These days, there are constant smartwatch reminders of tasks to be completed. Not to say the least, fitness trackers that can even nudge one from slumber after a well-rested REM sleep cycle.
A ticking mechanical timepiece itself is thus, often considered redundant, and one that chimes – through an arduous activation of levers and gears – only serves to further reinforce the lack of a resounding modern-day purpose.
Traditional watches are, as such, now seen as an indicator of social hierarchies or a clear-cut badge of snobbery. Yet, there are still people who find the gentle ticking of them – put plainly and simply – just soothing.
To watchmakers, the tick of a watch is like a heart beating – three separate ticks in such quick succession as to be misinterpreted as just one. Like a heartbeat, it can even be used to check how well a watch is.
Few mechanical complications are more divine to feast your eyes (and ears) on than a minute repeater that chimes the hour and minutes, and to a lesser extent, those with mechanical alarm functions.
The combination of visual and aural purity may well serve as a very necessary wakeup call to take a break not just from hectic schedules but also indifference. They are arguably the most pleasurable of mechanical timepieces.
Call Of The Wild
To illustrate, look at the breathtaking Jaquet Droz Tropical Bird Repeater. This particular timepiece is all it takes to render smartwatches as throwaways that will be obsolete after a few product cycles.
Its latest iteration features a red gold case. The hallmark of delicate craftsmanship comes in the form of intricate hand engraving, of which breathes life into the motifs of gorgeous fowl and flora.
On a dial, a fluttering hummingbird is seen in the company of a preening peacock, while dragonflies with tinted wings go about their lives. There’s also a guest appearance by an inquisitive toucan.
Here, artisanal flair is proudly on display as each automaton is capable of vividly lifelike movements. Silence is punctuated with a minute repeater that can denote the hour, quarter-hour and minutes with vibrating chimes.
Once the repeater is activated, the wearer will be delighted by the sound of hammers striking gongs – with sound waves that oscillate at optimal frequencies inside the case – but also mesmerised by the lifelike dial.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, unveiled in 2016, has the distinction of being the thinnest modern minute repeater with a titanium or carbon thickness of just 6.85mm.
The movement itself is only 3.12mm thick. This is achieved with a suspended mainspring barrel and cut-out hour indexes to allow sound to travel easily from the gongs. It is a stark contrast to the elaborate flourishes of the Tropical Bird Repeater.
Another model, Audemars Piguet’s Code 11.59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie, resembles a time-only watch with a blue enamel dial, but it is in fact, described to be endowed with “the sonic power of a pocket watch”.
Here, performant gongs are not attached to the movement’s main plate, but to a device that acts as a soundboard. Redesigned striking regulators also “eliminate unwanted noises”, as a result of a more flexible anchor system.
Upon pressing the pusher, the mechanical module starts to “magically” chime. Often, low-pitched chimes correlate to the hour while high-pitched minute gongs are calibrated to higher octaves.
And if your decision-making process isn’t clouded by bias, a side-by-side comparison will render the discussion a short one by the recently unveiled Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300.
This is the watchmaker’s most complicated (and probably expensive) timepiece, made for those who truly appreciate stellar workmanship. It boasts not only a minute and date repeater but extra complications to go along with an alarm function.
Compromises are not tolerated regardless of intensity. Harmony and pitch are tinkered with and the watch case plays the role of resonance chamber. Contact points of the complication with the case also enhance vibration velocity.
Decibels are relegated to benchwarmers, while tonal precision is the star of the show. This is the finest solicitation of craftsmanship as there is also a perpetual calendar and moon-phase indicators.
In the exalted realms of grand complications, these are fine watches that are guaranteed to resonate with collectors. And yet, the rudimentary mechanical arm function also has its charm in spades.
Designed To Be Heard
All that being said, aural satisfaction is not just derived from what is heard by the owner, but those within his or her vicinity as well. One very good example of a watch drawing all ears is the Tudor Advisor.
It’s unlikely to be a considered perennial classic from Tudor – that honour goes to the Black Bay – nevertheless, the outstanding feature of the Advisor is an alarm function based on Tudor’s Alarm watch from 1957.
The case has been modified to enhance the vibrations of its alarm. On the watch, a winding crown is used to set and wind the alarm. A pusher on the left side of the case is used to turn the alarm function on or off.
As a standalone, it differentiates Tudor in the face of its Rolex cousins. Likewise, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Memovox and Vulcain Cricket execute a similar offering of refinement – but with a twist.
These two designs are as different as night and day. The Master Momovox sounds elegant and cultured, while the Cricket is chirpy – effective as a reminder that a task needs attending to.
Allowed to captivate on their own accord however, they – along with the more prestigious minute repeaters – are both poignant reminders of the elusiveness of time ticking constantly away.
This is what watches are able to do. Bookmarked (and punctuated) at selected intervals by an auditory interlude, they can serve as a gentle reminder for us to slow down and not fall prey to mundane routines.
Cover Image: Danil Shostak
Writer | Jason Kwong
Jason believes that life is to be lived, not endured. And by living, he means assuming a stationary position on a La-Z-Boy and watching NBA basketball matches until a looming editorial deadline wrestles the TV remote control from his possession.