Minute Repetition


The minute repetition is an excellent example of sophisticated complications that can be realized by the highest watchmaking art. No wonder, then, that it is a complication that fascinates many watch enthusiasts beyond measure. This article is all about the minute repetition, how it works, its history, and the best repetition watches the market has to offer.

The Art of Watchmaking: How the Minute Repetition Works

If you want to understand how the minute repetition works, you have to take the time to learn about the mechanics behind this challenging complication. Basically, the term is understood to mean the function of a watch to acoustically reproduce the time. The acoustic reproduction of the time by means of various high-pitched tones ideally takes place with the highest precision and can be individually adjusted in some cases. With some models, for example, it is possible to limit the acoustic signals to the whole, half or quarter of an hour, to have them sound every 5 minutes or to hear them every minute in the classic minute repetition.

The minute repetitions explained in detail

Watches with minute repetitions go back to the inventor of the tourbillon, Abraham Louis Breguet, and thus to the 18th century. The mechanism behind it has been more or less perfected since the end of the 19th century and has only been developed slightly since then. We will now delve deeper into the matter and take a look at how watchmakers manage to equip timepieces with the complicated repetition via repetition striking mechanism.

Hour scale and hour rake

The functioning of repetition watches is based on an exact synchronization of hand position and cadrature. The hands are therefore usually integrated by the watchmaker at the very end and adapted to the striking movement. For the repetition, the movement and the striking mechanism work hand in hand. Cam wheels transmit the time from the movement to the repetition - a mechanism that requires precise manual work to install.

The striking of the full hours in the repetition movement is performed by the hour relay and hour rake. The hour relay is a snail-shaped part with twelve steps - one for each hour - while the hour rake is a complex rack with twelve intermediate spaces. If the repetition clock is to strike seven o'clock, for example, we are on the seventh step. A so-called drop-in lever enters the seventh intermediate space of the rake, which moves and lifts the hammer lever shaft. As a result, a hammer strikes against the tone spring and the desired tone is heard. Triggered by the fall of the hammer, an additional spring mechanism is tensioned at the same time, which raises the hammer again before it falls to the next note.

Usually, the models work with tones at different heights, with the full hour usually indicated by a low tone.

Quarter hour relay and incident

A modern wristwatch with minute repetition indicates hours, quarter hours and minutes acoustically, which is why the hour rake and relay are only part of the whole. The quarter hour is usually set to music with a double strike, for which the hammer approaches the tone springs twice in quick succession. This is initiated by the quarter hour relay. This has three double cams, i.e. one double cam each for the first, second and third quarter hour of a full hour. The fourth quarter falls on the completion of the hour and is thus indicated by the low hour note and not by the quarter-hour double note.

For maximum reliability of repetition clocks, the so-called incident is installed. This refers to a filigree slider plate, which sits under the minute repetition - which we'll talk about in a moment. Its job is to jump forward after the tone of the first minute, thus enlarging the corresponding scanning area. The result is a ringing movement with higher precision

Quarter-hour repetition and five-minute repetition

Which brings us to the minute repetition. As the name suggests, this element in the striking mechanism is responsible for the individual minutes. The minute relay is star-shaped and consists of four arms, each with 14 teeth. Each tooth symbolizes a minute between the quarter hours. The minute relay tracks the rotation of the integrated minute tube and is the last of the components to emit its sound.

Watches with quarter repetition sometimes exist without a minute relay, and this is when the complication of the repetition is limited to the quarter hours. Another version of repetition clocks is the time indicator with 5-minute repetition. This produces either a sound for full hours, quarter hours and every fifth minute or only for full hours and the fifth minute. Rarely, the pitches for ten minutes differ, for example, at minute ten, twenty and forty.

Minute repetition

In its completed form, the repetition striking mechanism sets hours, quarter hours and minutes to music. The latter are then not "only" voiced in a five-minute rhythm as an acoustic time signal, but even every minute. If this option is available on watches with repetition, they are equipped with the coveted minute repetition complication.

The history of the minute repetition: a journey through time in the art of watchmaking

The manufacture of watches that repeat is, in a sense, the royal class of watchmaking. After all, the mechanism behind minute repetition usually consists of well over a hundred individual parts that have to be painstakingly assembled. As described at the beginning, we assume today that we owe the basic principle of striking watches with minute repetition, as we know them, to a certain Abraham Louis Breguet. The French watchmaker undoubtedly possessed plenty of inventive talent, for in addition to tourbillon and minute repetition, he also created the first dials with an off-center hour ring. His influence on the further development of watches could hardly have been greater.

Earlier, chiming clocks were built with bells to fulfill a rather simple purpose: The clocks were to reliably inform their wearers of the time even in the dark. Independently of each other, Edward Barlow and Daniel Quare - watchmakers from London - developed the first watch models with a repetition striking movement at the end of the 17th century. Finally, in the middle of the 18th century, Breguet was the first to come up with the idea of using hammers and tone springs instead of bells, which - as we know today - proved successful in the long run.

A few more decades later, the first wristwatch with a tone spring repetition came onto the market. This was developed by Audemars Piguet in 1892 - a milestone in the history of watches of this type. From around 1910, wristwatches and pocket watches with the complicated minute repetition were available. At that time, their striking movements essentially already worked exactly the same way as today's minute repetition.

