EP 2: What are Minute Repeater Watches

Minute Repeaters are utterly difficult to master, and more complicated to produce.

Minute Repeaters

There are different types of watches available today. Digital and Quartz watches are the type of watches that require a battery and various electrical components for them to run, these watches usually have a shelf life and are considered to be “depreciating assets” as the working and function are programmed into a chip. These watches are fairly inexpensive and easy to mass-produce for the general public.

Whereas an Automatic or Mechanical watch does not require a battery or any electrical components, these movements are solely powered by mechanical components like gears, levers, and springs. These watches are considered timeless, and if maintained properly they continue to work their magic for decades and is considered an extraordinary piece of art to be passed down to future generations.

Watch Complications

Mechanical watch movements are very complicated and much more expensive and sophisticated than our normal Quartz. These watches usually have a power reserve of around 36 to 72 hours, depending on the brand and the watch. after which the mainspring, also known as the innerspring, must be wound.

Watches have always been more than just time; many have mind-blowing features and functionality, which are called complications in the watch world, and trust me, there are many of them.

From chronographs to moonphase displays and perpetual calendars, these complications are “no joke”. These movements go through serious R&D to make them work without any electrical components or chips, which makes these complications truly eternal.

Today we will take a look and understand one such delicate yet feisty complication called the minute repeater, so

What is a Minute Repeater?

“A Minute Repeater is as poetic as the moon, a symphony no less than rain, a complication as complicated as life.“

It is one of the most impressive achievements in micro-engineering, incredibly difficult to create, and even more challenging to fit into a wristwatch. It’s the most incredible complication ever made.

This mechanism chimes the hours, quarters, and minutes on demand by activating a push or a slide-piece. This complication was "invented before electricity" and was one of the more practical features that allows one to tell the time in the dark, for one lucky and wealthy enough to wrap it around their wrist.

Types of Repeaters

Repeater should not be confused with striking clocks or watches, which do not chime on demand but at regular intervals.

There are different types of repeaters from Quarter, Half-quarter, Minute to Decimal available today that allow the time to be heard to varying degrees of precision.

Quarter Repeater

This mechanism is simpler than the Minute Repeater as it chimes the number of hours continued by the number of quarters past that hour, the quarter repeater uses two different tunes to differentiate between the number of hours and the quarter.

Half-quarter Repeater

This mechanism is similar to the quarter repeater but has an additional useful feature. Like the quarter repeater, it chimes the number of hours followed by the quarters, but it also signals if more than half of the current quarter hour has passed.

for example, If the time is 4:44 the watch strikes 4 times in the same tune to indicate the number of hours, followed by 2 sequence tunes to represent the quarters, with an additional tune to indicate that more than half of the third quarter has passed.

Minute Repeater 

Minute Repeaters are utterly difficult to master, and more complicated to produce. Yet they are by far the most famous because of their functionality. Minute repeaters chime the number of hours and quarters in addition to the number of minutes passed since the last quarter. This complication tells you the time using 3 different tunes to differentiate between the hours, quarters, and minutes.

for example, if the time is 5:55, the watch will strike 5 times representing the hours, then after a bare nick of time 3 times for the quarters, and finally, 10 times again representing the minutes past the last quarter.

A complication so intricate, a symphony so delicate that even a hair of misadjustment can cause the mechanism to stop working completely! A minute repeater works as if it has a brain of its own, identifying, understanding, and striking the time on demand as simply as a smartwatch, but without any “smart components.” Before we dive deep into it we gotta take a look back…

Where it all started

Reverend Edward Barlow invented the first repeating mechanism for clocks back in 1676! Yes, it was that early, and the mechanism still to this day provides the backbone to modern-day repeaters.

Almost two decades later Edward Barlow applied for a patent for the invention of the repeating watch but was denied and went in favor of Daniel Quare. Repeater watches were harder to make than clocks as components like bells, wire gongs, and the striking mechanics we complicated to fit into a pocket watch.

During the 17th and the 18th century, the complication saw some changes. The bell was mounted in the back of the case and wire gongs were employed again. Around that time, dumb repeater watches were also produced for visually impaired people as they did not chime but vibrated. Instead of gongs, they were installed with 2 hammers one for hours and the other for minutes.

Repeater watches back then were quarter repeaters, but it saw a huge turn in events when the Stockten system was invented, named after Matthew Stockton who had previously worked for legendary watchmakers like Daniel Quare. The system chimed the hours, quarter, and half minutes.

Later, London-based watchmaker John Ellicott modified the system to grace this world what we today know as the Minute Repeater. In the 19th century, A.L. Breguet refined it to perfection and soon all the spotlights were on it. To this day minute repeaters hold their impeccable value and are found in some of the best watches around the world.

Breathtaking Minute Repeater Watches