8 Best Minute Repeater Watches for the High-Complication Lover

Nov 24, 2020
8 Best Minute Repeater Watches for the High-Complication Lover

Picture this — it’s a busy day and you’re in a business meeting that’s about to go overtime. You desperately want to check the time, but the problem is you don’t want to seem rude to your boss by glancing at your watch. If only there are watches that can tell the time audibly rather than visually. Oh, wait! There is! This is where the magic of the minute repeater complication comes in.

The more you get acquainted with the hobby of watch collection, the more you’ll be hooked on the exciting world of high complication watches. And that includes minute repeaters. Read on to find out what a minute repeater is and why it is a marvel in the world of horology.

What is a minute repeater complication?

A watch with a minute repeater complication is often compared with a grandfather clock. Apart from having a set of hands and hour markers, both timekeepers chime the time. Yes, it sets off an alarm that lasts depending on the current time so you don’t have to look at your dial anymore. If you’re having a hard time picturing it, think of it like the Big Ben that makes a sound every hour, only smaller and wearable.

Another similarity that minute repeaters have with grandfather clocks is that they are both considered old. In fact, repeater watches have been in existence as early as the late 1680s.

History of the Minute Repeater

Daniel Quare repeater, Minute Repeater
Daniel Quare Repeater Watch | Photo from The Met Museum

Who invented the repeater complication?

There are conflicting reports regarding who first invented the repeater watch. Some history books would say that it was Daniel Quare. On the other hand, some say that it was Reverend Edward Barlow. To settle the dispute, both applied for a patent on the invention and in the end, it was decided in favour of Quare in 1687.

The usefulness of the repeater complication caught the attention of many. However, Quare’s repeater watch still had a lot to improve on. For one, it can only chime the number of quarter hours since the last hour. Thus, a lot of inventors tried making developments on the original such as a smaller size and a shorter interval that the watch was capable of striking. For instance, Samuel Watson created a 5-minute repeater compared with the original quarter-hour repeater.

Forty years after the invention of the 5-minute repeater, Thomas Mudge created the minute repeater. It works like a quarter-hour repeater but with the addition of the number of minutes since the last quarter-hour. In other words, a minute repeater can tell time more accurately than a 5-minute and quarter-hour repeater.

Abraham Louis Breguet
Abraham Louis Breguet | Photo from Alchetron

The All-or-Nothing Mechanism

Although Thomas Mudge’s minute repeater was an incredible improvement from the original, it still had its own faults. In particular, it was prone to mis-striking which causes a lot of confusion for the wearer. To solve this problem, Abraham-Louis Breguet created an “all-or-nothing” mechanism. This device prevents the repeater from starting a full strike cycle unless the lever is pressed down properly.

Apart from making minute repeater timepieces more accurate, the all-or-nothing mechanism served as a momentum for other watchmakers to improve on the minute repeater. In effect, they became small enough to be worn on the wrist and not in the pocket. That being said, the first-ever repeater wristwatch came around 1892, although it did not become popular at the time.

The Rise of Minute Repeater Wristwatches

Today, a minute repeater complication in timepieces is considered a watchmaking feat as it is difficult to make one. This is a way for watchmakers to demonstrate their knowledge and prowess in horology. A few prestigious brands like Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Jaeger-LeCoultre offer minute repeater watches in their collections.

What are the positive impacts of a minute repeater complication?

At first glance, the minute repeater might look like a gimmick. But there is nothing further from the truth. Yes, there are times when it can be useful for discreetly knowing the time, but there is a deeper advantage to these alarms. Minute repeaters make timekeeping accessible to people who are blind. With its chimes, a person can know the time without having to rely on their eyes.

Types of Repeater Watches

Quarter Repeater

A quarter repeater only strikes the number of hours and the number of quarter hours since the last hour. It uses two different tones — a low-pitched sound to signal the hours and a higher-pitched one to signal the quarter hours. So for example, if it is 1:45, the watch will give out 1 low tone followed by 3 high tones.

