Voice of the Angel: History of Vacheron Constantin Minute Repeaters 1

According to my good friend George the minute repeater is a very useful….travel watch ! Before my wide eyes and gaping mouth as how could someone so knowledgeable have such little clue “hear me out” insisted George, “it is a watch for the intensive traveler” he continued. “When you wake up in the middle of the night and have no idea where you are just activate your minute repeater and if you hear a soft and loving voice asking you what that sweet sound is? You know that you’re in your hotel and travelling, if a rough voice tells you to stop playing with your watch and go back to sleep…you know you’re at home!”

Other than these travelling...or rather matrimonial issues let us take a step back. Repeating watches were first created out of necessity….that of telling time in the dark. The 1st quarter repeater was invented circa 1675 by English watchmakers Edward Booth, Daniel Quare and Thomas Thompion but the Priviy Counsil of London issued the patent to Daniel Quare in 1687.

The Quarter repeater would chime the hours and each quarter however the 1st watch to be able to strike the minutes appeared in the first decade of the 18th century even though attributed  Thomas Mudge in 1750.

In these watches bells were used for the chiming but in 1787 the use of gongs (circular strips of steel) as we know them today were developed by AL Breguet and this enabled the repeating watches to become much thinner and to emit a clearer note.

Even though extremely popular in the 18th century, the invention of the safety matches in 1845, making it safe to light candles as well as the arrival of electricity and luminous hands at the end of the 19th century, repeaters became more and more rare and reserved to a handful  of makers.
Vacheron Constantin made its first minute repeater pocket-watch in 1812, before combining striking mechanisms with major complications throughout the following decades and created its first wristwatch minute repeater in 1930.

In a letter addressed to Vacheron on Oct 1819 Constantin expresses his satisfaction at the news that the repeating watch manufacture is operative and at last he will be able to offer them to his customers “make attractive guilloche examples so that they are appealing, to get the greatest reliability…and make the pieces in our name with light cases for those who want them without their becoming too expensive”.
In another letter from the same year he continues “Now that you are organized for this kind of item you can make them reliable in such a way as not to fear reproaches, and one of our names will give them a great deal of favor

This article is not an exhaustive and comprehensive catalogue of Vacheron Constantin’s minute repeaters but rather an overview of the varied production of this amazing complication by the brand.

Vacheron Constantin’s first repeating watch – a quarter repeater - in an unusual red gold case and enamel dial, the movement is 8.65mm thick



Ladies quarter repeater in yellow gold with inlaid pearls. Movement is 6.1mm thick



Pink gold, quarter repeater which also plays a musical tune on demand and on the hour, movement is 12.2mm thick


Quarter repeater in a rose gold case.  Movement is 11.4mm thick


Vacheron Constantin made very few travel clocks, this one features a grand and petite sonnerie, quarter repeater and alarm. Case is gilt metal and dial is white enamel.


A stunning hunting case quarter repeater in rose gold, white enamel dial and a movement which is only 6mm thick.


A superb quarter repeater with jump hour and a delicately guilloche silver dial


One of the extremely rare alarm watches made by Vacheron Constantin, not a repeater per se but a striking watch nevertheless and something I found would be of interest in this article. Case is in silver


Quarter repeater with grande and petite sonnerie


Quarter repeater in a rose gold case and a beautifully guilloche silver dial. The movement is only 4.1mm thick.


Lady’s pendant quarter repeater with a silver dial with flower motif guillochage and 4.1mm thick movement.


Minute repeater with a gilt brass case, this was a specific request from the client who commissioned this piece. Another interesting feature is the repeating trigger which is placed on the right hand of the watch instead of the habitual left hand side.


Minute repeater with day and date indicated via apertures on the top part of the enamel dial



Half hunter case pocket watch, minute repeater with a minute counter, this watch was owned by Prince Louis Napoleon



Red gold case, minute repeater, chronograph with perpetual calendar indicated on a 48 month cycle and moonphase


Hunting case pocket watch with 5 minute repeater, chronograph and perpetual calendar on a 48 month cycle. Movement is 11.7mm thick


Quarter repeater with date and a sublimely guilloche dial, movement is 7mm thick


Quarter repeater in rose gold, white enamel dial and movement only 4.52mm thick


In the late 19th century Vacheron had already started making multi complication watches with repeaters added to perpetual calendars or chronographs but the brand’s fifth most complicated watch dates from 1905 with a watch featuring a minute repeater, a perpetual calendar (48 month indication as opposed to a 12 month indication with a leap year indicator) and a split seconds chronograph (considered to be the most complex complication after chiming watches). In 1901 the brand had made a similar watch but with a simple chronograph. Pieces like this one were made upon request and as unique pieces, each with a different aesthetic feature


Minute repeater with a gorgeous guilloche dial, movement is 5.05mm thick


Hunting case pocket watch, minute repeater, split seconds chronograph with minute counter. Movement is 9.25mm thick.


