It’s hard not to sound whimsical when you talk about minute repeaters. While you can fall back on functionality when you want to explain the importance of other watch complications, minute repeaters (and other striking complications) can seem more anachronistic than the mechanical watch itself.
The need to tell time through sound went out of the window when gas lighting was introduced in the late 18th century. What has stayed through the years, however, is the level of technical prowess required to piece together a minute repeater. This ability has often been used as a distinguishing factor between a top tier manufacture and other brands. Simply put, you get what you pay for.
For Chopard, its venture into the realm of minute repeaters marks a new milestone in its quest for perfection. In its L.U.C (named after the brand’s founder Louis-Ulysse Chopard) range, the manufacture has proven that classicism is a subtle art.
That is precisely why the new L.U.C Full Strike stands out. It is not a subtle evolution. It is a statement from Chopard that says, “We haven’t done a minute repeater before, but trust us, we’ll build it better than the rest.” While this is not the first time the family-owned manufacture has produced a chiming watch (its L.U.C Strike One comes to mind), the new Full Strike is a different beast altogether. We implore you; watch the video above of the L.U.C Full Strike working its magic first before continuing.
Do you hear that? That is the sound of a new minute repeater joining “Top 5 Minute Repeaters” lists everywhere in the world.
The balanced tones that emanate from the watch is not something to be taken lightly. With minute repeaters across the industry, the biggest variables that come into play tend to be the materials used for the case, the hammers, and the gongs. However, with sound, virtually everything becomes a variable to a certain degree. An added complication; the thickness of the sapphire; a skeletonised movement; the case material used – each factor contributes to the sound’s pleasantness.
It takes an incredulous amount of research and development to create minute repeaters, let alone reinvent them. That’s why so few watch brands have evolved the complication.
That hasn’t stopped Chopard. For the L.U.C Full Strike, the brand filed three new patents, proof of what was necessary to obtain that clear sound. First, the timepiece has a novel energy management system. For most minute repeaters, a sliding lever is responsible for winding up the chiming mechanism.
In the L.U.C Full Strike, two barrels provide power through the watch. Both are equipped with the security of a slipping spring that prevents them from snapping if overwound.
One barrel is reserved for time measurement while the other powers the minute repeater. When winding the crown, a differential gear transfers force towards the appropriate barrel, according to the direction in which the crown is wound – clockwise for the time; anti-clockwise for the minute repeater. Both power reserves are indicated dial side with special co-axially fitted hands.
The patent in this energy management system is a new device incorporated into the coupling-clutch of the Calibre 08.01-L. During the activation of the chime, the regulator does not rotate. Only when every tooth is in its place does the mechanism consume energy. This saves power, with 12 full repeats of chimes when the time is at 12:59 at full power reserve.
The next patent lies in the new architecture of the movement that helps to avoid the silence between chimes. A co-axial structure of the ratchet sees the hours, quarters and minutes gear trains superimposed and mutually driving each other. This means that when one has completed its task, it automatically triggers the next, maintaining a constant cadence. There is no awkward silence often found in other minute repeaters.
Perhaps the most innovative patent is found in the gongs themselves. For years, brands have tried to improve the gongs with different types of steel alloys. But what sets Chopard’s L.U.C Full Strike apart from the rest of the competition is the fact that the manufacture has opted for sapphire gongs.
Now, it’s not the first time that sapphire gongs have been used. Jaeger-LeCoultre has done it before. But where the Full Strike shines is the fact that the gongs and the sapphire covering the dial is machined from one and the same. This gives the chime a type of resonance that, as Chopard puts it, is akin to a silver knife being delicately tapped on a Bohemian crystal glass placed on the table in a fine dining establishment. We can hardly argue otherwise. It is fitting then that the first minute repeaters or chiming mechanisms built in pocket watches were made for royalty.
In modern times, collectors who own minute repeaters are probably not relying on their chimes to tell the passing of time. But, like the enjoyment of vinyl records and classic automobiles, the appreciation for minute repeaters lies far beyond aesthetic reasons. It’s a celebration of human ingenuity and best enjoyed with whisky and cigars, in the company of friends, musing on the musicality of the watches. For whom the gongs sound? For those in the past, present and future.
This article first appeared in the March ’17 issue of AUGUSTMAN Singapore