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Presently: Striking watches

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The author

Having acquired an educational background in economics and literature, Caroline Sermier fell in love with watchmaking right from her arrival at Renaud & Papi.
Her current responsibilities as head of the communication department allows her to blend a taste for writing with her fascination for complicated watches, and particularly for the finishing and decorative details on top-of-the-range luxury watches.

27. Striking-watches



Striking-watches, repeaters and watches with a grand-strike mechanism

General definitions

I) Historical background :
From Ancient times, people have sought to announce the time by an audible signal.
Certain more elaborate forms of water clocks or clepsyrdras were fitted with chimes, gongs or balls which struck a gong.
Latter, the watchman commented the night-time hours struck on clocks on towers, belfries and cathedrals by calling out: "Ye people, all is calm, the clock has struck three..."
In Medieval times, monasteries and cathedrals announced the time by bells that were rung by hand.

In the 14th century, the invention of the mechanical clock enabled the inclusion of a striking device. It was sometimes placed behind the mechanism by equipping it with an independent going-train and weights. This special going-train activated the hammer, which struck a gong.
This very simple striking system was used until the 16th century, when it was modified to make the number of strokes correspond to the time announced. To achieve this, a large cam known as a a locking-plate was added.

Later, around 1676, Englishman Edward Barlow invented a repeater striking mechanism, meaning it could be sounded on request: to know the time, one only needed to action a "draw" installed on clocks.

Since the late 19th century, this mechanism which has been miniaturised, perfected but never outdated, can be found inside the wristwatches of most prestige brands (e.g.: see opposite).


II) In the present day, striking watches can be classified as follows:

1. The alarm watch : it has an audible warning that can be programmed to go off at a predetermined time set by moving the alarm time-setting button.

2. Repeater watches :
They indicate the time by a mechanism striking on request.
Quarter repeater : it strikes a low-pitched note every hour and a high-low double note for every quarter-hour.
Half-quarter repeater: like the above, but also strikes a high note every time the hands mark 7 1/2 minutes beyond a quarter.
Five-minute repeater : after striking the hours, it strikes a high-pitched note for every five minutes past the hour.
Minute repeater : It strikes a low-pitched note on the hour, a high-low note for each quarter and a high-pitched note every minute.
Chimes : repeater striking the quarters on three or four gongs with different pitches. They can thus play tunes, the Westminster chime being the best-known.

3. The "Grande Strike " :

The ultimate striking watch. In addition to its automatic mode, meaning the fact that is strikes the hours and quarters in passing like a clock (see instructions opposite), it can also, like a repeater watch, give the time at will by activating a slide on the case-middle.
There are some quarter or even half-quarter repeater grand strike models, but the most sought-after is undoubtedly the grand strike minute repeater.

Conclusion :
Indispensable prior to the invention of modern lighting systems as well as luminescent dials and hands, the striking watch is now the queen of complex horological models. It is referred to as a complex watch, with a correspondingly high cost price.



Belfry clock built in 1530 in Italy, enhanced by two jacks each striking a bell in turn.
The pocket-watch considered the most complex ever made, crafted by le Roy in 1897.

Edward Piguet minute repeater chiming wristwatch with strike-mechanism and power-reserve indicators, 1998-1999. This watch was awarded the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève in January 2001.

Grand strike dynamograph wristwatch by Audemars Piguet, 1999



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