A minute repeater watch is a type of chiming watch that strikes out the hours, quarters, and minutes in separate tones and on demand. It’s a watch that can tell the time audibly as well as visually. The chiming mechanism on a minute repeater timepiece is typically triggered by pressing a pusher or pulling a slider somewhere on the case. Aside from the minute repeater watch, there is also the simpler quarter repeater watch, which only chimes the hours and quarter hours. Other types of chiming watches (also known as striking watches) related to the minute repeater include Petite and Grande Sonnerie watches.
If you want to learn about minute repeater watches and other chiming timepieces, read on as we discuss their history, how they work, and list some of the best minute repeaters on the market.
Brief History of the Minute Repeater
When you study how watchmaking has evolved over the centuries, you quickly realize that many watches were developed to solve existing problems. Take, for example, the minute repeater, which was created to tell the time in the dark before the invention of electricity. This is why a minute repeater watch can chime the time for you – you don’t need to see the dial to know what time it is. Genius!
Watch on Grey Market TV: Battle Of The Minute Repeaters
The exact origin of minute repeater watches is, like so many inventions in watchmaking, not straightforward. English watchmakers such as Daniel Quare (1649–1724), Edward Barlow (1639–1719), Thomas Tompion (1639–1713), and Thomas Mudge (1715–1794) all played their part in the early development of repeating watches (around 1680) and minute repeater watches (around 1750). However, there’s evidence of minute repeater watches having been invented in Friedberg, Germany around 1710, decades before the English claimed to have made the first one.
Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747–1823) is often credited for inventing the gong-spring; as such, in 1783 he created the first striking repeating watch to be operated by a gong spring rather than a bell. In 1892, the Brandt brothers (of Omega fame) developed the first repeater wristwatch that chimed the hours and minutes on demand.
In 1916, Patek Phillippe unveiled a five-minute repeating wristwatch for women. Eight years later, in 1924, Patek Philippe released its first traditional minute repeater wristwatch. While the mid-20th Century saw a decline in interest in minute repeaters, Patek Philippe revived the interest in 1989 when it re-launched the complication in its catalog. Today, Patek Philippe is regarded as one of the best makers of minute repeater watches, closely followed by a select group of other high-horology brands.
How Does A Minute Repeater Watch Work?
A minute repeater watch will house a series of hammers and gongs to chime the time on demand. To activate the chiming mechanism, the user will have to press a pusher or pull a lever slide. Most minute repeater watches will have two small hammers that serve to strike two small gongs.
The watch will then chime in three steps:
- A high tone “ding” for the hours
- High and low tones “ding-dong” for the quarter hours
- A low tone “dong” for the minutes
So, let’s say it’s 5:53. A minute repeater watch will sound like this when activated:
- Ding ding ding ding ding (five hours)
- Ding-dong ding-dong ding-dong (three quarters)
- Dong dong dong dong dong dong dong dong (eight minutes past three quarters, i.e. 53 minutes)
Repeater vs. Sonnerie
Closely associated with repeater watches are sonnerie watches, which are also chiming pieces but they operate slightly differently. While a repeater watch strikes the hours on demand a sonnerie does it on a schedule. A Grande Sonnerie will chime the time every full hour (striking the number of hours) and every quarter hour (striking the hours and quarters). A Petite Sonnerie will chime the time every full hour (striking the number of hours) and every quarter hour (striking only the number of quarters and not the hours).
Which Brands Make Minute Repeater Watches?
The development of minute repeater watches is exceedingly complex and requires highly-skilled and experienced watchmakers. This is why minute repeater watches are the domain of an exclusive group of fine watch brands such as Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Ulysse Nardin, Breguet, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, F.P. Journe, A. Lange & Söhne, and other high horology maisons.
So how much do these ultra-complex and ultra-exclusive minute repeaters cost? It doesn’t come cheap – expect to pay anywhere from six to seven figures for a minute repeater watch.
Some of our favorite modern minute repeater watches right now include:
- Patek Philippe 5078G Minute Repeater
- Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Minute Repeater Supersonnerie
- Breguet Répétition Minutes 7637
- Ulysse Nardin Classico Minute Repeater
- Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Répétition Minutes Perpétuelle
- Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Minute Repeater Ultra-Thin
- F.P. Journe Répétition Souveraine
- Cartier Tortue Repeater
- Omega Speedmaster Chrono Chime
Learn more: The Ulysse Nardin Genghis Khan features a tourbillion and minute repeater, check it out in action on Grey Market TV.
Mechanical Musical Marvels
Originally developed to solve a problem but now enjoyed for their beauty and complexity, minute repeater watches are extraordinary examples of the highest echelons of fine watchmaking. While they are incredibly difficult to make and are expensive to own, ask any serious collector of high-horology timepieces and they’ll tell you that the sweet sounds that come out of a minute repeater make it all worth it.
More from this series:
What is a Perpetual Calendar Watch?
What is a Tourbillon Watch?
What is a Dive Watch?
What is a GMT Watch?
What is a Chronograph Watch?