Chiming Watches: 12 Exceptional Minute Repeaters, Alarms, Sonneries, and Musical Timepieces

Chiming Watches: 12 Exceptional Minute Repeaters, Alarms, Sonneries, and Musical Timepieces

Chiming watches represent one of the most coveted types of complicated watches in the world — despite the fact that they are also one of the most archaic and, in practical terms, obsolete. The most popular type is the minute repeater, which chimes the time audibly on demand; it was invented for pocket watches in the 18th and 19th Century as a practical method of alerting its wearer of the current time in the dark, in the era before electric lighting and luminous details on watch dials. Definitively regarded as more a luxury today than a tool, a minute repeater has an independent chiming mechanism with two small hammers striking coiled metal gongs, generally activated by a slide on the side of the case, to produce different tones for the hour, quarter hour, and minute. The most sophisticated of these chiming watches might also include a grande sonnerie, and/or petite sonnerie: the former perpetually strikes the hour every hour and the hour plus the quarter-hour at every quarter, without any need for the wearer to activate it with a slide; the latter strikes the hour every hour, and the quarter-hour (but not the hour) every quarter, also independently of any activation by the wearer. Sometimes the chiming functions are even coordinated with moving, elaborate dial animations called automata. Watches with chiming functions tend to be rather rare and almost always prodigiously expensive, but a handful of watchmakers have managed to create examples that are slightly less complicated and slightly more affordable. Here are 12 of our favorites.

A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater

A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute RepeaterA prestigious watchmaker based in Germany’s watchmaking hub of Glashütte in Saxony, A. Lange & Sohne has racked up an impressive roster of horological firsts, among which is the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, the first timepiece with a mechanically driven digital time display with jumping hours and minutes, combined with a repeater that chimes 10-minute intervals (rather than the traditional quarter-hours). The hour and minute (the latter on two superimposed disks) are displayed in parallel windows at 9 and 3 o’clock, separated by a German silver “time bridge” while the seconds are on a subdial at 6 o’clock. An analog power reserve subdial balances out the small seconds display at 12 o’clock. The two hammers of the repeater mechanism are in plain sight on the dial, flanking the 6 o’clock subdial; when the wearer presses a pusher at 10 o’clock on the 44mm white-gold case, the hammers strike the gong that surrounds the dial, emitting two different tones for hours and 10-minute intervals. The manually wound Caliber L043.5 features a number of safety mechanisms and energy-saving features for the striking device, including a tamper-resistant crown, a pusher that uncouples the winding train from the ratchet wheel for smoother operation of the striker, and a chiming mechanism that cannot be engaged within the last 12 hours of the 36-hour power reserve. 

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Minute Repeater Supersonnerie

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Minute Repeater

Released in 2021, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Minute Repeater Supersonnerie has its origins in a trailblazing concept watch from 2017, itself the result of eight years of acoustic research by the Swiss maison’s R&D department. The watch’s chiming mechanism applies the principles of stringed instruments, with gongs attached to a miniature copper-plate soundboard between the movement and mainplate (rather than the mainplate itself, as in traditional types of repeater movements), to achieve a resonance ten times louder than that of most other chiming timepieces. Like the design of an acoustic guitar, whose strings are stretched over a hollow, sound-amplifying case, the Supersonnerie’s cleaner, louder sound benefits from being amplified by the space between the plate and the soundboard. The watch comes in the classical Royal Oak case, here at 42mm in titanium and an astounding 14mm thick, with the hallmark octagonal bezel and integrated bracelet of the same material. The dial sports the familiar Grand Tapisserie textured finish. The hand-wound Caliber 2953 ticks inside, protected by a solid caseback with an acoustic-inspired wave pattern.

Breguet Ref. 7800 Classique La Musicale

Breguet Classique La Musicale

Audible timekeeping meets classical orchestral composition in Breguet’s Classique La Musicale, the first version of which was introduced in 2012. The timepiece is technically a mechanical alarm watch that can also be operated to chime the hour on demand. Inside the 48mm case made of 18k rose gold, and enveloping the in-house, self-winding Caliber 0900, is a membrane made of the proprietary LiquidMetal substance that optimizes the resonance of the chiming strikes, which as per the watch’s name play the notes of “La Badinerie” by Johann-Sebastian Bach. The platinum-plated dial sports an elegant and appropriate engraved motif that reminds one of resonating sound waves, while it also hosts traditional elements like Roman numerals and blued Breguet-style hands. Most notably, the dial itself spins while the Bach notes are being chimed. A pusher on the case allows the wearer to turn the alarm on or off, and the caseback, with its sapphire window, is spaced slightly away from the movement in order to further aid in the resonance of the sound. In modern Breguet fashion, the movement incorporates key elements made of friction-resistant silicon, including the escapement and balance wheel.