Half-Quarter Repeater

As its name suggests, a half-quarter repeater can tell the time up to half a quarter-hour. First, it strikes the hours, then the quarter hours, and another tone if more than half of the current quarter-hour has passed.

Five-Minute Repeater

The five-minute repeater rings the number of hours, as well as the number of five-minute periods from the hour. As an example, if it’s 5:15, the watch will give 5 rings indicating the hour and 3 rings in a different tone for the minutes.

Minute Repeater

The minute repeater chimes the number of minutes since the last quarter-hour is sounded. This is in addition to the number of hours and quarter hours. Usually, this complication uses a low tone for the hours, a sequence of two tones for the quarter hours (“ding-dong”), and a high-pitched tone for the minutes.

Dumb Repeater

Unlike the other types of repeater that chimes audibly, this one does so quietly. Instead, it produces vibrations. It works with a hammer striking the hours on a metal block that’s attached to the case. Each strike produces a dull “thud” that can be felt by the wearer.

Best Minute Repeater Watches

Although repeater watches are uncommon and not to mention extremely expensive, these watches have different personalities. From modern to traditional, here are some repeaters that every die-hard watch collector should check out.

1. Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie

Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie

Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie specs:

  • Case material: White gold
  • Case dimension: 41mm
  • Movement: Hand-wound mechanical
  • Power reserve: 42 hours
  • Water resistance: 20m

To start off this list, we have a contender from one of the Holy Trinity of watches — Audemars Piguet. This specific model is called the Code 11.59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie and it boasts its superb acoustic performance, as well as its elegant design. In any case, this timepiece is something every watch collector should check out.

Its case is made with 18K white gold for an added elegance. Likewise, its dial is minimalistic and only contains the 3, 9, and 12 Arabic hour markers while the rest are indexes. There is also a running seconds sub-dial just above 6 o’clock although it is unobtrusive. Meanwhile, its smoked blue enamel dial is stunning and blends in well with the white gold accents.

Under the hood, this timepiece uses the calibre 2953. This movement provides exceptional sound for the minute repeater, thanks to the patented gongs. To add, Audemars Piguet attached the gongs to a device that acts as a soundboard instead of the main plate to make it louder. Furthermore, they also made a striking regulator that eliminates unwanted noise.

Overall, the Code 11.59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie is a beast of a watch. This is living proof that Audemars Piguet excels in both design and technology when it comes to watchmaking.

2. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Minute Repeater Supersonnerie

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Minute Repeater Supersonnerie

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Minute Repeater Supersonnerie Specs:

  • Case material: Titanium
  • Case dimension: 42mm
  • Movement: Hand-wound mechanical
  • Power reserve: 72 hours
  • Water resistance: 20m

Another entry from Audemars Piguet is the Royal Oak Minute Repeater Supersonnerie. This time, AP takes a fan favourite and combines it with groundbreaking technology. As expected, the result is a marvel that will make every enthusiast drool.

Outside, this watch bears the same shape and titanium material. It also features the blue Grande Tappisserie dial and the easily-recognisable baton hand set. The difference is that it has a sub-dial just above the 6 o’clock marker. And at the back is an engraving of a soundwave, as well as the text that says “Limited edition of 20 pieces”. Yes, this is extremely limited at only 20 pieces.

Inside, the watch runs on the calibre 2959, which is manually wound like the previous model. It beats at a frequency of 21,600 BPH and can power the watch up to 72 hours of power reserve. And like Code 11.59, it delivers amazing sound for the minute repeater.

To sum everything up, this model is perfect for people who want a spin on a classic model. If you’re a diehard fan of the Royal Oak silhouette but want something more complicated, this is the answer to your prayers.

3. Patek Philippe Grand Complications Minute Repeater 5178G

Patek Philippe Grand Complications Minute Repeater 5178G

Patek Philippe Grand Complications Minute Repeater 5178G specs:

  • Case material: White gold
  • Case dimension: 40mm
  • Movement: Automatic
  • Power reserve: 48 hours
  • Water resistance: Not water-resistant

Patek Philippe excels in making traditional watch designs, and the Grand Complications Minute Repeater 5178G is a good example of that. It uses tricks straight from the Patek Philippe design bible, which makes it fly under the radar. But looking closely will reveal all the fine details of this piece. For instance, it uses 18K white gold for the case. Furthermore, the surface has remarkable finishing that makes the watch stand out.

