Feature: How To Tell The Time In The Dark
Nowadays, with the world lit up like a Christmas tree, it’s easy to take light for granted. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, without electricity, light after dark was scarce—so how would you tell the time? Through sound of course. This was the exact thinking English clockmaker Daniel Quare had in 1680 when he invented the minute repeater.
The minute repeater is an incredibly complex mechanism consisting of hundreds of parts working in unison. Chiming out hours, quarters and minutes, the minute repeater allowed people to hear the time upon request. In September 1839—just four months after it was founded—Patek Philippe produced a pocket watch that incorporated the complication, further allowing access to time after dark.
The minute repeater was invented in 1680 by Daniel Quare
But what if you wanted the time read out to you aloud without having to request it? Well, that’s where the Grande Sonnerie comes into play. Automatically striking the hours and quarters, the Grande Sonnerie allows you to keep an eye on the time without having to physically see or request it—oh, and if that didn’t sound complex enough, it also features a minute repeater so you can have the best-of-both-worlds.
Fast forward some few hundred years since Patek Philippe first utilised the minute repeater. It’s 2014, Patek Philippe has been working the minute repeater into its watches for quite some time, and now it’s the turn of the Grande Sonnerie. Amongst over a dozen other complications, the Grande Sonnerie was fitted to the movement of the revered, one-of-a-kind Grandmaster Chime—a wristwatch that at auction in 2019 fetched just under 24 million pounds.
The Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime sold at auction in 2019 for just under 24 million pounds
Jumping back in the DeLorean once more to 2020: the year Patek Phillippe introduces the Grande Sonnerie REF. 6301P—its first stand-alone Grand Sonnerie wristwatch. With a movement consisting of some 703 parts, the 6301P is easily one of Patek Philippe’s most complicated production pieces to date.
You will notice a few things when looking at the 6301P’s platinum case: the exquisite finishing, the diamond recessed at twelve, the crown—with a pusher to activate the minute repeater—at three, and the switch located on the bottom of the case at six. The switch is used to select between the different modes of the 6301P. In full Grande Sonnerie mode—sounding out hours and quarters—the movement will strike 1,056 times in a 24-hour period. Moving the switch into the left position selects the Petite striking mode—allowing the watch to only strike the hours that pass. The switch in the right position: silence.
The Grand Sonnerie REF. 6301P is Patek Philippe’s first stand-alone Grand Sonnerie wristwatch
The caliber GS 36-750 PS IRM is visible—well mostly—through a sapphire case back. Thanks to two tandem-connected mainspring barrels, the 6301P achieves a power reserve of 72 hours for the movement itself, and a 24-hour power reserve for the strikework—pretty impressive stuff.
To finish off this incredible watch is an incredible dial—black grand feu enamel. The dial is accompanied by Breguet-style Arabic numerals, a chemin-de-fer minute track, small seconds, and two power reserve indicators—one for the movement and one for the Sonnerie. Then there’s the leaf hands, which, well—they’re a bit off. That’s because they have lume on them—meaning not only can you hear this watch in the dark, you can also read it. In theory, that renders some 600 of its parts wasted if you can quite simply look at the thing to tell the time, but we’re willing to overlook it considering just how immense this thing is.
The Patek Philippe Grand Sonnerie REF. 6301P has a 72-hour power reserve for the movement and a 24-hour power reserve for the strikework
Well, if you didn’t know how time was told before we had light bulbs, this Patek Philippe Grande Sonnerie REF. 6301P just gave you a masterclass. With some 340 years of innovation separating the invention of the minute repeater and this watch, I can tell you one thing: it would have been a real hit with the 17th and 18th century crowd.
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