Written by Selena DiGiovanni
Since its creation in 1892 the minute repeater has been considered one of the finest mechanisms in watchmaking. Of all the watchmakers making minute repeaters, one company stands alone in attention to detail and precision. Patek Philippe, a Genevan watchmaking company, makes some of the finest minute repeaters in the world.
Recently, Thierry Stern, president of Patek Philippe sat down for an interview to explain how a minute repeater works and how he and his family have produced some of the finest minute repeaters that the watchmaking world has seen.
The first step to appreciating the minute repeater is understanding how this complex piece works. A minute repeater is a complication that chimes the time on command -down to the minute- using three separate tones. Steel hammers located within the mechanism strike a small bell or metal hoop, producing low, sequence, and high tones to indicate the hour, quarter hour, and minutes past the quarter hour.
For example, if the time was 4:32, the minute repeater would chime 4 low tones, 2 sequence tones, and 2 high tones. Over 100 pieces are used to create the minute repeater mechanism, all fitted expertly within the case of the timepiece. A minute repeater takes between 200 and 300 hours of hand-crafting to create, and this can only be done by an expert watchmaker.
The following video shows the minute repeater movement of several different Patek Philippe timepieces.
As seen in the video, each timepiece is also checked personally by Stern before leaving the workshops in order to assure that the sound of the minute repeater is of the highest quality. In a recent interview, Stern explained that testing a minute repeater isn’t as complex as it seems. “You don’t need really to be an expert or do something specific. It’s just a matter of experience.”
And experience is certainly something Stern has. He is the fourth generation president of Patek Philippe, a company which has been owned by his family for over 150 years. Since childhood, Stern has been involved in the watchmaking process. When asked what his earliest memory of a minute repeater was, he recalled when his father was home, listening to the sound of the chime.
“I think it was at home. It was one of the first minute repeaters, actually, that we had. I do not remember the reference, I was too young at the time, but I remember very well the way that he was listening to it. And to be very frank, it’s funny, because it was exactly the same way as I am listening to it now,” said Stern.
To hear more of the Thierry Stern interview and to learn more about the minute repeater, visit www.patek-institutional.com.