The minute repeater is a complication that is very difficult to master. But, watchmakers have always been up to this challenge. HOT explores further.
Have you tried closing and eyes and looking at the time? Try it for a moment and you will recall the church bells that chime at a particular hour, by which we can tell the time by sound rather than sight. Can this relationship between sound and time be expressed on a wristwatch? The sounds of time can indeed be enthralling and as we get into this beautiful universe where chiming time takes precedence, we cannot ignore the ingenious complication of the minute repeater.
The minute repeater
Minute Repeaters are the oldest and most traditional of watch complications. These are easily the most charming ones too! A repeater basically chimes the time on demand. It involves the activation of a sidepiece 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.
A little history…
Edward Barlow, an English cleric, invented a mechanism that could strike the time on demand in 1678. Various developments ensued. At the end of the 18th century, Breguet produced the mechanism heralded as the basis for the modern minute repeaters. There have been numerous enhancements and several improvisations on the same. The big brands of the horological world have all entered the world of minute repeaters. Today, several brands continue to innovate and come out with exceptional pieces.
The bespoke factor…
Why are they so sought-after? For one, they are the oldest and most traditional of watch complications. Secondly, it requires huge skill and expertise! Making a minute repeater is no child’s play. A huge amount of skill and complexity goes into making a minute repeater. Each minute repeating mechanism has about a 100 components, each of which has to be manufactured in a particular manner.
But this is only the starting! To integrate these components into the small case of the wristwatch is another story of skill altogether! It is something that only a master watchmaker with years, or rather decades of experience can accomplish. And that too, he can do so, 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 sounds the time. The perfection of the sound of the gongs is yet another story!
Since they are really complex mechanisms, collectors, connoisseurs and watch lovers covet minute repeaters. Who wouldn’t? After all, they are the masterpieces of precision engineering. Everything has to be perfect to deliver the perfect sound that carries the wearer away in a distant world.