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