The Sound Of Time In Mechanical Watchmaking

The English word ‘Clock’ comes from the Middle Dutch ‘Clocke’, and ‘Clocke’ itself is derived from the late Latin ‘Clocca’, which means bell. The earliest mechanical clocks did not have a dial, and they sounded the time by sounding. In the 14th century, mechanical timepieces spread throughout medieval Europe. As chronographs became easier to carry, watches were born, first in pockets (aka pocket watches) and later in wrists (aka wristwatches). The French word ‘Montre’ (watch) also means ‘display’. Pocket watches and wristwatches usually display the time on the dial. But some watches, in addition to regular ticks, can make time clear and ‘smellable’. In this article, we will introduce alarm clocks, question tables, big self-sounding, small self-sounding, music watches, and other doll watches to listen to the movement of time.

Alarm table (Alarm)
   In general, alarm clocks signal at specific times. Perhaps everyone has cursed the noise, but hardly anyone can deny its practicality, which may be one of the oldest watchmaking complications. The earliest alarm clocks were fixed. By the 16th century, with the development of communication and travel, the alarm mechanism was incorporated into pocket watches and traveled around the world.

Two of the most iconic modern alarm clocks: Cricket Cricket Alarm Clock and Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Alarm Clock
   In 1908, Eterna was awarded the patent for the first alarm clock. In 1947, the advent of the legendary Cricket Cricket beating alarm movement increased the dimension of the beating clock and made this mechanism truly spread. I have to mention that there is also Jaeger-LeCoultre. In the early 1950s, the brand launched the first Memovox self-winding alarm clock. The latter two brands also produce diving watches. Both the Vortex Nautical and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris are equipped with a clear and audible alarm mechanism to remind the diver of the time to return to the surface.

The Blancpain Leman Réveil GMT watch is equipped with a Cal.1241 self-winding movement. The hammer (1) strikes the spring (2) to realize the alarm function.
   The principle of the traditional mechanical alarm clock is generally driven by the clockwork hammer, striking the loud parts: bell, gong or case. The alarm mechanism is coupled with the movement, and the cam is controlled by the gear to trigger the signal at the desired moment.
Question table (Repeater)
   Asking the watch is a mechanical watch that tells the time on demand by activating buttons or dials. Question tables are divided into different types, from simple timekeeping tables to fine-grained minute tables. For example, the Quarter Repeater reports the time in one tone and the time in another tone. The 5-minute repeater (5-Minute Repeater) will report the hour first, and then the elapsed five-minute interval. The minute repeater will report the time in low tones (‘Dang’), the combination of high and low (Ding Dong), and the high tones (Ding).

Now the watchmaking industry rarely produces five-minute questionnaires and engraved watches, because watchmakers prefer to choose three-minute watches. The time-division and time-division belong to the most complicated mechanical structure, which requires superb watchmaking skills. Therefore, such timepieces are still quite rare.
   The invention of the question table long before the invention of electricity, so that people can know the time at night. In 1676, British watchmaker Edward Barlow invented the rack-and-clock mechanism (the first question ‘bell’), defining the basic principles. A few years later, the first invention of the ‘pocket watch’ was controversial. Edward Barlow and Daniel Quare argued that they were the inventors, and the court was on the latter’s side.

Vacheron Constantin 1731 three-question ultra-thin movement. The front of the movement (right) shows the complexity of the three-question mechanism, especially the cam and rack structure. Time (hour, minute, minute) is ‘remembered’ by the snail cam in the mechanism. When the three-question button or the handle is activated, the probe reads the information on each cam and transmits the information to the rack, so that the hammer strikes the gong in the predetermined order and the corresponding number of times. On the back (left side) of the movement, you can see two hammers, a hardened steel gong that surrounds the movement, and a hollow clockwork next to the hammer that powers the three-question gear train.
   The watchmaker attaches great importance to the sound quality of the watch and always adjusts various parameters patiently in order to obtain the loudest, purest, and richest sound. For example, the gong must be set in the perfect position and fine-tuned until the desired sound is obtained. For another example, the angle and intensity of the hammer striking the gong must be optimized patiently, coordinated by the speed regulating mechanism to the appropriate rhythm. This is a time-consuming and delicate process, and watchmakers must have dexterous hands and good musical literacy.

