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Minute Repeater

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Jaeger Le-Coultre Master Grand Tradition Repetition Minutes Perpetuelle Ref. 52334E1

A repeater is a watch that provides an acoustic dimension in time-telling. This is achieved in mechanical timepieces with a striking mechanism using hammers that strike gongs to sound the time, typically indicating the hours and minutes.

The striking mechanism is activated on demand by means of either a push-piece, a bolt or a slide. This horological audio complication usually accompanies either the analog or digital display of time. 

Repeaters were made before the discovery of electricity to address the difficulties of telling time in dimly-lit environments. Rather than light a candle or an oil lamp, it was more convenient and probably safer to activate a mechanical repeating mechanism to tell time.

There are various forms of repeating watches that sound time on demand. A minute repeater chimes time to the minute by striking the hours, quarters and minutes. A quarter repeater will chime the hours and the quarters where time is told to the nearest quarter. A Five-minute repeater will strike the hours, quarters and five-minute periods after the quarter.

Thomas Mudge (1715 to 1794) invented the first minute repeater in 1755 but it wasn’t the first repeating watch. Almost 70 years earlier in 1687, Daniel Quare (1649 to 1724) was acknowledged as the inventor of the very first quarter repeater after King James II of England awarded him the patent for his creation. Quare even made a seven-minute repeater in 1695.

Not all repeaters tell time only with sound. A dumb repeater is one fitted with a steel block attached to the case that is struck by hammers. Kept in one’s pockets and activated, the dull knocks produced from the strikes causes vibrations that are then felt, allowing time to be told discreetly, notably in social settings. Dumb repeaters are typically vintage pocket watches where the earliest known ones were presumably made during the early 18th century,

 The most complicated timepiece in horology is what is known as the Grande Sonnerie or “grand strike”. A Grande Sonnerie strikes the hours and quarters en passant – “in passing” automatically where the hours are repeated at each quarter. The hours and quarters can also be chimed on demand.

 The high and low tones produced from the striking mechanism allows one to know the time aurally. Low-pitched notes will first indicate the hours while high-low double tones – the “ding-dang” or “ting-tang” – will represent each quarter. Thereafter, high-pitched tones will chime the minutes. 

 For example, three thirty-three is indicated such: ting, ting, ting (for 3 o’clock), followed by ting-tang, ting-tang (for two quarters) and finally, ting, ting, ting (for three minutes).

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