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A brief explanation of a major complication #3: Minute Repeater

Anna Wu-Chauvineau
Le 6 March 2017

Here we are again for another episode of “A brief explanation of a major complication.” Today’s focus is a complication that may intimidate some of us: the Minute Repeater. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t all that complicated.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty with a simple but essential definition:

Minute Repeater (noun)

Watchmaking complication that audibly chimes the hours, quarter hours and minutes.

The chiming is neither a lullaby nor is it an alarm. The chiming of the minute repeater indicates the hour by a combination of low-pitched and high-pitched sounds produced by two small hammers that hit tiny bells inside the watch case.

Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater - Caseback

Combinations and Meaning:

1 low-pitched sound = 1 hour
1 low-pitched sound + 1 high-pitched sound = 1 quarter hour (15 min)
1 high-pitched sound = 1 minute

Example: “8:32”
8 x low-pitched sounds for 8 o’clock
2 x low-pitched sound + high-pitched sound for 2 quarter hours (30 min)
2 x high-pitched sound for 2 minutes

Not as complicated as you though correct? But what is the use of such a complication? Was it created for the blind? Not exactly. Surprisingly enough, the complication was first developed for Swiss shepherds, watchmakers themselves, during Winter in order to be able to tell time at night periods of transhumance.

Is it becoming clearer? Now picture this: At the turn of the century. A grandfather takes a deep breath of the fresh mountain air and looks on as the laughter of his granddaughter, Heidi, echoes across alpine pastures. Joseph, a strong man who respects Nature discreetly smiles to himself with content.  At his wrist a “repeater watch.” It doesn’t get much more debonair than this…

Allow me to present to you two timepieces to illustrate my point. Repeater watches, yes absolutely, but not only…

Jaquet Droz – Bird Repeater seen from the Alpes

Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater

The name Jaquet Droz shouldn’t be unfamiliar to you so I won’t go through the details of its history. This particular piece is interesting because we return to the Swiss watchmaker’s origins through the creation of singing birds and extremely complex mechanisms. Let’s take a step back in time to refresh our memory a bit. It’s 1768 and regular wooden dolls become alive. Some are made up of more than 6000 pieces, which was clearly something rare and unique at that time. These skills were often associated to magic, fascinating the greatest kings and emperors in Europe, but also of China, India and Japan.

When we activate the pusher integrated with the crown to “turn on” the chiming, birds come alive and an entire scene from the Alps begins to stir and move like Droz’s automatons. A bird stretches out its wings while mama-bird feed her young. Quite the magical performance I must admit.

Given the size of the case (47mm x 18.2mm), entirely engraved by hand, it’s not your everyday watch. Obviously. But in terms of development and historical heritage of its founder…it’s importance is undeniable.

Blancpain Minute Repeater with automaton – Unique Piece

Not only does this piece fit perfectly with our topic of discussion here because it’s a repeater watch, but it also corresponds to the automatons brought to life with joy and passion, and which strikes at the hour, the quarter hours, and the minutes.

It is, you’ve understood I’m sure, a watch with racy automatons, an “Erotic Watch” by Blancpain, born from a long history and tradition. The model remains discreet and elegant because the automatons come alive on the case back and not on the dial…Sorry Hugh Hefner.

Don’t fret:
You won’t risk upsetting the sensitivity of children or the disapproval of the clergy who would not be the slightest bit amused. After all, this little private watchmaking pleasure is for your eyes only right?

Blancpain, Répétition Minute avec Automates - Caseback