Breguet Tradition 7087 Minute Repeater Tourbillon. Abraham-Louis Breguet’s invented gong (instead of the bell) was completely redesigned and fixed to the bezel instead of surrounding the movement. In order to better amplify the conducted sound, the hammer moves vertically in the direction from the movement to the bezel.
   In order to produce rich, clear and pleasing questionnaires, watchmakers have created different forms of enhancement. In particular, the cathedral watch, the gong revolves around the movement nearly two times; the Westminster bell watch, using at least four sets of hammers and gongs, imitates the sound of the Big Ben. In addition to the movement, the case and the entire internal structure are ingeniously designed to resonate perfectly. Among many innovations in recent years, Jaeger-LeCoultre has developed a patented mechanism that fixes the gong to the sapphire crystal mirror surface to enhance the sound reinforcement effect.

At the SIHH 2015 in Geneva, Audemars Piguet launched the Royal Oak concept Supersonnerie. The gong is attached to a new ‘soundboard’ device below the movement. Enhance sound reinforcement.
Grande Sonnerie and Petite Sonnerie
   Big and small self-sounding occupies a very special position in the world of fine watchmaking, belonging to the most complex watchmaking creation. Both can beep automatically when the clock runs to ‘full hour’ and ‘full hour’, but the small self-song no longer repeats the hourly alarm when it is automatically ticked. Usually, the big and small self-sounds are equipped with buttons or dials to switch to the ‘silent’ mode. Both also have a meter-requesting mechanism that can sound the time as required.

FP Journe Sonnerie Minute Repeater Dial Side

FP Journe Sonnerie Minute Repeater Movement Side
   Only a few watchmakers can make such a mechanism. In addition to the complexity of the self-sounding feature added to the questionnaire mechanism, managing energy consumption is also critical. There is no need for the user to manually activate the automatic beep, meaning that energy must be stored and released when needed. Large and small self-timers are usually equipped with dedicated barrels, but the FP Journe Sonnerie three-question self-timer is equipped with only one barrel, which drives the timekeeping and alarm mechanism.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Hybrida à Grande Sonnerie watch, the movement is assembled from more than 1,400 parts, and the power reserve of the Grand Sonic is up to 12 hours. In addition, this super-complex watch has tourbillon and perpetual calendar functions.
Music Watch
   Inspired by mechanical music boxes, some song reports can play beautiful melodies as needed or at regular intervals. The miniaturization of the dial roller (or dial) and the sound comb reed enables the music box to be integrated into the watch, achieving a real technical feat.

Christophe Claret Orchestra watch. The needle roller has 120 pins, each of which is carefully embedded by hand, and the sound comb reed can play 20 independent notes. The Orchestra watch can play two songs, you can choose timed play, manual play, and has a silent mode.
   The Athens Stranger watch can play the beautiful melody of Frank Sinatra’s ‘Strangers in the night’. The brand has redesigned the traditional dial / drum-type music box mechanism and replaced it with a rotary dial with 10 blades, clearly visible on the dial side.

The Athens Stranger watch can play melody regularly or on demand, and has a silent mode.
   Breguet’s Classique La Musicale music alarm watch can play ‘Harmony’ in B minor, awakening the wearer from sleep.

BVLGARI Commedia Dell’Arte Minute Repeater Watch with Cathedral Gong. The puppets are miniaturely painted and carved. Activate the alarm mechanism, and the puppet in the scene will move with it.
   Actuating buttons or handles, hammering a gong with a hammer, and using this energy, some timepieces take inspiration from 17th-century traditions and set automatic dolls on the dial. Among them, erotic watches are the most vivid example.

Jaquet Droz’s Glamorous Time Bird Watch
   Continuing the spirit of the founder, the great clock and automatic doll maker Jacques Dro, Jaquet Droz launches the charming Time Bird watch. This masterpiece groundbreakingly embeds the crying bird automatic doll into the watch structure. When the bird rotates and flaps its wings, the piston-driven sound tube emits bird sounds.

The movement of Jaquet Droz’s fascinating Time Bird watch
   This watch uses technology from the 18th century and is modernized and miniaturized. The brand boldly uses innovative materials, sapphire as the sound tube and carbon material as the piston, and centuries ago, Pierre Jacques Dro used animal tissue. Although the Bird of Time automatic doll is not triggered by the timepiece mechanism, this watch is still an extraordinary mechanical masterpiece.