The best minute repetition watches on the market

Due to the challenges of production and the huge amount of time and work involved, as well as the high demands on the skills of watchmakers, watches with minute repetition are far from being represented in the assortment of any watch brand. Nevertheless, if you are looking specifically for models with such a striking movement, you will find them first and foremost in renowned brands such as Patek Philippe, Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet or IWC. Three of the best timepieces with minute repetition are presented in more detail below:

Patek Philippe reference 5078

Perpetual calendars, tourbillons, astronomical watches and, of course, minute repetition: There are hardly any complications that the Patek Philippe product range does not depict. A wonderful example of a model with an arithmetic striking movement from the house of Patek Philippe is the reference 5078. The sophisticated repetition movement sits here on the left side of the case and can be viewed thanks to the sapphire crystal back.

In addition to the first-class movement, the noble timepiece with the 38 mm case is characterized by an incredibly exquisite design. Available with a platinum, white gold or rose gold case, as well as with Breguet or Feuille hands on request, the Patek Philippe reference 5078 presents itself as thoroughly classic - a real eye-catcher. The wristwatch is rounded off by a high-quality enamel dial that blends perfectly into the watch's authentic overall appearance.

Lange & Söhne Minute Repetition Movement

The traditional company Lange & Söhne comes up with the collection Zeitwerk Minute Repetition, which amazes watch lovers with a penchant for the minute repetition. The special feature: the collection includes, among other things, the first mechanical wristwatch with jumping numerals display and decimal minute repetition. The mechanism can be activated manually by means of a pusher, whereupon the timepiece - unlike many competing products - audibly announces not the quarter hour, but the ten minutes.

One look at the two-movement watch is enough to realize that this is the epitome of a luxury product. The case is made of platinum and holds a dial with harmoniously integrated small seconds and practical power reserve indicator. The cleverly integrated recesses in the dial, through which you can admire the hammers striking the mainspring, are also a highlight.

IWC Portugieser Minute Repetition

A striking movement made up of around 250 parts, a finely detailed movement, and characteristic railroad minute markings on the dial rim: IWC's Portugieser Minute Repetition model impresses with a large number of impressively sophisticated elements. With no-frills feuille hands, a small seconds hand discreetly embedded at the 6 o'clock point, and Arabic numerals, IWC is clearly focusing on tradition and classicism, and has created a luxurious watch that is eminently worthy of representing the pinnacle of watchmaking.

If you want to see how the hammers work together with slides and tone springs to produce tones, you can do so on IWC's model through the sapphire crystal caseback. In doing so, you can't help but notice the attention to detail that can be seen here, particularly in the finished movement with perlage and Geneva stripes.

Why a minute repetition watch is unique

A watch that gives sound to hours, quarters and minutes is always a unique product. Even when several watches are made with the same slide, the same tone springs and other elements, and from the exact same materials, the tones of the final products never sound exactly the same. This means that two watches, which have the same striking mechanisms and in which the same parts are installed, are still not 1:1 alike.

This is mainly due to the great complexity of watches with minute repetition. Due to the use of several hundred parts and the complex mechanism, a sound analysis always results in at least subtle deviations between two timepieces that are identical in material and construction. A watch with a minute repetition therefore has its own personal fingerprint in the form of its own sound.

The value of a minute repetition watch: Why it is a worthwhile investment

Those who wish to own a repetition watch often do so out of sheer fascination for the technical feat behind it and the sheer incomprehensible complexity of the movements. Many collectors who are able to fulfill their dream of owning a minute repetition watch therefore never even think of selling their new piece of jewelry again. On the other hand, these special products are interesting especially for those who expect resale from the very beginning and consider the wristwatch with "tone time" first and foremost as an investment.

Basically, you always have to reckon with comparatively high prices for a repetition timepiece. The amount of work that goes into the models and the large number of delicate parts alone drive up the costs. For example, the Patek Philippe reference 5078 presented in this article costs over €300,000, while the more "affordable" model from IWC is still priced at more than €60,000. Watches with minute repetition are therefore clearly not something that can be paid for out of petty cash. On the contrary, their purchase represents a significant investment that should be well thought out and can by no means be afforded by everyone.

In many cases, repetition watches are wonderfully suitable as an investment. This is because they are products of the finest watchmaking, whose technology is mature and which consequently - at least with regard to the striking mechanism - remain "up to date" for years and decades. Due to the complicated, elaborate manufacturing of the watches, they are often produced in very limited numbers. This also means that the demand for the noble models is not infrequently significantly greater than the supply of available products. As a result, the masterpieces have on average a very high value stability, so that they can be resold without any problems and not infrequently at a profit.

Conclusion - An acoustic masterpiece: The minute repetition

Repetition timepieces are a symbol of the technical feats that talented watchmakers can accomplish, and are admired by watch enthusiasts worldwide. The wristwatches, which acoustically reproduce the time by means of different tones, have sophisticated striking mechanisms and work with a complex mechanism that one can only marvel at. Therefore, it is not surprising that the minute repetition is still one of the most sought-after and fascinating complications that a watch can have.