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What Is A Grande Sonnerie?

Greubel Forsey Grande Sonnerie

Oh, just the ultimate in aural pleasure, that’s all.

Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime
Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime boasts 20 complications, including grande and petite sonnerie, minute and date repeater, perpetual calendar and dual-time zone

It is like a souped-up minute repeater.
While a minute repeater chimes the hours, quarters and minutes only upon activation, a grande sonnerie (French for ‘grand strike’) chimes the hours and quarters automatically – unless one decides to put the mechanism on silent mode. Oftentimes, a grande sonnerie will be paired with a petite sonnerie, which chimes at the passing of every hour.

With higher expectations for performance.
Unlike a minute repeater, a grande sonnerie needs to strike four times every hour, 24 hours every day. This is a huge undertaking in movement construction, whereby watchmakers have to ensure that each chime is on-point with the right tone with the right number of strikes, AND that there is enough energy to run both the striking complication, as well as keep time. Phew!

So, to break it down…
A grand sonnerie mechanism movement has to be entirely integrated. Meaning, unlike some minute repeater movements that come with a separate chiming module, a grande sonnerie movement has to be built in its entirety. A grande sonnerie movement typically runs on two power sources: one to drive the main timekeeping mechanism, and the other for the striking mechanism.

Philippe Dufour Grande and Petite Sonnerie Wristwatch
Philippe Dufour Grande and Petite Sonnerie Wristwatch

Surprise: It is not just the big boys who make it.
The history of chiming timekeepers stretches back to the 1400s with striking pocket watches. However, it wasn’t until 1992 that the first grande sonnerie wristwatch was made. The man behind it was independent master watchmaker Philippe Dufour. His watch, simply christened Grande and Petite Sonnerie Wristwatch (above), has been performing remarkably well at auctions. Other independent marques that have attempted the grande sonnerie wristwatch include Franck Muller (Aeternitas Mega 4, below) and F.P. Journe (Sonnerie Souveraine).

Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4

Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4

New For 2017
The grande sonnerie has garnered sizeable column inches this year, thanks to two timepieces: Vacheron Constantin’s Les Cabinotiers Symphonia Grande, and Greubel Forsey’s Grande Sonnerie. Incidentally, both watches are developed in collaboration with Complitime SA, a specialist complication movement conception company (run by Stephen Forsey and Robert Greubel from Greubel Forsey).

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Symphonia Grande
Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Symphonia Grande

Vacheron Constantin’s version (above) features a classic and minimalist dial that belies a wealth of mechanical marvels: a bezel activated selector to choose between grand sonnerie, petite sonnerie and silent modes, six safety systems to prevent damage to the movement, and gorgeous architectural construction that allows the entire striking system to be viewed via the open caseback, amongst others. Boasting similar properties and architecture is Greubel Forsey’s Grand Sonnerie (below), which comes with an inclined tourbillon.

Greubel Forsey Grand Sonnerie
Greubel Forsey Grand Sonnerie

Ex Editor-In Chief

Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.

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