It’s the new world of hearing the striking bell from chiming watches. Being a newcomer in the complex web of horology, I just found out that I could get a kind of watch similar to a grandfather clock. Well, they are indeed different in terms of size but they share quite similar traits. Chiming watches also make a sound of bells for every certain time either automatically or when the wearer activates this function. It is the sound of the time that makes it a charming point.
What is a chiming watch?
A chiming watch can be considered a special breed. An exceptional watch with a classic function for it to stand out from the rest. It acquired the title of the special piece not only because of the alluring function but also the complexity to build this watch. It’s even said that it’s far more difficult than even a tourbillon watch and considered as the most sophisticated complication. Chiming watches consist of hundreds of intricate elements that require more intense research to make one. Assembling a single chiming watch would also take incredible skill to fit the additional elements in a small case of wristwatches. The only purpose is to make a reliable watch that performs precise time-telling and its chiming function. Therefore, no wonder that it comes with a high price in the market and only renowned watch brands that managed to produce it.
Even far more interesting, a chiming watch has different sounds for each hour, minute, and second. That way, the wearer would indicate only by hearing the sounds it makes. Nowadays, a watch brand that produces this watch keeps innovating to make a better bell sound – a beautiful one to be listened to. They work together with scientists, engineers, and musical institutes to create a perfect melody for the watch. Even some watch collectors would grab some of them for the music that the watch gives to them.
Types of chiming watches
Chiming watches also come in several types as the wearer might have a certain preference for the degrees of precision. But among the others, the minute repeater is the most well-favored type of melodious timepiece.
A minute repeater watch would perform its action when the wearer activates the lever and, thus, the watch will chime the time. It makes three different sounds for the hours, quarter hours, and minutes. A low tone of a single hammer or gong indicates the hours, two tones with high and low tones give a signal when the time strikes quarter-hour. Meanwhile, the minutes (past the quarter-hour) are signed using a single high tone.
Well, it does need the wearer to pay attention to the sound if they want to tell the time only by listening to the bell sound. As an example, when the time tells at 9:39, the watch will chime nine low tones indicating the hour, two double-tone notes signaling the quarter-hour, and nine high tones for the minutes. It might need some time for the adjustment but it wouldn’t take long to be accustomed to the chiming watch.
There isn’t much difference between a decimal repeater and a minute repeater. It also works by demand when the wearer activates the slide. The only highlight is the preference for when the watch will chime the time. The chiming sound in the decimal repeater represents the hour, the 10-minute intervals since the passing hour, and the minutes past the last 10-minute interval. So, let’s say the time indicates 7:48, the watch will make seven times indicating the hours, four times representing the four 10-minute intervals, and lastly eight times for the minutes.
Aside from decimal repeaters, chiming watches are also available in five-minute repeaters. So, if the decimal chimes for the 10-minute intervals, five-minute repeaters would make s sound whenever it strikes the 5-minute intervals.
Grand sonneries and petite sonneries
If the previous types chime the watch with the involvement of the wearer, grand sonneries and petite sonneries will chime the watch automatically. So, the wearer doesn’t need to push or slide the lever to activate the function. Grand sonneries make a chiming sound for the hours and quarters – low note for the hour and high gong for the quarter.
For instance, the watch indicates 6:45, the watch will chime three high notes indicating the three quarters and six times of low notes for the hour. So, it repeats the hours when the time strikes the quarter(s).
However, in petite sonneries, the watch would not repeat the hours at every quarter. Although both work automatically, the watch would only chime for every hour and every quarter. For example, at 6.45, the watch will only strike two notes indicating three quarters past the hour.
But, you might be wondering that having the watch chimes for every hour or every quarter automatically would be inappropriate on certain occasions. Therefore, modern grand and petite sonneries are also featured with a silencing mechanism that allows the wearer to deactivate the function for a moment.
A brief history of chiming watches
The origin of chiming watches could be traced back to the 17th century when chiming clocks have a functional element. Back then, people still needed to light the oil lamp to tell the time as electricity wasn’t available yet. Reducing the hassle, the invention of chiming clocks allows people to indicate the time in the dark only by listening to the chiming sounds.
The breakthrough of chiming watches exists thanks to an English watchmaker Daniel Quare in 1678. He found a way to make a grand system to be fitted into a clock that chimes the time via a gong attached to them. Later on, the invention of chiming timepieces was advanced by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1783.
He managed to make a chiming complication that would sit in the gem of a watch. It becomes a momentous event where chiming sound is also available in pocket watches. As time goes, the invention becomes more advanced that it doesn’t only chime for the hours but also another range of time, such as the quarters and 10-minute intervals.
How a chiming watch works
The mechanism that chimes the hours, quarters, and minutes either on-demand or automatic is so notoriously complex. It has earned itself a reputation amongst watchmakers of being exceptionally complicated and frustrating to construct. The mechanism consists of hundreds of parts that all have to operate to tolerances of fractions. So, how does a chiming watch actually work?
A chiming watch advances the process of other watch complications a step forward. It takes an input and accomplishes a calculation with its intricate parts to tell the time with a chiming sound. I would say the mechanism is incredibly smart with its automatic system. It can make its own decisions dependent on conditions once it is put into action for ones that don’t work automatically.
So, when the wearer slides the lever, it will activate the hammers to strike the gongs according to the current time. That way, a reverberation will happen and, thus, produce the sound out of the movement. Therefore, the major aspect of the chiming watch is the sampling mechanism itself. The elements that read the time and report it to the chiming system via hammers and gongs.
The ones under the spotlight
Considered as a rare piece, special breed, and the ones coveted by many, it’s no wonder that watch brands give extensive attention to bringing the best version in a single chiming watch. Many well-known brands try to give a distinct charm by bringing out a melodious sound for every collection they make. But, one of them has piqued my interest.
When it comes to the beauty of sounds, I would say Audemars Piguet is at the front line. Assembling refined chiming watches has been in the DNA of Audemars Piguet that most of their watch productions include chiming mechanisms. Starting in 2006, this company also made a program in partnership with the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) to research some scientific parameters. The collaboration was intended to make a consistent sound produced by the movement.
The project included musicians, an academic consultant from the Geneva Conservatory, and a sound engineer. Throughout this collaboration, Audemars Piguet managed to unveil the Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie. This sound could even be heard from far away and would be helpful to optimize the sound of chiming watches. This technology has been well integrated inside The Audemars Piguet CODE 11.59 Grande Sonnerie Supersonnerie.
It is a graceful-looking watch with cutting-edge technology and double glare-proofed sapphire crystal. The watch is also equipped with a beautiful yet simple dial and even more elaborate enamel decoration. Thanks to the Supersonnerie technology inside its heart, this watch becomes one of the most favorite among watch collectors. Besides, it features three sets of gongs and hammers for each hour, the quarters, and the minutes.
In short, a chiming watch does make its charming point inside the heart of watch collectors. Besides that it has a functional root story of the origin, chiming watches become the form of endless innovations in the world of horology. Well, some might consider the chiming sound would make a hassle throughout the activities in a day. But, the watchmakers have always come with solutions to make it more convenient. In fact, I would say that having a chiming watch to sit on my wrist is to taste the true craftsmanship of watches.