From time to tone

La Musicale, Breguet

Bird Repeater Fall of the Rhine, Jaquet Droz

Grandmaster Chime (dos/back), Patek Philippe

Crazy Skulls, Speake-Marin

Zeitwerk, A. Lange & Söhne

Rotonde Répétition, Minutes Double Tourbillon Mystérieux, Cartier

PW1 Répétition Minutes, Bell &  Ross

Escale Worldtime Minute Repeater (dos/back), Louis Vuitton

Les Cabinotiers Symphonia Grande Sonnerie 1860, Vacheron Constantin

Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie, Audemars Piguet

Chiming watches, which emerged during the Enlightenment, are currently all the rage. As well as beingbeautiful displays of fine watchmaking, they produce musical chimes that resound with a timely poetry.

Like the masterpiece of a master craftsman, the chiming watch represents a high point in a watchmaker’s life. The grande sonnerie, the ultimate complication that chimes the hours and quarters “in passing,” in other words automatically, is often combined with a minute repeater, a mechanism that indicates “on demand” hours, quarters and minutes with different notes, both deep and high. Developed in the 18th century to indicate the time in a carriage or during the night, but above all to flaunt the owner’s curiosity and wealth, just as some like to rev their car engines, these pocket watches are marvels of miniaturization. Wearing them on the wrist muffles the sound, which presents the watchmaker with a real challenge. The hammers need to have enough power to strike the gongs to make them vibrate and produce sounds. Today, only a handful of watchmakers know how to tune the gongs. These pieces, filed, polished and wrapped around the movement, give the watch its personality, a veritable acoustic “fingerprint.” Patek Philippe, a virtuoso conductor, sets the standard for collectors, in particular its cathedral chime, whose richness and fullness are a result of the long gongs arranged in a spiral. With its Grandmaster Chime model, the house has gone as far as to create five chimes, the minute repeater being systematically approved by the president, Thierry Stern, before being recorded for the archives. As for Louis Vuitton, it gives travelers who love fine timepieces the opportunity to make the time of their home country chime, thanks to a combination of a minute repeater and a “Worldtime” function.

Harmonic alloys

Created in collaboration with the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie prefers to explore the question of intensity. The specific machining of the steel of the two gongs, fixed beneath the movement and acting as a soundboard, generates a clear, full sound reminiscent of that of the first chiming watches. Unveiled this year, Vacheron Constantin’s superb grande sonnerie with a minute repeater rings out with a beautiful harmony, free of the silent interval (the tiny gap between the hour strike and the minutes strike). The latest Grande Sonnerie from Greubel Forsey has a 20-hour power reserve thanks to the self-winding system. This timepiece has a strong sound enhanced by the acoustic resonance cage made from titanium, a material that boosts the chime without impacting its intensity. Equipped with a mechanism similar to that of a music box, Breguet’s La Musicale exploits the acoustic properties of gold, reputed to produce the most faithful sound, in this case, the last movement of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor is triggered by a button at 10 o’clock. Made out of this precious metal, the case has a number of openings creating a Helmholtz resonator, which projects the tune with remarkable fluidity. A. Lange & Söhne’s new Zeitwerk is a resounding expression of Germanic aesthetic simplicity. Two polished steel hammers, engraved with a tremblage pattern, harmoniously situated beneath the jumping numerals, alternate warm and crystalline hues every ten minutes, set inside the elegant timepiece’s gold case. For Bell & Ross, the minute repeater is a nod to its original format in a simple pocket watch that chimes every five minutes.

Whirling hours

Thanks to such links with their ancestors, chiming watches make poetry out of time. Jaquet Droz draws on the automata and singing watches of its beginnings to create a magical minute repeater. A couple of chickadees are feeding their chicks, with the Rhine Falls in the background, offering eight mechanical animations to a sound that has a soft cathedral timbre. With Cartier, the magic stems from the visible dialogue between the mysterious double tourbillon and the interplay of the minute repeater’s hammers whose timbres, tuned to a B and a D, deliver a marvelously pure chime. In Parmigiani Fleurier’s watch, a jade and white gold labyrinth is an invitation for the mind to wander, transported by the melodious chime of a two-tone cathedral minute repeater. The latest creation of Speake-Marin, a joyful demonstration of the British eccentricity that the brand cultivates, is a heart-breaker when the hour chime of the minute repeater rings out. When this happens, a flying tourbillon is revealed in this scene worthy of Shakespeare.

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