The choice of watch hands is well thought out. They used a set of Breguet hands that go well with the old-school Arabic numeral font. Moreover, the cream enamel dial gives out a surreal effect, which only enamel can do. At any rate, this material adds subtle visual interest.

Despite its simple aesthetic, this timepiece packs a very complicated minute repeater inside. In particular, it uses the calibre R 27 which is self-winding. Furthermore, it is equipped with Patek’s own cathedral gongs, which produce a richer sound and longer reverberation. You should also know that these cathedral gongs are only used for top-of-the-line models.

In summary, classic gents will surely appreciate the Grand Complications Minute Repeater 5178G. This is the type of watch to get if you value simple yet elegant designs.

4. Breguet Tradition 7087 Minute Repeater Tourbillon

Breguet Tradition 7087 Minute Repeater Tourbillon

Breguet Tradition 7087 Minute Repeater Tourbillon Specs:

  • Case material: White gold
  • Case dimension: 44mm
  • Movement: Automatic
  • Power reserve: 80 hours
  • Water resistance: Not indicated

In 2015, Breguet celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Breguet Tradition collection by releasing a minute repeater watch. Truly, the Tradition 7087 Minute Repeater Tourbillon is where classic meets modern, as it showcases a historical complication encased in a futuristic design.

At the top right corner, you get a guilloche dial that bears Breguet’s signature look. It is purposefully made small to give a peek at the inner workings of the watch. Of course, you can see the two white gold gong springs that create the sound of the minute repeater. Moreover, Breguet’s meticulous design allows the watch to increase the volume of the chime while muting the sounds of the movement.

Apart from the minute repeater, this watch also features a 60-second tourbillon, which can be seen at the 6 o’clock position. This is a significant addition as Abraham-Louis Breguet also invented the tourbillon. The calibre that runs this marvel is the in-house 565DR. It is automatic and is made with a platinum oscillating rotor. The brand made sure to put only the finest parts in this watch.

The Breguet Tradition 7087 Minute Repeater Tourbillon is a watch for those who love complications and those who appreciate the history and craftsmanship that went into the tourbillon and minute repeater. It is no doubt an exhibition of what Breguet can do.

5. A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater

A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater

A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater Specs:

  • Case material: White gold
  • Case dimension: 44.2mm
  • Movement: Hand-wound mechanical
  • Power reserve: 36 hours
  • Water resistance: 30m

A. Lange & Söhne once disturbed the balance by releasing a mechanical watch that displays the time digitally. It uses jumping numerals that maximise legibility. Ever since its release, the German brand has introduced us to different versions of the Zeitwerk and one of those is the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater. But this is a special kind as it is a decimal minute repeater.

Simply put, a decimal minute repeater chimes the number of 10-minute intervals after the last hour followed by the number of minutes. This kind of repeater is considered rare and even enthusiasts would be hard-pressed to think of another model with the same complication.

Under the hood, it uses the L043.5 movement, which you can see through the caseback. It is made in-house and guarantees exceptional accuracy with a power reserve of 36 hours. Moreover, this watch is just as beautiful on the outside. It boasts an 18K white gold case that melds well with the deep blue dial. Furthermore, you can expect the intricate details and decorative engravings to be well-made.

The A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater has a hefty price tag, but I can say that it is justified. To be honest, I can’t imagine all the work put into this marvel of a timepiece. It truly is a watch collector’s dream.

6. Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon

Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon Specs:

  • Case material: Carbon thin ply
  • Case dimension: 40mm
  • Movement: Hand-wound mechanical
  • Power reserve: 42 hours
  • Water resistance: 10m

As part of the Bulgari Octo collection, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon is one of the slimmest minute repeaters you can find. This information itself is a testament to the exceptional watchmaking that went through this model. If creating a repeater movement is complicated enough, what more a thin one?

