Like most complications, the repeater is an anachronism. Invented at a time when Thomas Edison’s great-grandparents had yet to even be conceived, it was targeted at an extremely tiny sliver of the market: wealthy people whose nocturnal timekeeping needs exceeded those offered by the hourly bells of town’s clock tower, but who did not wish to go through the hassle of summoning sleeping servants to light the candles to illuminate the pendulum clock at home.
Back in those days, the repeating system was installed in clocks and chimed at the simple pull of a cord the hours and quarters – and if you were really rich, the five-minute intervals or individual minutes – using a sophisticated gear train, gong and hammer combination. Later, the striking mechanism was made small enough to fit pocket watches. In modern times, repeaters are often the minute repeating variety found in super high-end wristwatches, and use just two tones in the low, high-low, and high pitches to announce the hours, quarters and minutes by sliding a discreet lever on the side of the watchcase.
Let’s be honest: the repeater serves no purpose whatsoever to people blessed with sight. But it is one of those items of luxury that, to those who can afford it, offers priceless delight to its owner. Here are three for your consideration, ranging from the eminently traditional to the cutting edge:
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept RD#1
Here’s a chimer for the 21st century. Because the quality of sound can be rather subjective, Audemars Piguet decided to be scientific about the development of its ultimate minute repeater. Following the principles of stringed instrument making, it launched into an eight-year sound-research initiative at a dedicated in-house acoustic laboratory that involved a musician-craftsman, an academic from the Geneva conservatory and a sound engineer. The result: tone, harmony, length and volume of sound unprecedented in such a complication.
Breguet Tradition Répétition Minutes Tourbillon 7087
As proof of its ingenuity, the mechanism of a repeater has not changed significantly since its invention in centuries ago. But Breguet has managed to tweak it in myriad ways to improve on its sound. Like the gong springs, now attached to the bezel. Or the travel of the hammer, which now strike vertically (instead of horizontally) from the movement towards the bezel. All these improvements help the transmission of vibrations that turn into the delicious sound so relished from a great minute repeater.
Patek Philippe Grand Complication Ref. 5539G
That a Patek Philippe repeater makes a sonorous impression is a given: after all, this is the brand whose president still insists on testing every such piece personally before it can be shipped out to its lucky owner. In particular, Patek Philippe has unparalleled expertise in creating metal alloys that optimises the sound quality of the gongs. We picked this piece, with its handsome white-gold officer’s style case, black enamel dial and stunning vintage design, because it looks as good as it sounds.
Denis Flageollet – The Creative Force Behind De Bethune
Piaget’s Prized Possession
Ceramic Meets Titanium in IWC’s Pilot’s Watch Family
First Omega Wrist-Chronograph Limited Edition
Jean-Claude Biver: “What I am doing next.”
Subscribe to The Hour Glass
And stay up to date with the watchmaking world