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater

As part of its parade of record-breaking, ultra-thin complications, Bulgari unveiled the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater in 2016, initially in a titanium case and afterward in a rose-gold one. With this timepiece, Bulgari set out to create the world’s smallest chiming watch, a challenge because of the amount of interior space usually needed for sound diffusion inside the case. The movement Bulgari’s watchmakers developed, BVL Caliber 362, measures just 3.12 mm thick and fits inside a 40-mm case that is also wafer-thin at 6.9 mm (in rose gold; the titanium case is slightly thinner at 6.85 mm). Among the other technical and aesthetic breakthroughs achieved by Bulgari’s watchmakers were the cut-out hour-markers on the dial, which bears the same sandblasted finish as the case; and the cut-out ring around the small seconds subdial at 6 o’clock, both of which cleverly established openings that serve to amplify the resonance inside the case and thereby optimize the sound effect. The sound-producing gongs are directly affixed to the case and finished by hand, and the 9 o’clock pusher activating the striking mechanism is equipped with an “all or nothing” safety device that helps maintain the watch’s 50-meter water resistance, a rarity in a minute repeater. As one might expect, it's both limited (50 pieces) and expensive ($160,000).

Carl F. Bucherer Manero Minute Repeater Symphony

Carl F. Bucherer Manero Minute Repeater

Lucerne-based Carl F. Bucherer, known for its use of “peripheral” elements in its movements, introduced the Manero Minute Repeater Symphony in 2021. Its movement, Caliber MR3000, features not only a peripherally mounted rotor for automatic winding but also a peripherally anchored regulator for the minute repeater, a horological first. The latter mechanism, patented by the brand and borne on three low-friction ceramic ball bearings, controls the beat of the repeater’s chimes and is designed to be visible from the watch’s dial side through a window at 6 o’clock. Also on full display, through dial apertures at 5 and 7 o’clock, are the repeater’s striking hammers, which are prevented from accidental striking by a protective mechanism. Meanwhile, another small aperture at 9 o'clock displays the watch’s mode: a blue dot in the tiny window indicates that the crown is pulled out for winding or setting; it a musical note is displayed, it means that the chiming function has been activated. When the watch is in repeating mode, the crown can’t be pulled out for adjustments, and when the crown is extracted, the repeater mechanism is securely locked. The watch’s rose-gold case measures 43.8mm and its movement boasts a 65-hour power reserve. It comes in a special presentation box with a built-in resonator so the owner can share its symphonic chimes with a roomful of guests.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Minute Repeater 

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Minute Repeater

To commemorate anniversaries for both its first minute repeater and its iconic Reverso watch, Jaeger-LeCoultre unveiled the Reverso Tribute Minute Repeater in 2021. Its complex, manually wound movement, Caliber 944, is housed in a rose-gold version of the classical swiveling Reverso case, 51.1 mm x 31 mm in diameter, 11.41 mm thick, and defined by the Art Deco-inspired lines and elements that go back to the original Reverso from 1931. The front and back dials both offer distinctive charm. The skeletonized front dial exposes the complexity of the chiming mechanism, activated by a slider on the case’s left side; its bow-shaped bridge curves from 11 o’clock to 7 o’clock, and its ring of golden hour markers are suspended from the minutes track. The back dial offers a more subtle glimpse into movement, with a vertical côtes de Genève-enhanced mainplate behind a set of golden hands and hour markers. The in-house movement includes a number of JLC’s signature developments in the science of chiming, including its patented trebuchet hammers, silent regulator, and next-generation gongs. Only ten pieces of this exceptional timepiece were made.

Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater 300th Anniversary

Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater 300th Anniversary

The Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater pays tribute to its legendary namesake, 18th-century inventor Pierre Jaquet-Droz, who is renowned both for complex automata and musical clockworks, many of them delivering their dulcet tones through the medium of mechanized singing birds. In commemoration of the founder’s 300th birthday, Jaquet Droz released an ultra-exclusive eight-piece limited edition of the Bird Repeater in 2021. The watch has a 47mm rose-gold case and an intricately executed artisanal dial, with miniature painting and hand engraving, that showcases elements drawn from Switzerland’s natural flora and fauna, including the two robins that give the model its name. When the watch’s chimes are activated, the birds bob their heads and sing a mellifluous tone while a chick hatches from the tiny egg in their nest. Other details abound on the dazzling dial, like the Swiss farmhouse in the background that replicates Pierre Jaquet-Droz’s birthplace, the gently flowing river (also part of the automata) that flows through the verdant forest, and the presence in the foreground of a Gentian flower, native to the Swiss valleys, along with fluttering automata butterflies. The engine at the heart of this eye-catching tableau is Jaquet Droz’s in-house Caliber RMA88, with a 48-hour power reserve. 

