All luxury watches we are able to admire at Baselworld 2019 are mesmerizing, however minute repeaters have their own special and unique charm.
A repeater is a complication in a mechanical watch that bells the time on demand by activating a push or a slide-piece. Different types of repeater allow the time to be heard to varying degrees of precision, from the simple quarter-repeater which merely sings the number of hours and quarters, to the minute repeater which sounds the time down to the minute using separate tones for hours, quarter-hours and minutes.
Originary from before the widespread use of electricity, they allowed the time to be determined in the dark and they were also used by the visually impaired. Today minute repeaters, one of the most complex repeater mechanisms, are coveted by collectors and watch lovers alike as rare masterpieces of precise mechanical engineering. Minute repeaters chime three different sounds; the hours are typically signaled by a low tone, the quarter-hours by a sequence of two tones and the minutes by a high tone.
The time is musicalized by small steel hammers on differently tuned gongs (steel coils curving in a circular shape along the inside circumference of the case). With its tiny intricately shaped racks and snails, cams and wheels, the strike mechanism of a minute repeater is one of the most complex types of complication.
Minute repeaters share a long heritage with a range of other watches, more commonly known as striking watches, of which they are considered one of the most sophisticated. Their origins can be traced back to the end of the 17th century. The first examples of striking watches were “dumb” repeaters, which struck the time on the inside of the case producing a quiet sound and could only be detected if the watch was held in the hand, allowing people such as courtiers, amongst whom they were very popular, to discreetly check the time in their pocket during tedious levees and royal councils without offending the monarch.
Over time, a bell, usually attached to the inner back cover of the watch, was introduced for the hammer to strike and the first chiming watches were born. Evolution brought to life watches that not only chimed the hours, but also the quarters, half-quarters and five-minute repeaters.
The first examples of minute repeaters appeared in the mid 18th century. At the end of the 18th century, A.L. Breguet designed a mechanism that would strike the hours, quarters and minutes replacing the bell by a set of coiled wire gongs thereby reducing space and providing different tones. By the late 19th century the minute repeater mechanism was perfected to its current configuration.
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