Insights

What Is the Function of a Minute Repeater?

Minute Repeater’s Historical Applications


The minute repeater is one of the most unique, complex, and labor-intensive watch complications. In the late 1600s, both Edward Barlow and Daniel Quare claimed to have invented the first repeating mechanism. Quare, on the other hand, was the one who obtained the patent in 1687. Nonetheless, these early repeaters only chimed every hour or quarter hour. The first minute repeater would not appear until the next century.

The original purpose of the minute repeater was to help people tell time in the dark before electricity was invented. Unlike earlier repeaters, which chimed automatically on the hour or quarter hour, the minute repeater could chime on demand by activating the mechanism on the watch. The original purpose of the minute repeater is no longer required and may appear archaic today. This complication, however, has a certain allure that has withstood the test of time. In this section, we’ll look at how the minute repeater works and how it’s used in modern watches.

The Minute Repeater’s Technical Difficulty

Since the early bells and chimes, the repeater mechanism has arguably advanced exponentially. However, in its modern incarnation, the minute repeater is still a fairly large mechanism. Nonetheless, making room for a complication like the minute repeater is a relatively common problem for watchmakers. Aside from the spatial arrangement, there are acoustics to consider, which aren’t usually a part of a watchmaker’s design process. It’s not just the inner workings that are at stake here. The sound produced by the mechanism is influenced by every aspect of the watch’s design, right down to the case’s construction. Furthermore, for a minute repeater to be effective, the hour and minute tones must be distinct. Watchmakers typically accomplish this by varying the thickness and shape of the gongs that produce the sound. Finally, the minute repeater can be wound independently of the timekeeping components.

Using the Minute Repeater to Tell Time

Now that you’ve learned a little more about the minute repeater, let’s look at how you can use one to tell time. Minute repeater watches have a slide on the side of the watch case. Simply push the slide to activate the minute repeater. When you do this, two hammers are activated. The first hammer is the hour indicator, and it makes its own distinct sound, which is usually a lower tone. Similarly, the second hammer is the minute indicator, and it emits its own distinct sound, which is usually of a higher pitch. There is, however, a combination of the two hammers. This will produce a third distinct sound that will aid in indicating the minutes that occur after quarter past the hour. Assume the time is 3:19 p.m. When the minute repeater is activated, the first hammer will sound three times. The first and second hammers will then sound in unison to indicate that it is quarter past the hour. Finally, the second hammer will sound four times more to indicate that it is 19 minutes past the hour.

Final Thoughts

While minute repeaters are a more specialised complication, they continue to be popular among collectors and watch enthusiasts. The precise combination of elements required for a minute repeater makes them extremely difficult to manufacture, especially in modern wristwatches. Indeed, as the need for minute repeaters and the demand for pocket watches declined, minute repeaters began to become obsolete. However, following the resurgence of mechanical watches in the aftermath of the Quartz Crisis, there was renewed interest in haute horology and complications such as the minute repeater. Even today, the complication is relatively uncommon and certainly comes at a cost.

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