In the mid-18th century, watchmakers created a way for timepieces to sound the hour. The function was a practical one, so that people could tell time even in the middle of a pitch-black night. With that, chiming watches were born.
Digital devices may have rendered such traditional functions obsolete today, yet the enchanting sound of a chiming watch remains one of the most prized features of high-end horology. Known as minute repeaters, they’re among precision watchmaking’s most challenging and revered complications, resulting in creations that not only display time, but also translate that into sound.
Here are four chiming watches currently making noise among horology enthusiasts and collectors.
4 of the most fascinating chiming watches and minute repeaters
When its first wristwatch alarm, the Memovox, was introduced in 1959, Jaeger-LeCoultre made its mark in fine watchmaking. Since then, it’s gone through many iterations. Launched in 2020, the Master Control Memovox and Master Control Memovox Timer continue to resonate with aficionados and collectors alike. Both 40mm models with a 45-hour power reserve flaunt a redesigned movement and a sleek new case, although they still emanate the original “school bell” sound when the alarm is set.
The 250-piece limited-edition steel Master Control Memovox Timer from 2020 features an open sapphire caseback and a new striking mechanism, so now you can actually see the alarm going off as well as hear it, while the automatic calibre’s pink-gold rotor is skeletonised to reveal as much of the striking action as possible. The alarm function is activated by the triangular marker inside the central disc on the dial. Elegant as ever, the watch features a sloping bezel, dynamically curved lugs and mix of polished and satin-brushed surfaces.
Launched in a pink gold reference this year, the Master Control Memovox Timer provides a flexible function that allows the alarm to be set for a particular time, such as an appointment or a wake-up call. The dial display is laid out in concentric circles – the black sunray-brushed background provides a rich contrast against the grey of the outer minutes ring and the alarm-indication disc. Water-resistant to 50 metres, the pink gold version is produced in a limited edition of only 100 pieces.
The French word sonnerie, which means making sound, generally applies to campaniles or the bells in mechanical clocks or wristwatches. However, the exquisite Les Cabinotiers Westminster Sonnerie – Tribute to Johannes Vermeer 98mm pocket watch, which took Vacheron Constantin eight years to produce, is much more than that.
A masterpiece in the truest sense of the word, the bespoke, one-of-a-kind creation offers a rare glimpse into the universe of high watchmaking. Equipped with a new in-house Calibre 3761, the customised 806-part hand-wound movement with tourbillon regulator comprises grande and petite sonnerie Westminster chimes referencing that of the world-famous bells of London’s Big Ben, as well as a minute repeater.
Unlike a regular minute repeater equipped with two gongs and two hammers, this extremely complex mechanism features five gongs, five hammers and four racks. The chime is a four-bar melody played at different frequencies, with the notes struck in perfect harmony. The grande sonnerie strikes the hours and quarter hours in passing and repeats the hour at each quarter. The petite sonnerie repeats the hours and quarters in passing, without repeating the hours at each quarter, while the minute repeater repeats hours, quarters and minutes on demand. If all this sounds too excessive, the watch can also be set to silent mode.
Beyond its technical prowess, Vacheron Constantin’s expertise in métiers d’art takes centre stage on the pocket watch’s yellow gold hand-engraved case that employs an array of techniques. The bow is adorned with two lion heads sculpted from a block of gold, while the dial is presented in eggshell-hue enamel. But the watch’s true art lies on the cover of its officer-type caseback, which bears a remarkable miniature painting by famed enameller Anita Porchet of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s 1665 art piece, Girl with a Pearl Earring. The phenomenal reproduction took Porchet no less than seven months to complete.
Patek Philippe has been making minute repeaters since its founding in 1839 and in the last few years, the manufacture has focused on upgrading its chiming complications. Unveiled last December, the Ref. 5750P Advanced Research is a 15-piece platinum limited edition that employs experimental new technologies and boasts four patents relating to the repeater’s amplification mechanism. The patented device, Fortissimo “ff”, enables the 40mm model’s chimes to be audible 60 metres away, putting it way ahead of conventional repeaters, which can normally be heard from a maximum distance of just 10 metres.
Inspired by the gramophone, the mechanism resulted from modifications and additions to the traditional repeater construction, with upgrades for optimal sound including the striking pace; hours, quarters and minutes have also been adjusted so they’re struck slightly further apart.
The movement still relies on hammers and gongs, but the former are in platinum – it offers the longest-resonating chimes – instead of hardened steel. To ensure every Patek Philippe chiming watch produces a pitch-perfect sound, the brand’s president, Thierry Stern, personally listens to each one before it leaves the manufacture.
The openworked design of the Ref. 5750P’s white-gold dial recalls the spokes of vintage automobile wheels and also features a rotating centre subdial. Its transparent caseback bears the inscription “Advanced Research” to denote the special release. The self-winding calibre R 27 PS boasts a power reserve of up to 48 hours.
In 1996, the Swiss manufacture’s co-president Karl-Fredrich Scheufele introduced the first L.U.C wristwatch, a tribute to the company’s founder Louis-Ulysse Chopard. Since then, the maison has created many timepieces, especially those of the L.U.C. series, with a strong design and watchmaking identity. At this year’s Watches and Wonders fair, Chopard presented three updates to the original Chopard Full Strike minute repeater from 2016, which won the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève’s (GPHG) Best in Show award in 2017 for its masterful gong system. Made from a single piece of sapphire without screws, joins, welding or glue, it produced a crystalline tone similar to that made by tapping a wine glass with a knife.
The new 42.5mm L.U.C Full Strike Tourbillon features a base minute repeater with a tourbillon, which required re-working and re-arranging many of the chiming mechanism’s components and resulted in an impressive movement comprising 568 parts. Available in a rose gold limited edition of 20 pieces, it features a guilloche gold dial. It’s joined by the 42.5mm L.U.C Full Strike Sapphire, whose case, crown and dial are cut from blocks of transparent sapphire, and the 25-piece limited edition 40mm L.U.C Strike One, which chimes with a single gong every hour. The latter comes in ethical rose gold with a guilloche gold dial and is powered by a mechanical self-winding movement.
A noteworthy nugget of information: Chopard collaborated with sibling violinists Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, who fine-tuned the sound produced by the patented sapphire gong/crystal technology.