In the world of minute repeaters, there is Patek Philippe and there are all the others. While that statement might be slightly exaggerated, the extreme quality of repetition minute watches made by Patek Philippe is undeniable. And even within its wide collection of repeating watches, a distinction can be made between those with traditional gongs and those fitted with cathedral gongs.
The sound of a minute repeater watch is produced by three components: the watchcase that acts as a resonance chamber; the hammers that strike the gongs; and the gongs, which emit sound. Hammers can be adjusted to strike with more power, boosting the volume of the chimes, and the case can be constructed to maximise sound transmission, for instance by hollowing out the inside or making it out of a lightweight alloy like titanium. But the key element that determines the ultimate quality of the repeater are the gongs.
The gongs of a minute repeater watch are thin wires of steel that circle the movement. Before the gongs can produce their “music”, they must be mounted on the movement and then perfectly tuned, by filing and other adjustments. This operation is complex, and requires highly trained watchmakers.
The acoustic quality of Patek Philippe wristwatches with minute repeaters is already legendary. However, because wristwatches are generally small objects, their gongs are correspondingly usually small, a limitation that doesn’t help the richness of the sound.
This is why in early 2000 Patek Philippe developed new cathedral gongs. While traditional gongs circle the movement once, meaning their length is almost the perimeter of the movement, cathedral gongs are nearly twice as long as classic gongs.
The same movement can be fitted with either type of gong. Cathedral gongs can be found for instance in the ref. 5374 (a minute repeater with a perpetual calendar), while the ref. 5304 that shares the same base movement is equipped with traditional gongs.
The result of longer gongs is a richer sound, with a longer reverberation, more musicality (more harmonics in the strikes). However, there’s an inherent difficulty with these cathedral gongs. Because the gongs are only secured at one end, it is very difficult to have them circle the movement twice without them touching the case, the movement, or each other.
This is why we only find these cathedral gongs in a handful of top of the line models – though all Patek Philippe minute repeaters are already extremely uncommon. However, cathedral gongs are only found in the rarest references, such as the Sky Moon ref. 6002.
In contrast, the ref. 5207, which also has a minute repeater and a tourbillon, being based on the same movement, only features standard gongs. While minute repeaters should be seen as the finest, cathedral repeaters are the exception, the pinnacle of the striking watches made by Patek Philippe.
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