Quarter repeater and chronograph in a pink gold case and 9mm movement


A stunning multi complication with a chronograph with a rare 15 minute counter at 12, and one of 4 Vacheron Constantin pocket watches ever made featuring an alarm function. The watch has a simple calendar function with day and date as well as moonphase. (quantum leap). This watch belonged to the Sovereign of Punjab, Sir Bhupindra Singh Maharajah of Patiala



Hunting case pocket watch, quarter repeater, perpetual calendar and moon phase. Movement is 8.36mm thick


Minute repeater, chronograph with pulsometer scale, case is 5.64 mm thick


Specially commissioned by the famed automobile maker and collector James W Packard. This clockwatch has the particularity of having a beautifully chiseled case in 20k gold. It also features a chronograph, a minute repeater and a 71/2 minute grande and petite sonnerie.
A sonnerie rings the hours, 15 minutes and half hours. Packard's timepiece also rings the 71/2 minutes and this is to the best of my knowledge the only watch of its type!. Auctioned in 2011 by the Packard family for $1.8 million




Click for more live photos of the Packard

click for a video of The Packard

One of Vacheron Constantin’s first platinum minute repeater, with a 4.2mm thick movement



Minute repeater with perpetual calendar and moonphase, movement is 7.75mm thick


The Boisrouvray

Featuring Minute repeater carillon (3 hammers), Split seconds chronograph, Day, Date, Month, Leap year indicator, Perpetual calendar, Moon phase, Alarm 


Started in 1914 and finished fourteen years later in 1928 and sold in 1948 to the Count Guy de Boisrouvray cousin to Monaco’s Prince Rainier III. It is believed that the watch remained within the family until its sale in 2003 for an impressive CHF 1,103,500.
This watch is not only impressive due to its 657 components and 11 hands but due to the fact that it is one of only two highly complicated Vacheron Constantin’s to feature an alarm (the other being the Fouad – see number 1 below) and one of only 4 pocket watches made by the brand to feature an alarm.



The second interesting element in this 66 mm watch is the detail given to the escapement. It has a Guillaume balance (using an alloy exhibiting unusual properties in terms of thermal expansion and changes in elasticity) with gold and platinum micro screws and an unusual and rare regulation system.

Vacheron Constantin was so proud of this watch that it chose it to be on the cover of the World of Vacheron Constantin book (1992). 
I’ve heard from the grapevine that this watch is owned by the same collector who owns the Farouk!



The King Fouad

Featuring: Minute repeater carillon (3 hammers), Grande Sonnerie, Petite Sonnerie, Split Seconds Chronograph, Day, Date, Month,Leap year indicator, Perpetual Calendar, Moonphase


It was in 1927 that Francis Peter, the president of the Cairo Joint Tribunal and a Swiss citizen visited Vacheron Constantin’s ateliers on the Quai de l’Ile in Geneva. He had been appointed by the Swiss community of Egypt to find a gift to be presented to King Fouad 1st of Egypt ,-a known collector of watches - a passion he shared with his wife and would pass on to his son King Farouk.

Vacheron Constantin had already started working on an exceptional piece with an array of complications and 8 hands, which once completed would be the most complicated watch ever created by the brand. Mr. Peter chose this movement which was to be cased in a yellow gold case and have its back decorated with the royal coat of arms and bordered with diamonds. 


In October 1929 the watch was presented to Francis Peter who requested that the days and month indicators be changed from English to French as this was the language the French speaking and Francophile king would undoubtedly prefer. A month later in November 1929 the watch was presented to King Fouad in a sandalwood box decorated with the royal crown and the king’s monogram in Arabic. Inside the box was the date: 1929 inlaid in gold and flanked by the Swiss escutchon and the royal coat of arms painted on enamel. The inside of the cuvette had the following words engraved on it: A Sa Majesté Fouad 1er Hommage de la Colonie Suisse d’Egypte which translates as To His Majesty Fouad 1st Tribute from the Swiss Colony of Egypt (colony as in community).



It sold to a private collector for an astronomical CHF 3,306,250 in April 2005 at the Vacheron Constantin Quarter Millennium Antiquorum auction.

A fantastic grand complication with minute repeater, split seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar and moonphase. Movement is 8.46mm thick.



