Though frequently alluded to, the history of chiming watches at Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Minute Repeater is a subject that’s well worth restating. The family of Jules Audemars – including the eponymous co-founder’s father and grandfather – had substantial experience working on these complications: so much so that during the 19th century, historians estimate around half the watches at AP were commissioned with minute repeaters.
Initially, as was then customary for most emerging manufactures in the Vallée de Joux, AP crafted chiming watches for an assortment of commercial clients. In 1892, the brand famously created the world’s first ever minute-repeating wristwatch at the behest of Louis Brand & Frère (today, better known as Omega). AP’s business of wholesaling chiming watches – invaluable in the years before widespread adoption of electricity – continued until 1925, at which time the company released its first self-branded minute repeater.
Understandably, in the years following and immediately prior to WWII, development of chiming watches at AP went through a spate of inactivity. In a wry twist several decades later, it was the impact of the Quartz Crisis that encouraged the company to redouble its focus on striking watches – one of the few areas in traditional horology where quartz technology held no advantage. Today, the fruit borne from this brave gamble (to double down on chiming complications) can be gleaned in segment-leading models like the Royal Oak Supersonnerie.
The 1990s proved to be a pivotal time, as AP labored obsessively to perfect its (already considerable) acumen in the design and manufacture of striking mechanisms. During that era, the company’s watchmakers successfully miniaturized the repeater enough for it to be combined with the perpetual calendar and chronograph; and in 1992, consolidated that knowledge by acquiring the specialist manufacturer Renaud & Papi. The latter’s expertise in advanced movement engineering paved the way for new watches of unprecedented complexity – including a grande sonnerie and minute repeater in the flagship Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Minute Repeater collection.
Our pick today owes as much to the Jules Audemars models of the 1990s as it does heritage watchmaking at AP. Ostensibly an “homage” to the company’s inaugural minute repeating wristwatch (released in 1892) this Ref. 26356 could more aptly be described as a comprehensive ‘rethink’: showcasing an openworked architecture that has been built from the ground up to accommodate an additional ‘jumping hour’ complication.
Despite being a design most of us would comfortably categorize as ‘neo-vintage’ (originally released in 2007) the 26356 reconciles two schools of aesthetic thinking that you don’t often see portrayed side-by-side at AP in modern day. Traditionally, the watches of the Jules Audemars collection were all about classicism: channelling orthodox good looks through the prism of high horology in a package that wouldn’t look out of place during the eponymous founder’s heyday.
When the collection began to gel together in the 1990s, all of the major design elements were unerringly traditional: cases were round, bezels were smooth, and dials were often decorated in a manner that recalled the brand’s pocket watches. The genius of this particular model is in how it manages to preserve those aesthetic hallmarks, whilst incorporating a movement that feels reminiscent of AP’s modern skeletonized offering.
The Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Minute Repeater watch’s form factor is very much in keeping with its age: featuring a 43mm case of platinum that recalls the public’s widespread fixation during the late 2000s with large, undeniably impactful watches. Other details – ergo the minute hand, railway-style tracks and baroque typeface – will appear familiar to enthusiasts of heritage watchmaking, yet none of these detract from the very graphic punchiness of the movement: a kind of vast, whirring diorama that reminded me of other powerhouses famed for the artfulness with which they approach movement construction. In that regard, I’d have no problem placing the Calibre 2907 on the same pedestal as the work of Journe or Stephen Forsey.
Even by today’s standards, many of the choices employed in the manufacturing and decoration of this movement (the cal. 2907) feel relevant – a considerable achievement when you remember this was a non-Royal Oak reference, a relic from the decade better known for siring the original iPhone. The movement’s dial-facing side displays a level of finishing that would be rare in any context: consisting of 9 spur-like bridges – every single one polished and bevelled – which, when taken together, suggest the image of petals. Meanwhile, the heure sautante (‘jumping hours’) disc is machined from sapphire: a technique now widely adopted among high-end watchmakers which imbues the numerals (applied on top) with the appearance of levitation. Imagine if you will – and I apologize for butchering my metaphors – peering into a grand old Georgian townhouse and finding it populated with the intricate panels of Jack Kirby – gaze at this watch for even a handful of seconds, and that’s the sensation you’ll get.