The world of complicated watches has a hierarchy that begins with the simplest calendar mechanism and ascends through an increasingly sophisticated variety of mechanisms –some useful, some beautiful, some both. Enthusiasts differ on personal favorites, but on one point there’s nearly universal agreement: the minute repeater is the pinnacle of complications both in terms of complexity and the skill required to make one. A minute repeater is, after all, not just an enhancement to the time keeping functions of a watch –it is also a musical instrument, and requires of its designer the ability to not only make and fine-tune a mechanism of great delicacy and precision, but also to understand how to maximize volume and produce a pleasing tone and tempo as well. For these reasons minute repeaters overall remain very rare, and usually extremely expensive –and those which excel sonically as well as horologically are the rarest of all.
Which is why the production of an in-house manufactured minute repeater is such big news –especially when that manufacturer is Cartier. In recent years Cartier’s bid to create watches that occupy the top tier of horological artistry has resulted in a plethora of simple and complicated watches that are both beautifully designed and unusually innovative, and which have gradually won the hearts of many serious enthusiasts. The leader of Cartier’s fine watchmaking efforts is an unusual individual as well –Carole Forestier, Cartier’s chief movement designer, is, inasmuch as Cartier makes their family of in-house movements the heart of their watchmaking world, at the heart of Cartier’s creative efforts in fine watchmaking. While it’s true that women in influential design and engineering positions are rare in horology, it’s her talent that really sets her apart –in particular, her genius for such complications as the tourbillon; while much of her work has been behind the scenes, it is no exaggeration to say that if you have admired a technically unusual tourbillon at any time in the last decade, there’s a good chance she’s had something to do with it; so much so she’s been dubbed “queen of the tourbillon” by enthusiasts.
With the advent of the Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon, the Queen has a voice as well. The combination of a flying tourbillon with a minute repeater is unusual in itself, but what really sets the Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater apart is the exhaustive research that went into it. One of the key insights achieved by Forestier’s research team is that there is a quantifiable relationship between the volume, weight, and output in decibels a repeater can achieve; put simply, the lighter and larger diameter the case, the greater the volume. For this reason the Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater has a relatively large case made of grade 5 titanium, and the usual sliding mechanism which triggers the repeater has been replaced with a push-button mechanism in the interest of keeping the case as light as possible. The design of the watch is beautifully balanced as well –the two hammers which chime the time on two hardened steel gongs are visible through an aperture at six-o’clock, which frames the flying regulator that controls the rate at which gongs and hammers meet; while at twelve o’clock the flying tourbillon performs its mesmerizing dance. The attention to detail means that when the chimes are activated the watch sounds both loud (68 decibels) and clear; when we heard it during a preview in New York recently we were amazed by not just its volume, but its limpid clarity as well.
The Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon will be manufactured in very limited numbers (Cartier estimates no more than 20 per year) at a price estimated at € 220,000 in titanium and €225,000 in pink gold. Pink gold is a traditional favorite for repeaters, but titanium will ring the bell of real performance purists.