An extremely rare cushion shaped minute repeater in white gold and rose gold repeater trigger.


King Farouk

Featuring: Minute repeater, Grande Sonnerie, Petite Sonnerie, Split Seconds, Chronograph, Day, Date, Month, Leap year indicator, Perpetual Calendar, Moonphase, Alarm, Power reserve for going train and sonnerie


During a trip to Geneva in 1937 King Farouk of Egypt insisted on visiting the Vacheron Constantin manufactory, Charles Constantin acting as his guide on the tour confessed his surprise at the breadth of the young (17 at the time) prince's knowledge of watchmaking. "But Monsieur Constantin" he replied "I dismantled so many watches when I was a child...unfortunately for them...!" Thank goodness that he did not dismantle the outstanding watch presented to him by the Genevan authorities during an official visit in 1935 (that makes him 15 at the time!!!!!!!!!)

This 80mm behemoth, which took over 6 years to manufacture, features 13 hands and the calibre has no less than 820 components. It was manufactured between 1930 and 1935 and purchased by Boulent Raoul to be presented to King Farouk of Egypt. 

Even though it was presented to him as a gift, he ordered that the month indication should be changed to French from the original English, since it was so on his father’s watch!





This watch remained in King Farouk's collection until 1954 when it was sold in the Cairo sale of the Palace Collection, it reappeared at auction in 1994 at the Antiquorum VC thematic auction (selling for an astounding CHF 1,155,000) and has ever since remained in a private collection. 
The Farouk was until the launch of the Tour de l’Ile in 2005 the most complicated watch created by Vacheron Constantin and one of the all time most complicated pocket watches ever made. 



For more live photos of The King Farouk watch

One of Vacheron Constantin’s first multicomplication wrist watches was the ref 3620 from 1936. Made for a client in Spain this unique gold tonneau shaped watch features the day of the week, the date via a retrograde hand and a minute repeater. The dial has the originality of having the numerals in blue rather than the habitual black. It is believed that this is the first wrist watch to feature a retrograde hand (something which became a trend in the watchmaking industry 60 years later!).


