime. The Audemars Piguet system essentially separates the acoustical from the technical, resulting in a cleaner, louder sound, amplified by the space between the plate and the sound board. For more on this groundbreaking watch, read our report from SIHH 2016.
At the push of a button (located at 10 o’clock), or when it strikes a pre-set time, the Breguet Ref. 7800 Classique “La Musicale” plays Bach’s “Badinerie.” Its musical mechanism resembles a music box, utilizing a disk with pegs that strike the 15 blades of the “keyboard.” A membrane made of Swatch’s LiquidMetal fitted under the movement amplifies the sound while maintaining water resistance.
At Baselworld 2016, Bulgari released the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, which now claims the title of smallest striking watch on the market. In general, a chiming watch tends to be on the large side, due to the need for sufficiently generous interior volume for optimal diffusion of the sound within the case, thus ensuring ideal acoustic quality. With this watch, however, Bulgari set out to achieve this “perfect sound” within the smallest possible space. To this end, the brand developed the in-house BVL Caliber 362, which measures just 3.12 mm thick, and created a case whose overall thickness is only 6.85 mm. (Its diameter is 40 mm.) The case is made of titanium, a low-density metal whose properties are excellent for sound diffusion. Another clever touch: the cut-out hour-markers on the dial (also made of titanium) and cut-out ring around the small seconds subdial, which created openings that serve to amplify the resonance inside the case and thereby optimize the sound effect. You can read more on the watch here.
One of the highlight pieces of SIHH 2014, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon is the eleventh creation in the brand’s Hybris Mechanica collection and the first ultra-thin Grand Complication model. The watch is very slim for a minute repeater, at just 7.9 mm thin. It is also equipped with an original tourbillon, a high-performance new balance spring, a peripheral automatic winding system, a retractable single push-button, and a minute repeater equipped with a silent-timelapse reduction system. The watch is equipped with two patented trebuchet hammers that ensure stronger, cleaner striking on the two crystal gongs fixed to the sapphire crystal, which helps to amplify the sound diffusion. Instead of a traditional slide, the minute repeater is activated by a retractable, single push-button, for which Jaeger-LeCoultre has filed a patent, with a discreet locking system at 8 o’clock. Visit our Jaeger-LeCoultre brand page for more on this very complicated timepiece.
The Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater is inspired by the brand’s namesake, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, known for his automaton creations, which often featured birds. A push-button triggers the minute repeater, which strikes the hours, quarters, and minutes as the birds on the dial come to life. The system uses a cathedral gong whose resonant, mellow tones are generated by two turns around the mechanism. Click here for more on the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater and here to see the new skeletonized version.
At SIHH 2013, Piaget unveiled its first-ever minute repeater, the Piaget Emperador Coussin Automatic Minute Repeater. Activating the slide at 9 o’clock triggers the minute repeater on demand, with the sound generated by a gong designed for enhanced transmission of the vibrations – and thus the sound – through the movement and on through the case. In order to preserve the purity of this sound throughout its duration, the movement, Caliber 1290P, is equipped with an inertia flywheel to regulate the rhythm between the start and finish of the chiming. Click here for our full-length article on this Piaget minute repeater.
Germany’s Tutima released its first chiming watch with an in-house movement, the Tutima Hommage Minute Repeater, in 2013. Tutima, a Glashütte-based watch company that traces its history back to the 1920s, spent three years developing the movement for the watch, Hommage Caliber 800. From the back, the owner can see Tutima’s historical insignia, the relief engravings on the cover of the striking mechanism’s barrel, and the mechanism that activates the repeater’s tiny hammers.
The Ulysse Nardin Stranger chimes the melody of the iconic 1966 Frank Sinatra song, “Strangers in the Night” on the hour or on demand. The Stranger’s movement, which took five years to develop and includes functions that emulate those of a classical music box, is visible through a sapphire crystal in the caseback. The on/off pusher that activates and deactivates the chiming mechanism is located at 10 o’clock; the wearer uses this to “program” the watch to play its “Strangers in the Night” melody on the hour or not at all.
The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731, powered by the astonishingly thin, 3.9-mm Caliber 1731, made its auspicious debut at 2013’s inaugural “Watches and Wonders” watch fair in Hong Kong. It boasts a 65-hour power reserve and also incorporates the “flying strike governor” developed for Vacheron’s 2755 movement in 2007, which is designed to steady the rate at which the repeater’s hammer’s strike the gongs. To ensure as clear a sound as possible for the chimes, the gongs are stacked, rather than placed side by side, and connected to the case middle. In this way, the case is made to be as one with the movement; the case is constructed without joints so that it and the gongs can interact — metal against metal — for an ideal amplitude of sound.
This article was originally published in 2013 and has been updated with new material.