MINUTE

RE­PEATERS

24-7 (Singapore) - - Contents - By Alvin Wong

1. Push the slider down all the way to ac­ti­vate the chim­ing

mech­a­nism

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).

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