Continue to Part 2 of The History of Vacheron Constantin Minute Repeaters

10/31/2013 - 19:20
11/01/2013 - 11:31
11/01/2013 - 07:03
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11/01/2013 - 16:47
11/01/2013 - 13:39
11/01/2013 - 16:49
11/03/2013 - 01:38
11/04/2013 - 10:17
11/06/2013 - 22:23
What else can one expect
10/31/2013 - 19:20
but beauty and brilliance from V&C heart.  Thanks Alex, but I'll have trouble sleeping until you reveal Part II yes.
promise I won't make you loose too much sleep, Part 2 will
11/01/2013 - 11:30
be out in about a month :-)
First V&C minute repeater wrist watch?
10/31/2013 - 20:10
Now we know how this story ends, or at least its latest chapter, but like Dean I will have trouble sleeping unti part 2 is posted.  frown So, was the cusion shaper MR from 1930 the first V&C minute repeater wrist watch? Best, Robert
yes the cushion watch is to the best of my knowledge the first
11/01/2013 - 11:30
VC repeater wrist watch
Bravo Alex! I was so happy to have a better
10/31/2013 - 21:25
picture of the 1930 Platinum ghost--how appropriate for Halloween! I have been looking for this watch my entire collecting career.  Best to all ghouls and goblins! Tim
Thank you Tim :-)
11/01/2013 - 11:31
Re: Voice of the Angel: History of Vacheron Constantin Minute Repeaters 1
11/01/2013 - 01:38
Thank you, Alex. That was a really splendid review of the Vacheron minute repeaters. It's an amazing history of design and development with really wonderful examples of the workmanship. I know there is mor to follow, but this part really be enough to enjoy for days! If I may suggest...you should really consider putting all the articles you have written into a ebook. That would be a real treat for everyone. Best, Joseph
merci Joseph, je suis content que tu aimes l'article
11/01/2013 - 11:31
Repeater heaven!
11/01/2013 - 07:03
Thanks for this fantastic reference, Alex.
Good to see you here Allen :-)
11/01/2013 - 11:31
At last ! I waited eagerly for this. And I look forward to
11/01/2013 - 07:10
Part II. And please compile all your articles into a book ! I really wish I am in a position to acquire a vintage VC MR at auction sometime in near future.
we'll see about the book but glad you enjoyed the read
11/01/2013 - 11:32
Lovely creations!
11/01/2013 - 11:29
Any of these would make me a happy man, but I must say that this one really stirs something within me :) Thank you Alex for this eyecandy post. Best regards Martin
it is beautiful! here is a live shot
11/01/2013 - 11:34
Found this picture in my phone
11/01/2013 - 11:49
Almost a hundred years between them but they go hand-in-hand easily: heart
I was not expecting this great series on MRs after W&W!
11/01/2013 - 11:35
Hi Alex, great accompaniment to the intro of 1731! Can't wait for the following Parts, yet another great ref source for us, thanks. Dan
thank you Dan
11/01/2013 - 16:47
Great story behind the history of VC Repeaters!
11/01/2013 - 13:12
Lovely watches in abundance. Can't wait for part II either.
glad you enjoyed it Radek (nt)
11/01/2013 - 16:48
A thoroughly enjoyable read
11/01/2013 - 13:39
Thanks Alex
thank you Hamish (nt)
11/01/2013 - 16:49
A lesson from George - home or away!...
11/01/2013 - 17:39
Alex - I've enjoyed the 'stepback in time', circa 1675, and the journey of 261 years to 1936. A wonderful insight into the world of Vacheron Constantin Minute Repeaters, Part I. The next sequence will, I feel sure, be as equally interesting. Thank you for the beautiful presentation. Kind regards Tony
I was sure you of all would enjoy George :-)
11/01/2013 - 17:41
I was hoping secretly for such a post... a hugs thx !
11/01/2013 - 21:19
That is an amazing post, and this morning when I woke up I was hoping that you would do such a post as you did for chronographs, chronomètre royal etc... Dream come true, what an amazing article, especially with all the older pocket watches which are a complicated and fabulous area I can't wait for part II !!! Just a link that is killing me since it was posted by vinontres with the momon minute repeater (THE grail amongst the grails imho) and a platinum one.http://jlc.watchprosite.com/s-0/fi-14/forumpostf.do_bLoB_s-0/show-forumpostf/pi-5432068/ti-807078/http://jlc.watchprosite.com/img/watchprosite/vacheron/68/scaled/vacheron_image.2912368.jpg cheers François 
loool a huge thx; not hugs :D
11/01/2013 - 21:20
a hug is nice too :-)
11/02/2013 - 09:11
Thanks Alex for a wonderful write
11/02/2013 - 00:01
up on the repeater watches from Vacheron & Constantin. As always it is a pleasure to see all the incredible watches shown with comments and photos. I will be looking forward to part two. I have one request. Do you have a picture of the movement from the quarter repeater from 1830? I believe that I might have a similar watch myself and I would love to compare the movements.   Best wishes Kent
thank you Kent, I'll see if I can find one
11/02/2013 - 09:12
Super, I will be eagerly waiting.
11/02/2013 - 11:15
Don't see many of these movements shown on the internet or in books.   I wish you a nice weekend. Kent
Love this post Alex!
11/03/2013 - 01:38
Love all the superb MR watches you featured. Thanks Alex for the great post! Your friend is right - a MR is good for traveling. I often travel to Europe or the States for work and often get jetlags. When I wake up in the middle of the early mornings in the hotel, I have to decide either to try to go back to sleep (if it's 2am) or just get up and do some work (if it's after 5am). All my watches have no lume or weak lumes (like my Datograph or Patek Annual Calendar) and can't tell the time in the dark well. I also don't want to strain my eyes as that will wake me up more. If I turn on my blackberry, it will will tell me the time but the blueish white light from tablets or phones will wake me up for sure! Plus I will be tempted to check and respond to emails guranteeing my jetlag. Now an MR's soothing chimes are a great way to tell a jetlagged buisness traveler the time in the hotel room indeed! And if it looks so discreet like the 1731, it won't attract more attention than a Rolex and hence is safer for travels esp in white metal when and if available. Cheers Robin
Robin it would be indeed wonderful to live in a world where
11/03/2013 - 09:23
A MR can replace laptops and smartphones. I would love to own a MR one day. Now I wait for part II of Alex's post where the I'm sure the contemporary goodies will be featured.
I can relate to every word you wrote :-)
11/04/2013 - 10:16
Re: Voice of the Angel: History of Vacheron Constantin Minute Repeaters 1
11/04/2013 - 00:31
Wow! Great work! Thanks Alex!
Thank you KL :-)
11/04/2013 - 10:17
Alex, why the gap?
11/06/2013 - 22:23
Roughly between 1840 and 1900 nothing appears!  Is this due to lack of production or just nothing suitable in the collection?  This period really defines the Golden Age of handmade watches IMHO heart
the gap is just because nothing in the production was really
11/11/2013 - 18:43
different in terms of design or machanism to the previous years