As its name suggests, this watch uses carbon thin ply (CTP) for its case, dial, and even bracelet. Simply put, this material is a thermosetting epoxy resin that’s strengthened with carbon fibre. Apart from being lightweight and durable, it also has its advantages when it comes to acoustics. To explain, it offers an efficient resonating chamber for the gongs.

In contrast to its unorthodox material, the movement inside is traditional. To be specific, it uses the Calibre BVL 362, which is responsible for its slim design. With a thickness of just 3.12mm, it’s hard to imagine how Bulgari fit all 362 parts in it. It also boasts the Côtes de Genève decoration and anglages on the bridges, as well as the perlage on the main plate.

Thanks to its comfort, this watch is easy to recommend to people who want a complicated watch. Its industrial-looking design is definitely worth checking out for those who do not want a traditional-looking minute repeater.

7. F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine

F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine

F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine Specs:

  • Case material: Steel
  • Case dimension: 44mm
  • Movement: Hand-wound mechanical
  • Power reserve: 40 hours
  • Water resistance: 30m

Despite being a newcomer in the industry, F.P. Journe has proven that it can pack a punch. In its 21 years of existence, the watchmaking company has already produced a complicated model with the Astronomic Souveraine watch. It is a true grand complication with a total of 18 features in a normal-sized timepiece. This is enough reason for every enthusiast to watch out for this brand in the future.

The watch has a large 44mm steel case. It’s a bit large, but considering all the complications inside, you’d be thankful it doesn’t go above 45mm. And despite its numerous features, the layout of the dial is organised and well thought out. There are two smaller dials within the dial — the left shows the sidereal or “star” time, while the right one shows the hours in civil time along with a second time zone. Furthermore, a moon phase and a power reserve indicator are located at the top and bottom, respectively.

At the back, you’ll see the calibre 1619 in 18K rose gold. It is hand-wound and is generally considered an impressive movement. And in spite of the watch’s power-hungry features, it can still deliver 40 hours of power reserve.

Don’t let the brand’s lack of pedigree turn you down. With their impressive collection of watches, F.P. Journe should be on your radar.

8. Baume et Mercier Clifton 1830 Pocket Watch

Baume et Mercier Clifton 1830 Pocket Watch

Baume et Mercier Clifton 1830 Pocket Watch Specs:

  • Case material: Steel
  • Case dimension: 44mm
  • Movement: Hand-wound mechanical
  • Power reserve: 46 hours
  • Water resistance: 50m

Let’s end this list with a more traditional pick — the Baume et Mercier Clifton 1830 Pocket Watch. This was made to celebrate the brand’s 185th anniversary and to be honest, choosing the Clifton 1830 with a five-minute repeater was a good idea to display their expertise in watchmaking.

Its case is made with 18K red gold and is 50mm wide. The dial keeps a minimalist look and only displays the time. In fact, the only indication that it has a complication is the slider at the side of the case. As mentioned, this watch is a five-minute repeater, which is less complicated than a minute repeater. Despite that, a five-minute repeater is still more complicated compared with other watch functions.

The back of the watch showcases the calibre. It is skeletonised and highly decorated, just like pocket watches in the 19th century. Furthermore, it has customised bridges, “Côtes de Genève” décor, and even blue steel screws.

If you already have a lot of wristwatches in your collection, then I think it’s a good idea to venture into pocket watches next. This watch from Baume et Mercier is not a daily driver, but it certainly has its own charm especially if you intend to collect old-school watches.

Final Notes

Whether you’re a fan of the complication or not, the minute repeater is one of the most significant inventions in horological history. This complication is intricate and difficult to make and has been in development since the late 1680s. Its complexity means that only the finest watchmakers could achieve this feat.

Considering its price range, minute repeaters are not very practical in this day and age. Especially when digital watches are cheaper and can set off an alarm, too. However, these are for people who appreciate engineering and watchmaking at a deep level. With that said, minute repeaters are, indeed, for enthusiasts who find joy in owning one of the most complicated watches in the market.


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