Panerai’s most complicated watch is a musical masterpiece

The chimes they are a changin’ with the Radiomir 1940 Minute Repeater Carillon Tourbillon GMT.

Robert Chilton July 27, 2016

Panerai is now taking orders for the most complicated watch it has ever produced.

Just two watchmakers are busily at work at Panerai’s manufacture in Neuchatel, Switzerland, producing the landmark Radiomir 1940 Minute Repeater Carillon Tourbillon GMT.

Three hammers strike three gongs to produce a series of melodic chimes, activated by a push piece at 8 o’clock. It is these chimes which have added to the complication of the watch. The first hammer indicates the hour; the third hammer denotes individual minutes. But the second hammer breaks down the time into ten-minute intervals, rather than the traditional fifteen-minute intervals, thus making it easier for the wearer to count the chimes.

The outstanding feature, however, is that the Minute Repeater function can tell the time in two time zones, indicated on the dial by the central arrow hand and the am/pm indicator at 3 o’clock.

Skilled hands

There are five watchmakers in the Panerai workshop, but only two are working on the Minute Repeater. One of those is Christophe Santaux. He told EDGAR the chimes of the watch are inspired by a ship’s bell, which link it to Panerai’s relationship with the sea – the Italian brand produced watches for frogmen divers in the Royal Italian Navy more than a hundred years ago.

The 49mm 18 carat red gold case is made of two pieces soldered together to enhance the acoustics. Both the front and back of the watch is skeletonised to further boost the sound quality. Inside the 10.35mm thick case is a new movement – researched and developed over four years – called the P.2005/MR. It’s made up of a staggering 633 components, 80 per cent of which are adjusted by hand. Santaux explains, “As the chimes tell the time in two timezones, that means we have to double the number of components.”

Santaux has worked at Panerai for six years, four of them in the high watchmaking workshop. He says he can tell which Minute Repeater watch he worked on just by hearing its chimes. “The watchmaker needs to hear the melody,” he says. “But we also use a computer programme to read the sound waves. Each watch sounds a little different.”

Remarkably, every watch will have its chimes recorded so that, after it is serviced, the sound can be reproduced exactly as it was before. “It’s really important that the owner hears the familiar chimes when they wear the watch after a service,” Santaux explains.

Music box

The watch comes in a beautiful presentation case made of spruce, a wood traditionally used to make guitars and violins because of its excellent sound resonance. Indeed, as EDGAR heard, placing the Minute Repeater on the box amplifies the sound beautifully.

Asked what was the most challenging aspect of creating the Minute Repeater and Santaux puffs out his cheeks and smiles. “The movement. I’m very proud of the watch.”

The Minute Repeater is water resistant to 30 metres and has a power reserve of 96 hours. Its hands, strap and even the material of the case can be customised.

However, such craftsmanship can’t be rushed, nor is it cheap. Customers will have to wait between nine months to a year to take delivery of the completed watch and the price is €360,000. Orders have been placed and 24 watches are in production in Switzerland.

In a nice touch, customers who order a watch will be invited to Panerai’s Haute Horlogerie manufacture in Neuchatel to witness the final screw being placed in their watch. If you ask nicely, Panerai may even let you hold the screwdriver and do it yourself – you’d better have steady hands.