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02/15/2022
 5 minutes

3 Watches With Perfect Sound: Elite Chiming Mechanisms

By Tim Breining
Audemars Piguet Salmon-2_1

Just before the start of the new year, Patek Philippe delighted the watch world once again with one of the few timepieces that deserves having the “Advanced Research” title in its name. This designation indicates that the new Patek Philippe 5750 Advanced Research Fortissimo bears strictly limited and innovative technology that showcases the very best the watchmaker has to offer. Five watches have appeared in this series before the latest addition, with the first four dedicated to optimizing escapement components, both in terms of materials and design. The fifth installment in the Advanced Research line took a completely different approach. With the Aquanaut 5650G Travel Time, Patek presented a mechanism visible on the dial side that reduced the various components related to setting the second time zone to a single, flexible component. 

In this latest innovation from Patek Philippe, everything revolves around achieving perfect acoustics. But this Genevan luxury manufacturer isn’t the only watchmaker who has something to offer when it comes to impressive chimes. Read on to learn more about Patek’s innovative mechanism and discover two other watches that offer near-perfect sound. 

Elite Chiming Mechanisms: Achieving the Perfect Tone 

So, let’s start with Patek. The Patek Philippe 5750 Advanced Research Fortissimo was presented at the end of 2021 and marked the sixth entry in the brand’s exclusive Advanced Research series. The watch is limited to a run of just 15 pieces, and its design revolves around its chiming mechanism. A lot has happened in this area since Philippe Dufour first integrated a petite and grande sonnerie with a minute repeater into a wristwatch. 

Over the years, many watches have featured innovative or novel chiming mechanisms to attract the attention of a niche group of enthusiasts. Up until now, manufacturers have set themselves apart by generating sound in creative ways, producing a mighty sound, or constructing a robust and water-resistant chiming watch, improving upon the traditionally delicate nature of these timepieces. Patek’s engineers have ticked some of these boxes with the ref. 5750 minute repeater – first and foremost by generating a louder sound by purely mechanical means without distorting the tone. 

What makes the 5750’s chime so unique? 

Every watch with a chiming mechanism – whether it’s a sonnerie or minute repeater – typically has one or more hammers that strike a gong, which is traditionally attached to the movement. The vibration of the carefully adjusted gong generates the sound. However, the mechanism’s attachment to the movement – and thus the case – can prove problematic because the vibrations then also pass to the case, which has a damping effect on the acoustics. Thus, Patek Philippe did their best to remove the case from the equation as much as possible. Their solution is the fortissimo module, whose name alone indicates the chime’s improved volume and amplification.  

The largest component of the module is a thin, transparent sapphire wafer that seems to almost float between the movement and display case back and is barely visible at first glance. At its midpoint, the wafer is attached to a component that is shaped like a tuning fork and fixed near the hammers at its other end. Here, you’ll also find the Patek Philippe 5750 Advanced Research’s sound lever. Thus, the mechanism’s link to the case is much less direct than on conventional chiming mechanisms. When the hammers strike the gong, it almost exclusively stimulates the tuning fork-shaped component, which proceeds to vibrate the sapphire wafer. The wafer functions like a membrane on a loudspeaker, producing the clear, loud sound that Patek desired.  

The design principle is quite easy to understand by looking at the mechanism’s 2021 patent. The membrane is omitted here to show the underlying components. You can clearly see the component (20) attached to the gong (14) and the membrane, as well as the hammer (12), which strikes the gong. However, the tuning fork shape isn’t visible in this image. 

Benoist et al, CH716753A2
Benoist et al, CH716753A2

Thus, the sound should be transmitted to the outside of the case as undisturbed as possible. A ring isolates the watch case from the chiming mechanism, and four openings in the titanium ring allow the sound to exit at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock. Membranes cover these openings to protect against dust or moisture. However, these do not make the watch fully water-resistant, which is quite common for a chiming timepiece.  

Both the case and hammers are made of platinum, a dense material usually considered unsuitable for chiming watches. However, Patek largely avoids the acoustic influence of this material with the fortissimo module by decoupling it from the case. They can thus confidently rely on the precious metal, proving the theory behind their design works. Using platinum for the hammers is also an unconventional choice. These are usually made of steel to achieve a loud tone. Thanks to the amplification provided by the sapphire wafer, however, Patek can also opt for platinum here, affording the chime a softer, more pleasant tone. 

Four patents protect the construction of the Patek Philippe 5750 Advanced Research, but this design only represents one approach to generating a beautiful, loud chime. In recent years, several masterpieces from competing watchmakers have achieved the same using other means.

Chopard Full Strike: Gong and Glass Together 

The Patek Philippe 5750 shares two key characteristics with the Chopard Full Strike: a platinum case and masterful innovation. Three patents protect this timepiece’s minute repeater. However, the two models could not be more different in terms of technology. Unlike the Patek, the Full Strike does not seek to decouple the gong from the case, nor does it release the chime through openings in its case. 

No, the Chopard Full Strike features a single, solid sapphire component that incorporates both the watch crystal and the gong. When the hammers strike the gong, the sound spreads across the crystal. This design also minimizes the damping effect of the case. Chopard has proven their confidence in the design by releasing the latest version of the watch in platinum. This follows initial editions in white and rose gold.  

Audemars Piguet Supersonnerie 

You can’t talk about unique chiming mechanisms without mentioning Audemars Piguet’s Supersonnerie technology. Some of you might recall the distinctive look of the AP Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie, a technological innovation from 2016. The chiming adaptions first appeared in the Jules Audemars collection (which exists in the shadow of the Royal Oak) and the controversial CODE 11.59 line. It wasn’t until 2019 that Audemars Piguet finally offered a limited series of Royal Oaks with their Supersonnerie technology. These watches feature the familiar Royal Oak tapisserie dial and no additional extravagant design elements. As different as the concept watch and its successors may appear, they all rely on the same principles for generating sound and the same case construction. 

Audemars Piguet relies on the case to generate sound.
Audemars Piguet relies on the case to generate sound.

Audemars Piguet’s internal R&D department, Renaud & Papi, is responsible for the designs of these novel chiming watches. The engineering team is also behind numerous innovations for external parties, including a minute repeater for IWC and movements for Richard Mille. For the Supersonnerie, Renaud & Papi teamed up with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL). Together, they sought to produce a chiming watch featuring clear, high-quality sound with good volume that was simultaneously water-resistant. Combining the latter two attributes poses a particular challenge for chiming watches. 

AP’s Supersonnerie technology shares some characteristics with the Patek 5750. Again, the gong is detached from the movement and case. Instead, it is attached to a new device that acts as a soundboard and releases the sound through openings in the case back outfitted with resonance chambers. In contrast to the Patek 5750, however, the watch is water-resistant to 20 m (65 ft) thanks to a sealing ring that completely isolates the mechanism from the case openings. In an emergency, water can only enter the cavity between the gaps and the membrane but not the interior of the case itself. 


About the Author

Tim Breining

My interest in watches first emerged in 2014 while I was studying engineering in Karlsruhe, Germany. My initial curiosity quickly evolved into a full-blown passion. Since …

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