The minute repeater is still one of the most coveted complications. It is challenging to make, and not that many brands even do so. With the brands that have them in their collection, they more often than not rank among their most expensive offerings. That also makes for quite a catch 22, as the clients buying these timepieces often expect, or even demand, a precious metal case. Unfortunately, have both platinum and gold not the best qualities when it comes to transmitting sound, and are stainless steel and titanium better at it. This has everything to do with the elastic properties and density of the molecules that make up these materials.
The result is that gold or platinum cased minute repeaters, or any other watch with a chiming complication, tend to sound duller and muted than if it was made from titanium or stainless steel. There are ways to compensate for this, for example, by making chambers in the case that resonate the sound better. This does increase the size of the case, and as also these chambers are made from precious metal, they can only improve the quality of it so much. Another option is to improve the gongs themselves. Chopard did this with their L.U.C Full Strike (see image above), which they launched in 2016 to mark the 20th anniversary of their manufacture. For this watch, they created sapphire gongs, which give a rather loud and crystal-clear (no pun intended) sound, en in a gold case. Other brands have simply taken an easier route, like H. Moser & Cie that uses a titanium case for its Endeavour Minute Repeater Tourbillon, as does Armin Strom with its Minute Repeater Resonance (see image below). Even one of the grandmasters of modern-day watchmaking, François-Paul Journe, used common stainless steel for its Répétition Souveraine simply because it sounds the best.
The question that remains is how much of a problem is this actually? Only on rare occasions have I been in a room where multiple chiming watches were present, and these were mostly all from a single brand, cased in the same type of metal. So when it comes to a side-by-side comparison, there is little to worry about. However, when I would make the substantial investment to get a minute repeater or other chiming watch, I want it to be all about the sound. The fact of the matter is that, unless you come with a clever solution like Chopard with their L.U.C Full Strike, stainless steel and titanium remain the best options to solve what essentially remains a rich (wo)man’s problem.
This story was originally published in the spring of 2022.