Minute Repeater: the Queen of complications

Written by:Enrico L.|

Today we’re once again talking about something truly passionating about the world of watchmaking, the element that makes Swiss maisons’ watches unique and desired: complications, and in particular, the minute repetition.

What is it?

Fans know it well: it is one of the most complex complications to design and, at the same time, one of the most coveted and desired.

For who doesn’t know, we give you a little anticipation: it is a complication that, when activating a trigger or a pusher, produces a melody that allows you to listen at the time without reading it on the dial.

In this article, we will explain in detail how this complication works and what are the most coveted models that host it.

When and why was this complication invented?

Unfortunately, we don’t have an exact date for the birth of the minute repeater, nor do we know exactly who to attribute this complication to. The first certain sources of this invention date back to about 1670, when the English Reverend Edward Barlow proposed a system that through a complex mechanism of gears, called rakes and snails, allowed the emission of some sounds indicating the time.

In the following years, however, there was a dispute with watchmaker Daniel Quare over the patent rights and the real paternity of the complication. The matter was not resolved until 1687 thanks to the intervention of King James II. The king proposed the two craftsmen a challenge with the patent of the complication as prize.

Both had to submit a quarters repeater to the attention of the King and the Clockmaker’s Company. After careful analysis, the King preferred Quare’s. The motivation? The watch presented by Barlow needed two pushers to activate the repetition, Quare instead was able to achieve the same result using a single one.

At the time, this was a very important innovation, as it was solving a real need. In fact, until the advent of electricity and the light bulb, it was impossible to read the exact time at night and this complication allowed to listen to it, overcoming the obstacle of darkness.

How it works

Minute repetition is quite complex. There are very elaborate gears that move together with the watch’s hand, rotating at every minute. When the sliding trigger is activated, a spring is charged and the movement starts, thus activating the ringtone.

Then there are three rakes that are tasked with reading the position of the gear of hours, quarters and minutes. The number of chimes performed on the two tones (the two metal “wires” that resonate when hit by hammers) depends on the position of the hands.

We usually find two distinct sounds: a deeper sound for hours, a high-pitched and a deep sound (alternate) to  signal the quarters elapsed since the last hour, and finally an acute note to signal the minutes elapsed since the last quarter.
Of course, if there are no quarters they are not played (for example at 8:07, you will hear 8 deep notes, a pause, and 7 high notes).

An aspect not to be underestimated is the time it takes the hammers to beat on the tones. They, in fact, don’t have to be too fast, in order to allow the wearer to count the chimes, at the same time, however, they must not be too slow. (The mechanism must take about 20 seconds to express the hours at 12:59)

Our choices

We decided to bring you some examples of watches, where we believe the minute repetition has been interpreted or made in a noteworthy way. Here are the four pieces selected for you:

IWC — Portugieser Minute Repeater – €85.300

Classic design for this IWC model, 44.2mm case in 18ct red gold and white dial. The lever on the left allows you to activate the minute repeat.

Note the price: it is one of the few models with this complication to remain below 100.000€.

BVLGARI — Octo Finissimo TB Carbon – €114.800

An extremely sporty model of the ultra-thin line (find out more here).

The design and carbon fiber make it completely different from the usual minute repeating watches, with extremely classic lines. The layered carbon case has a diameter of 40mm, the movement is mechanically charged but the most amazing thing is its thickness: only 3.12mm.

This feature makes it the thinnest minute repeater in the world.

PATEK PHILIPPE — “World Time” Minute Repeater – €492.380

Classic-looking watch. Combines two of the most complex complications of watchmaking: hours of the world (in depth in this article) and the minute repeater.

In addition to the high-quality movement, which allows the two complications to coexist, this model is characterized by its refined aesthetic: 18ct rose gold case in 40.2mm, cloisonné enamel dial and alligator strap that gives timeless elegance.

MOSER — Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black – €350.000

Despite maybe recalling an Apple Watch, this unique model produced by Moser represents one of the greatest modern innovations in watchmaking.

The design is extremely minimal, so much so that Moser thought to eliminate the hands as well, replacing them with minute repetition and adding a tourbillon to make everything even more precise.

In this piece the complication, which is usually exclusively a technical exercise, a demonstration of ability, becomes extremely fundamental. (Read more about in our article on this very particular model)

Translated by Lorenzo S.


Est. 1994. He is a watch and car enthusiast. He is mostly fascinated by the use of cutting-edge materials mixed with the pure class and elegance of the watchmaking art.
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