1. Push the slider down all the way to activate the chiming
2. Two hammers – one high- and one low-pitched – strike the gongs to sound the time
3. The gongs, which are coiled inside the watch case, must be handtuned in their final position to achieve the purest sound possible
What makes minute repeaters chime? And what makes the chimes good? Here is an introduction to the aural pleasures of a wondrous complication.
It is no coincidence that a large number of watch collectors also happen to be audiophiles. And when these particular connoisseurs are not busy fiddling with their tube amplifiers, woofers and tweeters, they turn to the minute repeater to satiate their aural desires.
A minute repeater is a watch that chimes the time upon activation. It has its roots in a striking pocket watch invented in the late 17th century to tell the time in the dark via a series of chimes. While the advent of luminescent hands and indexes in wristwatches has rendered the minute repeater function unnecessary, the complication is far from being on its way out. Instead, it is revered today as one of the most poetic of complications – a musical instrument and timekeeper rolled into one.
Unlike the macho charms of a chronograph, the visual wonderment of a tourbillon or the unerring practicality of a perpetual calendar, the minute repeater intrigues collectors with a more discreet proposition. Minute repeaters are meant to be admired and enjoyed at close quarters, with collectors huddling over a timepiece to contemplate the quality and clarity of the chimes.
That said, the quest of watch brands for sonic supremacy – by way of new case materials, re-engineered hammers and gongs, and computerised audio tests – has resulted in recent models that emit even more pristine chimes than their forebears.
Minute repeaters commonly comprise a set of hammers, gongs and interlinked gears and wheels known as a strike train. Typically, two gongs and two hammers are used to chime the time, and the mechansim is activated by a slide device on the case band. The hours are chimed with a low-pitched gong (dong), followed by the quarter hours in a combination of high and low-pitched gongs (ding-dong), and the minutes are chimed with a highpitched gong (ding). So if the time is 2:18, your minute repeater should chime: Dong-dong (two hours); dingdong (one 15-minute quarter); and ding-ding-ding (three minutes past the first quarter).
Because the striking mechanism can really drain the energy of a watch movement, minute repeaters should preferably come with a separate power barrel. Buyers should also look for minute repeaters with a safety device – the “all or nothing” mechanism that activates the striking mechanism only when the slide is fully pressed down, which prevents damage to the movement.
While judgment about audio quality can be subjective, there are a few basic points to check off in a list of what makes an appealing minute repeater: Volume, clarity, resonance, duration (good repeaters complete their chiming cycles in approximately eight seconds) and level of unwanted noise between the chimes. How well these chimes turn out is dependent on a huge number of factors, from the finishing of the movement to the construction of the hammers, gongs, sapphire crystal (the thinner, the better) and case (steel is considered to be the best amplifier of sound).