Sonneries have always occupied a special place in the Breguet constellation. Also known as chiming, repeating, or striking watches, these timepieces owe their musical side to the pioneering work of founder Abraham- Louis Breguet in 1783. Not surprisingly Breguet, continues at the forefront in making these most coveted of watch complications.
All complications require technical mastery to conceive and build them, but sonneries, or complications that incorporate an additional dimension of sound, demand of the watchmaker something beyond the technical prowess to create the necessary mechanics; they call for artistry. They transform the timepiece into a musical instrument whose tonality, richness of sound and clarity must please the ear. Why does one sonnerie charm and enchant as it sounds the hours, and another ring hollow? It has much to do with the level of craftsmanship and artistry that goes into its creation, the kind Breguet has been doing for more than 200 years now.
Breguet’s repeaters can trace their lineage to its founder, Abraham- Louis Breguet. Originally, the time repetition complication was conceived to serve a very utilitarian purpose: telling time in the dark. 200 years ago, the technology to provide luminescence to the hands and indexes of watches simply did not exist. The logical alternative was to equip the movement with a mechanism to count out the time audibly (the other alternative produced by Breguet at the time was montres a tact, which sported an external hand outside the case that was used to feel the time based on its position).
The most complex repeaters counted out hours, quarter hours and minutes, those timepieces of lower complication offering fewer details, such as hour only. Although there were some early pocket watches that incorporated bells into the movement for the sounding of time, these were seen as cumbersome, since the bells required extremely large cases to accommodate them. Instead, the common solution moved away from bells to designs that were far from musical, utilising hammers which rapped on the case back to sound the time.
In 1783, Abraham-Louis Breguet changed forever the construction of repeating watches, with his pioneering invention of the sounding ring for the chiming of time. He was the first to find a way to achieve a musical ringing for the counting of time in a compact, practical way. Replacing the hammers tapping upon the watch case, he fitted his groundbreaking movements with circular metallic rings, upon which the hammers would strike. Instead of harsh clacking, the rings transformed the sounding of the time into a musical chime.
Breguet’s legacy lives on, so that today it is universally the case that repetition watches count time using metallic rings (which watchmakers call `gongs’ or `timbres’ ). However widely adopted this approach may be, the simple prescription of equipping the movement with hammers and rings does not capture what sets movements of distinction apart from the pack. Connoisseurs make their selection of sonneries based on the quality of sound. And it is here where art and technology come together.
The variables confronting watchmakers constructing a repeater are daunting. There are no magic formulas for producing beautiful sound. What material for the ring, and what size and shape? What material for the hammers? How are the rings to be attached? Where along the circumference of the ring should the hammer strike? What is the appropriate force for the hammer strike, and how after impact should the motion be damped? And since repeaters customarily use different tones for the striking of hours and the striking of minutes (the quarter hours use a combination of each tone in succession), these variables are multiplied by more than two. It is more than two because not only must two tones be well developed, there must be an harmonious relationship between the two.
Within its collections, Breguet proposes a variety of timepieces featuring sonneries. There are two models of minute repeaters, both of which musically chime the hours, quarter hours, and minutes: the reference 7637, with a 24-hour indication and the reference 5447, with a full perpetual calendar including a retrograde month display. At the top of the pyramid is the 1907 pocket watch featuring a tourbillon followed by a grande sonnerie, petite sonnerie and minute repeater.
Sonneries occupy a special place in the constellation of Breguet timepieces, as the watches described in the following pages show. A Breguet is always a piece of art on the wrist, but the incorporation of rich sound opens up a rewarding additional dimension to the pleasures of ownership.
In the following pages are featured the best of Breguet’s contemporary sonneries.
BREGUET CLASSIQUE 5447 MINUTE REPEATER AND PERPETUAL CALENDAR
The classic Breguet minute repeater combines a perpetual calendar that displays day, date, month, leap year and phases and age of the moon.