Minute repeaters have always commanded skills of watchmakers more akin to those who produce musical instruments. A minute repeater must sing, its chiming must be mellifluous. Audemars Piguet’s latest and most ambitious addition to the canon, the Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie, throws down a new horological gauntlet. After the ultra-thin wars, the “who can cook up the most bizarre complication?” and “who can fit the most tourbillons into one case?”, the craze for minute repeaters has been quietly – and I say that with no little irony – taking hold.
Of late, watch houses ranging from Patek Philippe to Bulgari via Jaeger-LeCoultre have been upping the ante with ever-more impressive designs. For Audemars Piguet, the decision has been made not simply to produce an incrementally better repeater, but to pick up the goalposts and move them so far back as to leave the rest breathless – and by an absurd margin. What they’ve chosen to do is address something ignored en masse by the watch industry since the move from pocket watches to wristwatches: to make a chiming watch usefully louder.
Simply put, a minute repeater in a pocket-watch case measuring 3in or so across is exponentially louder than a minute repeater in a 30-40mm wristwatch case. Admit it: unless the room is silent, you can barely hear a typical minute repeater and, even then, it has to be held up to your ear. Their quietness would be comical if we weren’t talking about watches that cost, alarmingly, six figures or more.