Minute repeater watches: tell the time with the latest highly complex chiming models

Minute repeater watches are making a striking comeback. We take a look at three impressive new chiming watches from Ulysse Nardin, A. Lange & Söhne and IWC.

Ulysse Nardin Hannibal Minute Repeater watch with Westminster chimes, a one-minute tourbillon and moving Jaquemarts figures.

By Rebecca Doulton

Originally invented to chime the time before electricity lit up our homes, minute repeater watches are one of the most complicated functions to produce. As opposed to a tower clock, which kept town dwellers informed of the time, the invention of the repeater in the 17th century allowed for the consultation of the time on demand - very useful for people who lived beyond the acoustic range of the bells or for consulting the time in the dark.

We have seen a good deal of minute repeaters of late: Jaeger-LeCoultre's ultra thin watch with a tourbillon and its lovely Rendez-Vous Ivy minute repeater for women; Jaquet Droz' delightful bird automata in a nest scene; and, how could we forget, Patek Philippe's Grandmaster Chime extravaganza, which could chime just about any contender under the table.

However, I don't think any watch brand can outdo Ulysse Nardin for originality with its Hannibal Minute Repeater watch. Not Lecter, but the original Carthaginian General Hannibal Barca who gave Rome a very big headache when he crossed the Alps with his elephants. The dial depicts Hannibal on a horse, followed by an armoured elephant and sword-wielding foot soldiers, with a jagged relief of mountains in the background. The figures, known as Jaquemarts, are crafted from white gold, and the dark background is made from real Alpine granite.

With so much action on the watch dial, it's easy to overlook the pusher on the case side, which activates the minute repeater. The Hannibal Minute Repeater has four gongs, each with a different tone, replicating the Westminster chimes. But what makes this watch truly extraordinary is that the four figures on the dial are synchronised to the sound of the gongs and move in time to the chimes.

The Zeitwerk Minute Repeater watch, which A. Lange & Söhne presented earlier this year, gets lots of points for its sober design and its highly legible jumping hour and minute windows. The big difference between this and other minute repeaters is that it is a decimal repeater and chimes the hours, 10-minute intervals and minutes - most repeaters chime 15-minute intervals - making it much easier to decipher the time that is being chimed in the dark, for example.

IWC's famous Portugieser watch family, which turned 75 this year, was regaled with some very nice birthday presents, including some design tweaks for the Portugieser Grande Complication. The Grande Complication is the jewel in the crown of IWC's Portugieser watch family and contains a whirlwind of complications that include a chronograph, a perpetual calendar, Moon-phase functions and a minute repeater, all displayed on a surprisingly composed and serene dial. The minute repeater, which took 50,000 hours to develop and perfect, strikes a lower chime for the hours, a double strike for the quarters and a higher-pitched gong for the minutes. For a classical watch design, IWC also revisited its Portugieser Minute Repeater, equipping a repeating mechanism of 250 individual parts under a deceptively simple and handsome dial. 

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