MeisterSinger Bell Hora

MeisterSinger Bell Hora

Germany’s MeisterSinger has carved out a niche for itself among watch enthusiasts with its minimalist single-hand timepieces. But simplicity of design on the outside doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of horological complexity on the inside, as the brand amply proves with the Bell Hora, introduced in 2021. The Bell Hora features a rare “sonnerie au passage” function that chimes the time not on demand at the press of a button or a slide, but on its own, once per hour, at the start of each hour. Based on the principles of the German clock towers in the brand’s homeland, it’s a simpler type of chiming indication than a repeater and a subtle reminder of the brand’s hallmark understated approach to timekeeping. (It’s also one of the most affordable chiming watches you can get, priced below $5,000.) The dial is classic MeisterSinger, with one central hand and two rings of hour numerals (“01-12” for AM hours and “13-24” for PM); a small “bell” indicator above 6 o’clock displays whether the watch’s chimes are active or temporarily shut off by the button above the crown. MeisterSinger used a Swiss-made movement, the Sellita SW 200, as the base for its heavily modified Caliber MS Bell, which delivers a modest 38-hour power reserve.

Patek Philippe Minute Repeater Alarm Ref. 1938P

Patek Philippe Ref. 1938P

Few watchmakers can match Patek Philippe in the arena of elite high complications, and the Genevan maison has been renowned for its chiming watches and repeater mechanisms since 1924. In 2023, Patek unveiled a very special chiming timepiece that combines a minute repeater and an alarm function in tribute to Philippe Stern, president of the company from 1993 through 2009 and father of the current president, Thierry Stern. The Ref. 1938P (named for Philippe’s birth year) has a platinum case, relatively modest in dimensions at 41mm, and a grand feu enamel dial with a portrait of Philippe Stern. It contains the new manufacture Caliber R AL 27 PS, based on the revolutionary Caliber R 27 from 1989, Patek’s first in-house chiming movement. The movement beats inside an officer-style case with a sapphire back protected under a specially engraved hinged cover. Incorporating four patents, the movement uses two classic gongs for both the repeater and alarm functions; its 227 parts include a mode selector (chiming and alarm) driven by a lever and column wheel and operated via a pusher on the case. The alarm is designed to start striking two minutes before the pre-set time so the maximum number of chimes can be heard. The movement features a high level of decoration as well as technical complexity, including gilded finishes on the repeater’s hammers.

Ulysse Nardin Blast Hourstriker

Ulysse Nardin Blast Hourstriker

Ulysse Nardin’s avant-garde Blast collection is distinguished by skeletonized tourbillon calibers and stealth-aircraft-inspired case designs. The first chiming watch in the series, the Blast Hourstriker, launched in 2021. Its unconventional striking mechanism uses hammers to strike a wire gong wrapped around the movement, sending sound waves emanating outward from the case. The in-house automatic Caliber UN-621 was engineered both for improved sound-quality-to-output ratio and for optimum visual effect, with the chiming mechanism on the dial side. Like many UN movements, it uses friction-resistant silicon for key parts, including the balance wheel, anchor and escape wheel, and even the tourbillon cage. To activate the striker, the wearer presses the button at 10 o’clock to trigger the dedicated barrel that drives the mechanism, driving the hammers — visible at 12 o’clock on the openworked dial — to hit the gong. The gong’s vibrations strike a fine membrane made of titanium (just 3/10mm thick and attached to a grid, which acts as a tiny hi-fi speaker to amplify the sound waves. The 45mm case of the Hourstriker was also designed to optimize acoustics, melding black DLC-coated titanium with 18k rose gold and includes an “On/Off” button at 8 o’clock, which works with a function-selector hand to deactivate the chiming when the wearer prefers silence.

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Tourbillon Split-Seconds Monopusher Chronograph

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers

Vacheron Constantin elevates the concept of grand complication to a new level with this unique piece from its artisanal Les Cabinotiers collection. As per its lengthy name, this virtuoso timepiece offers the exceedingly rare triumvirate of a minute repeater, a split-seconds chronograph with monopusher operation, and a tourbiilon — all powered by the in-house Caliber 2757, which is ensconced inside a 45mm-diameter case made of 18k rose gold. The manually winding caliber delivers 60 hours of power reserve while also driving a ⅕-second chronograph with an array of technically efficient details, including a wheels made of titanium and a split-seconds lever made of silicon. It also powers a minute repeater —  a complication that Vacheron has made for more than 200 years — that chimes a musical sequence on demand at the activation of a lever on the left side of the case; a centripetal flying strike regulator device developed by Vacheron regulates the duration of the notes so all are distinct and harmonious. Rounding out the watch’s high-horology bonafides is the tourbillon, visible only through the sapphire caseback, whose cage is shaped like Vacheron Constantion’s historical Maltese cross emblem. 

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