Insider: Patek Philippe Minute Repeaters. History, Explanation and 10 Facts You Need to Know About Them.

The history of Patek Philippe and Minute Repeaters is a long one. A couple of weeks ago, we had the opportunity to participate in the Minute Repeater Training and Sound Tasting class at Patek Philippe in New York City. For those of you wondering if Patek invented the Minute Repeater, the answer is no. It was Daniel Quare who invented the repetition mechanism in 1680; however, when it comes to Minute Repeaters, we all have to agree that no one other than Patek Philippe makes the most classical, elegant and perfect sounding timepieces equipped with the king of all complications. During this amazing training, we were able to better understand this fascinating complication and experience the magical sound of nine very exclusive minute repeaters that were shipped straight from Geneva.

The selection included several legendary references including the reference 5208P that Mr. Thierry Stern wears, ref. 5074P, ref. 5216R Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon Minute Repeater, ref. 7000R —Mr. Stern's favorite repeater based on its sound—, ref. 7002 one of the few Patek watches that are fully diamond encrusted and ref. 5078 with black lacquer dial and white enamel dial amongst others.

What is a Minute Repeater?

To put it the simplest way possible, a Minute Repeater is a type of watch that provides an aural indication of time upon demand. By pressing a lever typically located on the left caseband of the watch, two hammers strike a perfectly tuned gong —traditional or cathedral type— that wraps around the movement and that gives the indication of the time with three different sounds. For instance, if the time is 10:49, the hammers will strike 10 times with a high tone to indicate the hours, three times with a double low tone to indicate three quarters of an hour and then four times with a low tone to add four minutes to the three quarters of an hour.  

The History of the Minute Repeaters

The use of bells and sounds to signal time or mark important events has been part of human history for centuries. Whether we think of traditional church bells or iconic clock towers like the 'Big Ben' at the Palace of Westminster, the use of sound to mark the hours or to tell time is simply magical. Other than being the ultimate horological complication, the use of Minute Repeaters helped people before electrical power was available to tell time in the middle of the night without having to light up a candle and risking setting their homes on fire.

In 1676, British priest and mechanic Edward Barlow invented the rack and snail striking mechanism and less than a decade later, Daniel Quare an English clockmaker who invented the repetition mechanism. Just as with other horological inventions, a few other had to come to perfect and improve what Quare had just created. Therefore, in 1687 Thomas Tompion —best known as the father of English clockmaking— along with Daniel Quare and Edward Barlow, applied for the patent of the quarter repeater mechanism with two hammers. Then in 1710, Samuel Watson would create a Five-Minute Repeater with the first minute repeater built by an unknown watchmaker in 1720 in Germany. Towards the end of the 1700s, Abraham-Louis Breguet added to blades to the repeating mechanism to provide a low and high tone when the time was stricken.

A century later in 1839, Patek Philippe would be selling their first pocket Quarter Repeater to a gentleman from Bern for CHF 450 Swiss Francs, this was as well Patek's 19th watch ever sold. Finally in July of 1845, Patek Philippe presented their first pocket Minute Repeater and 50 years later in 1895 a Five-Minute Repeater Over 24 hours and instantaneous Perpetual Calendar.

Timeline of Patek Philippe Minute Repeaters

When it comes to modern times, the first Minute Repeater wristwatch developed by Patek Philippe made its appearance in 1924 and no less than 30 different references followed including the exceptional Patek Philippe Henry Graves Jr. platinum cushion-shaped minute repeater with Breguet numerals with movement No. 198,095 manufactured in 1927 —valued around $1.4 million USD—, the Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication, the Supercomplication Calibre 89, the Sky Tourbillon ref. 5073 and ref. 5074 with Cathedral Gongs and lastly the Grandmaster Chime ref. 5175R.

10 Facts About Patek Philippe Minute Repeaters

  1. A Patek Philippe Minute Repeater takes 17 to 18 seconds to strike the time.
  2. Patek Philippe Minute Repeaters sound at 30 to 40 decibels. They are loud enough but not too loud as Mr. Stern feels that listening to a minute repeater should be an intimate moment with the watch owner.
  3. All Minute Repeaters are individually tested and approved by Mr. Thierry Stern based on the duration, rhythm, volume, pitch, harmony and equilibrium of their chime.
  4. You should never adjust the crown while a minute repeater is striking the time and only after 20 seconds have elapsed after the last strike.
  5. Patek Philippe Minute Repeaters are not water resistant or water proof as they don't need to be. Who will be listening to a minute repeater underwater?
  6. There are at least 21 types of gongs utilized by Patek in their Minute Repeaters.
  7. It takes between 6 to 16 months to produce a minute repeater from its purchase to its delivery. Sometimes even up to 24 months as only 10 to 15 watchmakers at Patek Philippe work on Split Seconds Chronographs and Minute Repeaters.
  8. Up until 1989 Patek Philippe Minute Repeaters were exclusively sold at the Patek Salon in Geneva.
  9. The final price of a Patek Philippe Minute Repeater is calculated upon arrival of the piece in the U.S. and its customs clearance. The average price of a Patek Philippe Minute Repeater is $400,000 to $800,000 USD.
  10. Any client interested in a Minute Repeater in the U.S. needs to go through a stringent approval process.

Approval Process for a Patek Philippe Minute Repeater

  • If you live in the U.S. and you are interested in buying a Patek Philippe Minute Repeater you need to place a formal request at a Patek Philippe Authorized Dealer.
  • You need to own several special watches from Patek Philippe and be able to explain why you want a Minute Repeater.
  • Have a proven track record of how you've grown as a watch collector going all the way from owning time only watches to owning chronographs, annual calendars, perpetual calendars and that you are ready for a Minute Repeater.
  • You need to have a clear understanding of the complication and how it works.
  • Once the formal application is submitted, Mr. Larry Petinelli —Patek Philippe USA President— will review and approve the application after checking the purchase history of the client and his/her loyalty to the brand. Once approved, he will then submit said request to Mr. Thierry Stern for final approval.
  • Mr. Thierry Stern gives his final approval and the client commits to buy the Minute Repeater.
  • After a long wait that can take up to 16 to 24 months —in certain instances—, the client gets its Minute Repeater after paying for it.

As you can see, Patek Philippe continues to be a brand that truly cares for the love of horology and about having the right base of customers as their clients. If you are a true watch collector and you buy watches for the real reasons, you need to always ask yourself: Am I ready for this next step in my watchlife? Do I know enough about the brand and about horology to own this watch?

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