Date — 2015-01-17T08:00:02
Featuring one of the most sophisticated of watchmaking complications, the Portugieser Minute Repeater continues to fascinate lovers of precision watch mechanics. The edition is limited to 500 pieces each in platinum and 18-carat red gold.
It is one of the most sophisticated, emotive and exclusive complications of haute horlogerie: the minute repeater. The crystal-clear tone of the two gongs is a conscious anachronism, a fond reminder of bygone days when the striking of the tower clock would cause people to stop whatever they were doing and count the chimes to find out what the time was. The higher-pitched tones announced the elapsed quarters, the lower ones the hours. In the 17th century, the principle was adopted first for pocket watches and later, at the start of the 20th century, for wristwatches, which subsequently also included the minutes. In a fast-paced age where we are constantly inundated with noise, hardly anyone listens for the sound of the church bells. And when night falls, we can always fall back on electric light or luminescent hands. Nevertheless, the Portugieser Minute Repeater (Ref. 5449) has held watch lovers under its spell since 1995. And in the anniversary year of 2015, it holds its rightful place in the collection, and is limited to 500 watches in platinum and a further 500 in 18-carat red gold.
The patented repeating mechanism comprises some 250 individual parts working together as if in a mechanical orchestra. The design’s central elements are two steel gongs, which are struck by the two hammers when the repeating slide is pushed down. The minute repeater chimes out each full hour that has elapsed since noon or midnight with a single strike on the deeper-pitched gong (the tone is B flat), every quarter since the last full hour with a double strike – one on each gong – and every minute that has passed since the last quarter with one strike on the higher-pitched of the gongs. An all-or-nothing piece ensures that the chimes are only struck if the repeating slide is pushed down fully. The watch is equipped with the 98950 calibre hunter pocket watch movement, which goes back to the 1930s and which has since then been further developed, improved and modernized. The see-through sapphire-glass back provides an open view of the stylistic elements of the early F. A. Jones calibres, such as the elongated index, which facilitates the fine adjustment of the effective length of the balance spring. The nickel-silver plate and three-quarter bridge are decorated with circular graining and Geneva stripes, respectively.
The edition is limited to 500 pieces each in platinum and 18-carat red gold.
In the late 1980s, it took IWC 50,000 hours to develop the highly complex minute repeater strike train for the Grande Complication and the Portugieser Minute Repeater. Just how hard IWC Schaffhausen worked to win its spurs as a company that designs and produces its own movements is illustrated by two anecdotes from the period during which the minute repeater was being developed. The repeating mechanism was functioning, but the designers were still unhappy with the volume of the gongs. They tried seemingly everything – gongs made of sapphire and ceramic, tiny amplifier pipes, acoustic slits – but nothing led to the hoped-for breakthrough. Finally, the head of case development headed for a toy shop in Schaffhausen, bought two children’s musical boxes and dismantled them to unearth the secret of their acoustics. He saw that the gongs needed sufficient space in which to transmit their vibrations, and that it was the job of the case to act as a soundbox, to amplify the vibrations, and then to transmit them to the outside. The requisite large space was created by milling out sections of the plate in order to connect all the air-filled internal spaces with each other. In addition, an upper section of the case acted as a membrane and improved the system’s resonance. A children’s musical box as inspiration for one of the most sophisticated complications in haute horlogerie: this little episode perfectly exemplifies the flexibility and imagination of the engineers in Schaffhausen.
IWC’s design engineers were now able to turn their attention to the register and the difference in pitch between the two gongs. Two notes create an interval and hence a musical motif. The gongs are tuned using a file and grinding stone: their length and the difference in length between them is decisive. So, how would the future cycle of hours, quarters and minutes sound? Something like the opening bars of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with its muted fifths? Or perhaps more like the opening to Wagner’s Tannhäuser with its rising fourths? After attending two concerts, the watchmaker entrusted with the job made his choice, and Tannhäuser emerged victorious and determined the interval. Perhaps it was these words from Tannhäuser that sealed his decision: “In a dream it was as if I heard [...] the joyous peal of bells!” In any case, the results of his efforts have remained music to the ear to this day.
* IWC Schaffhausen is not the owner of the Glucydur® trademark.
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