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Why Minute Repeaters are the Most Coveted Patek Philippe Complication

In anticipation of the new Patek Philippe novelties that will be presented at Watches and Wonders, let’s take some time to revisit one of the Manufacture’s most revered complications – the minute repeater. Since its early days in 1839, Patek Philippe has nurtured a rich history with striking watches.

Considered as the master of chimes today, the company has built its reputation thanks to an enduring family passion and commitment to preserve this striking tradition. Patek Philippe boasts the largest collection of chiming watches in its regular production and is the unquestioned leader in this category, combining rich acoustics, superior micromechanics, patented innovations and the finest finishes. Let’s recall the steps that built this legend.

Quai Des Bergues No 15 Geneva 1845
A painting from 1845 featuring the Patek Philippe Geneva boutique at Quai Des Bergues No. 15. Image Credit: Patek Philippe

A Long, Rich History of Chiming Watches

Minute repeaters have been associated with Patek Philippe since the beginning. When Antoine Norbert de Patek and François Czapek opened their shop in 1893, one of the early pieces sold was a pocket watch with a quarter repeater. This sale proved to be the initial spark of a keen interest in striking mechanism: in 1842, a quarter repeater with independent seconds; in 1845, a half-quarter repeater, their first minute repeater, and a quarter repeater with a tactile hand. The following year, the first pocket watch with a Grande and a Petite Sonnerie was sold. Variations of the minute repeaters endowed with other complications, such as chronographs, perpetual calendars, and equations of time, were built in the subsequent years. Even the repeating mechanism was further developed, from two hammers on two gongs, to three hammers on three gongs, to the Westminster chime with grand and small chimes that required five of each.

Advertisement 1889 Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe Advertisement highlighting accolades from Paris Universal Exhibition 1889. Image credit: Patek Philippe

For the next century, Patek Philippe continued to produce minute repeaters, first as pocket watches, then later as wristwatches. In 1896, Patek Philippe produced minute repeater movements of 9- and 10-lignes, which were used in ladies pendant watches. Combining expertise in component miniaturisation and in complicated movements, this breakthrough meant it was possible for Patek Philippe to make wristwatches with minute repeater complication at a time when pocket watches remained the norm.

Collectors’ Guides: Types of Chiming Watches

The Mid-Century Decline of Chiming Watches

For the next six decades, Patek Philippe continued to produce chiming complications for pocket watches, and wrist watches. Demand for chiming complications began to decline in the 1960s; as a result, Patek Philippe stopped production of minute repeaters and sonneries for almost three decades.

Preparing the Rebirth and Renewal of the Chime

We are some years before 1989. Philippe Stern, who was at the helm of Patek Philippe, builds a taskforce with a unique mission: to develop the first in-house manufactured minute repeater movement. Until then, the watchmakers were using virgin movements from the Vallée de Joux (called “ébauches”) that were assembled, finished, precision-adjusted and decorated in the manufacture. For the manufacture’s 150th anniversary, Philippe Stern asked a team, led by Jean-Pierre Musy, to prepare the comeback of repeater timepieces. The new movement had to surpass and eclipse the two legendary masterpieces of that time: the Leroy 01 piece that dated back from the Universal Exhibition 1900 in Paris, as well as the Henry Graves piece delivered in 1933. This unique project proved to be a challenge even for the experienced Musy and his team, and a task they worked on for several years.

Thierry Stern, the current President of Patek Philippe, said that his family has always been intrinsically linked with minute repeaters, in the same way as they are involved with enamelling. Thierry Stern recalls his grandfather and his father listening to chiming watches. It is only thanks to the continuous commitment of the family and their passion for chiming watches that the 1989 technical prowess and extravaganza could happen.

1989 Opens a New Minute Repeater Era

Calibre 89, the most complicated watch created by Patek Philippe, was one of the in-house movements developed for the Manufacture’s 150th anniversary in 1989. With  some 33 complications in the Calibre 89, three are striking time complications: the minute repeater, the Grande and the Petite Sonnerie, a true showcase of the maison’s technical knowledge and ability, as well as exceptional craftsmanship, and changing the perception of watch collectors on striking time mechanisms henceforth.

Calibre 89 Prototype
Calibre 89 Prototype

The year 1989 also saw the return of striking mechanisms to the Patek Philippe catalogue. Ref. 3979, a solo minute repeater, and Ref. 3974, a minute repeater perpetual calendar, heralded the revival of the striking movement, setting the tone and pace of its subsequent development. Today, Patek Philippe continues to showcase an exquisite range of striking time watches. From the elegant simplicity of the Ref 7040/250, to the understated beauty of the Ref 5207 white gold tourbillon minute repeater with perpetual calendar, to the grand artistry of the Ref 6002 Sky Moon Tourbillon, each watch is a showcase of the exceptional savoir-faire of the watchmakers and artisans at Patek Philippe. Combining striking time mechanisms with grand complications and rare handcrafts have become one of the hallmarks of Patek Philippe and is testament to the Manufacture’s extraordinary technical skills and expertise.

Hear the chimes of Patek Philippe minute repeaters


A Distinct Patek Philippe Sound

Patek Philippe’s unrivalled position as a leader of chiming watches today reflects the family’s passion for sound and an invaluable heritage that has been passed on from one generation to the next.

Any Patek Philippe minute repeater you hold in your hands would have been personally tested and checked by the current President of Patek Philippe before it leaves the workshop. From Henri Stern, to Philippe Stern, and now to Thierry Stern, there is a line of heritage,  an intangible training and transmission to ensure that each chiming watch has the very Patek Philippe sound.

Watch – Patek Philippe minute repeaters: tested by the President

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Knowing that every minute repeater has been personally examined by Mr Thierry Stern before his or her watch could be sealed and delivered undoubtedly adds a unique value to any collector’s piece.

Discover more of the Patek Philippe Grand Complications range at The Hour Glass

Each Petite Sonnerie, Grande Sonnerie and Patek Philippe minute repeater is the result of a long striking tradition, an enduring family commitment and incorporates the best of Patek Philippe acoustics, micromechanics and fine finishes. A passion for sound that all Patek Philippe collectors and enthusiasts are honoured to treasure and share.

Unless otherwise stated, images are copyrighted to The Hour Glass.

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