Date — 18 January, 2010
The minute repeater mechanism from IWC Schaffhausen, which features in the Grande Complication and Portuguese Minute Repeater, is one of the most beautiful and exclusive horological complications. This model, which was launched in 2009, is stylistically consistent with its predecessors – the most noticeable difference being that the seconds display has moved from “9 o’clock” to “6 o’clock”.
The minute repeater, which, because of its level of horological complexity, is built far less frequently today than the tourbillon, for example, is the most emotional of all the watch complications. Not only is it a feast for the eyes, but it is also music to the ears and penetrates directly into the realm of human feelings, where it strikes very archaic chords. Making the actual time audible and measurable once again, in the same way as the tower clocks with their striking mechanism, adds a quality to the perception of time beyond a fleeting or even lingering glance at the dial.
In the 1980s, when IWC Schaffhausen developed a minute repeater of its own for its Grande Complication model and invested many thousands of man-hours into this project, it not only arrived at a result that was technically outstanding in every respect, but it also acquired a taste for it. This acoustic work of art on the wrist, which, in response to a movement of the slide, chimes out the time accurately to the minute on two gongs with different pitches, has since been a permanent feature of its speciality watches.
IWC has developed and produced a considerable number of repeating mechanisms in the last two decades – for the Grande Complication, the Il Destriero Scafusia and for various limited series of repeating watches (built since 1995 in the case of the Portuguese model. All were powered by the proven IWC 95290 calibre pocket watch movement. This is a very accurate, very traditional and very slim drive mechanism of the so-called Lépine type intended for open-face pocket watches.
In the new Portuguese Minute Repeater, the case has grown by two millimetres to 44 millimetres, the height is now 14 millimetres, and the number of watches will be limited to 500 each in platinum and rose gold.
The Portuguese Minute Repeater has been given a larger case to accommodate a new drive mechanism. Once again, this is a hand-wound pocket watch movement – the 98950 calibre – of which the origins can be traced back to the 1920s and which has since been the subject of constant nurture, improvement and modernisation. It is a movement with real staying power, which has retained its virtues, but has also been enhanced with a few of the stylistic elements of the early Jones calibres: balance with high-precision adjustment cam on the balance bars, Breguet balance spring, nickel-silver three-quarter bridge, long precision adjustment index and special decoration with gilt engraving.
To explain the small difference that is visible on the dial, involving the relocation of the seconds display from “9 o’clock” to “6 o’clock”, a few horological details need to be added: the 98000 calibre family has always been a so-called Savonette or hunter movement, designed for pocket watches with a hinged cover. This means that the winding stem (crown) and the small seconds hand lie at an angle of 90 degrees in relation to one another. Conversely, in the Lépine style, which includes the 95 calibre family, the wheel train arrangement has the winding stem and the small seconds hand in a straight line. It actually makes sense for an open-face pocket watch to have the seconds display at “6 o’clock”. This is a rather unusual position in a pocket watch for the wrist, which is viewed like a watch with a hinged cover, because the seconds display must then be positioned at “9 o’clock”. All previous Portuguese Minute Repeaters have featured and have been distinguishable by this minor eccentricity. Most wearers even find the unaccustomed arrangement charming. On the other hand, the present Portuguese Minute Repeater will appeal to lovers of the classic dial design.
Stylistically, the new Portuguese Minute Repeater is consistent with the previous models. The repeating mechanism, in which 205 individual parts act in concert as if in a mechanical orchestra, also remains largely the same. This strikes all the hours that have passed since the last twelve o’clock on its lower-pitched gong, the quarters that have passed since the last full hour as double strikes, and the minutes that have passed since the last quarter as strikes on the higher-pitched gong. It has an all-or-nothing mechanism, which ensures that the chiming sequence is only activated when the lateral repeating slide is depressed correctly. The repeating slide brings the horological exclusivity of this speciality watch to the notice of a connoisseur. The transparent sapphire glass back provides a view of the finely decorated movement, of which the balance oscillates at a rate of 18,000 beats per hour.
What watch lover has not dreamt about such a masterpiece from time to time? That is why IWC continues to hold onto this horological anachronism. Even if there is no longer any real “need” for it since the invention of the electric light and luminous hands.
The present Portuguese Minute Repeater will appeal to lovers of the classic dial design
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