Blancpain Villeret Répétition Minutes (Ref. 6036-3442-55B) with Calibre 35, the World’s Smallest Minute Repeater Movement (1987)

One of the greatest challenges in classic mechanical watchmaking is the minute repeater. This complication was originally developed long ago to solve the problem of telling time in the dark. In that epoch, luminous hands and numerals did not exist. The first solution was the “montre à tact” or “touchable watch”. This watch featured a set of hands placed on the outside of the watch whose position could be felt in order to tell the time. As sensible as that sounds as an answer to the problem, it was horribly impracticable as the external hands could be easily disturbed. Perhaps even more fatal to the future of this complication was the fact that it was rather inelegant.

The innovation which established itself in the patrimony of fine watchmaking was the minute repeater. A minute repeater reveals the time in the dark through sound. Whenever a slide on the side of the watch is pulled, this complication responds by chiming the number of the hours, quarter hours and minutes. Such is the charm and romance of a watch which musically tells time that the minute repeater has become the most precious of all complications, even though the modern development of luminous hands and numerals has more simply solved the problem of telling time in the dark.

Villeret Répétition Minutes (ref. 6036-3442-55B)

The creation of any minute repeater is one of the most difficult challenges in the world of Haute Horlogerie. The repeater mechanism must accurately “read” the time showing on the watch and transform that into a precise number of strikes for the hours, quarter hours and minutes. Particularly because the difference between many indicated times, such as, for example, 12:59:59 and 1:00:00, is so minuscule, yet with dramatic consequences in terms of what the watch will sound, components must be fitted with extremely tight tolerances. They are so tight, in fact, that even the most modern and precise computer- controlled spark-erosion equipment cannot produce them. Instead, it falls to the gifted hands of master watchmakers to file finely and shape the components required to bring the watch to its proper functional state.

Further and even more difficult challenges accompany the production of a fine repeater striking mechanism. Purity of sound and musicality are highly prized attributes of minute repeater watches. To achieve this, there is no settled design and there are no computer formulas or secret recipes. Only trial and error in the layout of each design and the selection of metals for the fine hammers and sounding rings produces perfection That must be followed by fine hand adjustments and tuning of each individual watch by the watchmaker.

So demanding is this construction that no more than a handful of Blancpain minute repeaters, each individually numbered, leave the workshops each month.In developing Calibre 35, Blancpain pushed forward the frontier of what was already considered one of the most difficult complications. It set out to make the world’s smallest minute repeater. At the summit of this achievement, Blancpain produced not only the thinnest minute repeater, but also the one which was the smallest in diameter and total volume and featured automatic winding as well. So fine are some of its hand-finished components that they are thinner than a human hair.

CALIBRE 35
Thickness: 4.85 mm
Diameter: 23.90 mm
Power reserve: 40 hours
Jewels: 39
Components: 360

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