A ” repetition ” is a mechanism in a watch that sounds the time on demand when activating a pusher or lock. This is a type of horological complication .
There are several types of repetitions that allow you to listen to the time with varying degrees of precision – from simple “repeating to shifts” (sounding only hours and shifts) to ” minute repeat “, which indicates the time to the minute , Using distinct tones for hours, shifts and minutes.
By metonymy, a minute repeat may designate a watch itself equipped with this mechanism.
Born before the widespread use of electricity, these watches made it possible to know the time in the dark. They were also used by the visually impaired. Today, minute rehearsals – real masterpieces of micro-mechanics – are highly sought after by rare collectors and watch enthusiasts.
Minute repetitions usually indicate the hours by a bass sound, the quarters by a sharp-severe sequence and the minutes by a high-pitched sound. At 02:49, the watch will sound two shocks for two hours, three acute-severe alternations for three quarters (45 minutes) and four sharp shots for the four minutes since the last quarter.
The sound is produced by small steel hammers striking on “stamps” – steel wires wrapped around the movement inside the case. With its tiny rakes, snails, cams and wheels, the ringing mechanism of a minute repeat is considered one of the most elaborate “complications”.
The minute rehearsals are part of the long tradition of “ringing watches”, of which they represent one of the most refined types. Their origin dates back to the end of the 17th century.
The first bell-ringed watches struck the discreet blows inside the case, and the dull sound could only be detected if the watch was held in the hand. They allowed persons like the courtiers, with whom they had great success, to discreetly control the hour in their pockets, during the boring royal receptions, without offending the monarch.
The watchmakers then introduced a small bell, usually attached to the inside of the bottom cover, on which the hammer struck. These first “ringing watches” first indicated the time on demand, then also the quarter, half-quarter and the nearest five minutes.
The first examples of minute repeaters appeared in the middle of the xviii th century. At the end of the same century, AL Breguet had the idea of replacing the bell by a system of “stamps” wrapped in the case, which made it possible to reduce the volume and to sound different tones. At the end of the nineteenth century, the mechanism of minute repetition – greatly optimized – imposed itself in its present configuration.
It takes more than a hundred different components to create a minute repeating mechanism – each part being manufactured to ultra-precise tolerances. Integrating a minute repeater with a pocket watch requires unparalleled know-how, but housing this mechanism in a wristwatch represents a much greater challenge, as the small dimensions of the case require to further miniaturize these already tiny components. The assembly of a minute repeater requires between 200 and 300 hours of work. To acquire the skills necessary for this task, the watchmaker needs many years of experience. The challenges are not only mechanical; They also require excellent scientific mastery. Yet, at the final stage (the analysis of sound quality), Two minute repeats will never sound exactly the same. The same watch model, in the same metal, will present subtle differences – such as a fingerprint.