Over the last ten years watch collectors and amateur timepiece fans have been fascinated by the industry’s whirling dervish of a function: The tourbillon. And brands have been spinning out the cagey little complication en masse.
That is perhaps why enthusiasts looking for something a bit more unexpected have started to turn their attention toward minute repeaters.
By shifting their focus from the visual fascination of the tourbillon to the tuneful appeal of the minute repeater, collectors seem to be saying they still want haute horlogerie movements, but they desire a more private and personal manifestation of the mechanics.
Part of the particular charm of minute repeaters is their total irrelevance in modern society. Invented in the mid-18th century, before the discovery of electric lighting, their ability through chiming gongs to sound the hours, quarter hours and minutes in separate and distinct tones made it possible for people to know what time it was even in the dark. It is in part this connection to another place and time that makes these timepieces so appealing to collectors.
Over the past year, brands as diverse in style and heritage as Parmigiani Fleurier, Speake-Marin, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Hublot, Bulgari, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Audemars Piguet, Van Cleef & Arpels, Breguet, Patek Philippe, Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux have unveiled a minute repeater watch.
But not all of a minute repeater’s splendor is hidden away in its melodic chimes. The mechanism itself is a thing of beauty in its own right. Clever watch brands have capitalized on this fact and, not unlike with the tourbillon, they have left the function visible on the watch dial. So that when it is activated, timepiece fans can appreciate watching the levers, cams and springs come to life.
While the minute repeater timepiece is no longer particularly useful, the complexity of the mechanism will still give its owner (and the brand that has made it) serious bragging rights. The large number of components that need to be incorporated into the watch increases the complexity of the mechanism exponentially. At Cartier, watchmaker Carole Forestier-Kasapi spent five years creating the Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon. It is the brand’s first in-house manufactured minute repeater. Never one to miss an opportunity, Forestier-Kasapi smartly paired the minute repeater with ever-popular tourbillon function.
But of all the watchmakers who embraced the minute repeater timepiece this year, it is Michel Parmigiani of Parmigiani Fleurier who is really raising the bar. He unveiled several new models that combined multiple haute horlogerie functions, including the Toric Westminster Eiffel; the Toragraph Tourbillon Minute Repeater with Chronograph featuring a new three-part Toric case; and the Toric Questor Minute Repeater, offered in a limited edition of just two watches, one in platinum and one in 18K rose gold.
Minute repeater watches might not have the glamorous “in your face” beauty of a tourbillon watch, but it is precisely its hidden charms that will make this timepiece a real catch for collectors.