The minute repeater is without a question one of the most complicated and prestigious complications ever made. For those who don’t exactly know what a minute repeater does, allow me to make a quick recap:
Repeaters come in all shapes and sizes. Some repeaters only strike the number of hours, other repeaters can chime using different tones and notes to display the hours, quarters and minutes. This is of course all powered by old-fashioned springs and gears.
Repeaters should not be confused with striking clocks. A striking clock gives the time through a chime every hour, and sometimes half hour. Think of the bell of a church or cathedral, or a cuckoo clock. It just makes a sound every hour, regardless if anyone wants to actually know the time.
A repeater is much more complicated. A repeater only gives the time when you push a button or pull a lever. When it’s untouched, it works in silence like a regular watch or clock.
Why Was This Invented?
Repeaters were developed in the late 16-hundreds. This was a time long before the invention of the lightbulb, luminous watch-hands or mobile phones with light-up screens. If you wanted to know the time at night in the 16-hundreds, you had to wait until the local church started chiming (which was then done by hand by monks). If you lived far away from a church, you were all out of luck.
Edward Barlow decided to take action, and developed the first repeating movement in 1676. The technology for striking clocks already existed, but wasn’t perfected until much later.
When lightbulbs were invented 120 years later, repeating movements became less and less useful. When luminous material was developed and implemented in watches a few decades later, repeating movements became totally obsolete and irrelevant.
Yet, modern repeating movements are still seen as some of the most complicated, impressive and prestigious movements available. Even though repeaters have completely lost their function, they still represent the incredible craftsmanship and knowledge that is needed to develop and produce such a complication.
Repeaters might have lost their functionality over the years, but they gained incredible status, and have become the ultimate luxury item for some collectors.