One of the most remarkable experiences any watch manufacturer has ever organized came to New York in June of this year, when Patek Philippe –which produces one of the widest ranges of minute repeaters in the world – brought a total of nine different minute repeaters representing almost the entire range of repeaters they currently produce, to New York. The watches were shown in a specially designed acoustic isolation chamber to small groups of visitors and we had the pleasure of hearing them, one after another. According to Patek Philippe’s master watchmaker Laurent Junod, who was present at the event, this was the first time to his knowledge that such a comprehensive group of Patek repeaters had been presented to the public.
Patek Philippe sold its first repeater in its first year of business – a pocket quarter repeater, sold in 1839 to a Bern resident who paid 450 Swiss francs for the watch; it was the 19th watch produced by the company. In July 1845, the company completed its first minute repeater. Patek Philippe gradually became especially well known for its chiming watches and in 1869 showed two very small ladies’ repeaters at the Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva, with 9 and 10 ligne movements
The first wristwatch minute repeater was cased and sold by Louis Brandt (the predecessor to Omega) in 1892; it was made by Audemars Piguet Le Brassus. Physically, it’s very much a transitional object – a pocket watch with an oversized bow for the attachment of one half of the strap and a lug attached at the bottom of the case for the other half.
The first wristwatch minute repeaters made by Patek Philippe were retailed through Tiffany – Patek Philippe shipped movements (uncased, and without dials) to Tiffany New York in 1906. Its own production of fully cased watches bearing the Patek Philippe name began in 1924, and the initial production consisted of just 12 watches. One of the most famous of these is the “Teetor” repeater; named for the man who ordered it. Ralph R. Teetor was an inventor and engineer who became blind at the age of five; he invented cruise control for automobiles. Another early owner of Patek Philippe repeaters was Henry Graves, who owned two early Patek Philippe wristwatch repeaters. One, in platinum, is now in the Patek Philippe museum; the other, in yellow gold, last surfaced when it was sold by Sotheby’s in 2012, for just under $3 million.
Hand-finished hammers and signature large gold third wheel of the calibre R TO 27.
After the end of World War II, Patek Philippe continued to make repeaters – these were largely built from 12 ligne movements provided by F. Piguet, and Patek Philippe almost never added other complications to its wristwatch minute repeaters (an important exception was made in 1939, when Patek produced a Piguet-based platinum repeater with perpetual calendar.)
By the 1960s, however, production of repeaters had come to a virtual standstill, not only at Patek Philippe but elsewhere as well, and it was not until the beginning of the 1980s that then-CEO Philippe Stern decided to resume the manufacture of minute repeaters. The results included the super-complication clock-watch known as the Calibre 89, as well as two new complicated watches: the ref. 3979 (repeater with micro-rotor self-winding system) and the ref. 3974 (a minute repeater with perpetual calendar.)
The Patek “Supercomplication” Calibre 89 –released the same year as the calibre R 27 PS self-winding repeater, and the R 27 Q minute repeater with perpetual calendar
Since 1989, when the production of minute repeaters resumed, Patek Philippe has produced a total of 10 different movements incorporating the minute repeater complication, ranging from the self-winding calibre R 27 PS (used most recently in the Ladies First Minute Repeater) to the incredibly complex R TO 27 QR SID LU CL, used in the Sky Moon Tourbillon (and, of course, there’s the Star Calibre 2000 clock-watch.)
Prototype of the Star Calibre 2000, photographed at Patek Philippe, Geneva
Complicated: calibre R TO 27 QR SID LU CL, as used in the Sky Moon Tourbillon (image courtesy Patek Philippe)