18th Century


During the 18th century watchmakers in England and France continued to produce the largest quantity and the best quality watches. In each of these countries their distinctive style was further developed until the end of the century where the exchange between the two countries increased and gave rise to a more uniform style of big, flat watches.


Left to right: tulip, Egyptian, square baluster, round baluster pillars

Both countries followed the same change of pillar style, getting away from the tulip and Egyptian type towards the square baluster style, which started to get shorter, thinner and rounder towards the end of the 18th century, especially due to the effort of making smaller and flatter watches. The use of pillars got obsolete, when newer movement configurations took over using separate bridges omitting the back plate, a system invented by French watchmaker Jean – Antoine Lépine and refined by Abraham – Louis Breguet.

Although specialised in cheap reproductions of French and English watches since the late 17th century, Swiss watchmakers started to enter the raw movement (ébauches) trade, especially for France. Later a few centres developed, in which high quality watches were produced, especially for the Ottoman and Chinese market. A few outstanding watchmakers stood out of the mediocre crowd, most of them were associated with Jacques – Frédéric Houriet.

Flag_of_EnglandIn England the watches kept the single footed cock, but the D- shape of the cock-foot seen at the end of the 17th century was retained only until about 1710. Starting from then, the foot got narrower and the diameter of the cock itself diminished. An exception were the few important and big watches built around John Harrison’s ‘H4’ and Thomas Mudge’s chronometers which had two footed cocks due to their large size, resembling the Dutch style (2). The English retained their rear winding system throughout, but added consequently a dust cap for protection as soon as the cylinder escapement was introduced. Silver and gold as material for dials got replaced by enamelled copper. One of the most important English contributions to gaining precision in timekeeping in the early 18th century was made by George Graham, who perfected the cylinder escapement. He used it throughout starting from 1725/6. Thanks to his refinements watches could be of thinner construction and of smaller size.

The cases remained rather plain, with occasional engravings such as coat of arms at the beginning of the century. This changed towards 1740, where quite elaborate gold and silver cases with repoussé work appeared. The English preferred their paired cased system, whereas the French mostly continued to case their movement in a single, consular case.


From left to right: Template to chase the repoussée decoration of silver and gold outer cases. Two examples of English gold repoussée outer cases. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

During the 1750s Thomas Mudge developed the lever escapement and in parallel the Longitude problem was tackled by several watchmakers, inspiring John Harrison to develop one of the most famed watches in history: the ‘H4’. Other watchmakers simplified Harrison’s concepts creating ‘Chronometer’ watches, the most precise pocket sized timekeepers of their time. John Arnold and Thomas Earnshaw disputing over the privileges of perfecting escapes and compensation balances and building marine chronometers, some of which accompanied the most important geographical expeditions of the 18th century.

Andrew Dunlop, London, No. 505, ca. 1705



Gilt brass, verge fusee movement (dial plate 41.2mm, 10.0mm between plates) with Tompion regulator, slightly angled D-shaped cock. Featuring tulip pillars, lacking, motion work, dial and hands.

Andrew Dunlop is recorded as working between 1701 and 1732. He was the maker of the turret clock for Hawkley House, Blackwater in 1716, and is also known as a maker of watches and long-case clocks. Conyers Dunlop was apprenticed to him in 1725.

Unification of Great Britain 1707:

uk-flag-official-coloursThe political union that joined the kingdoms of England and Scotland happened in 1707 during the reign of Queen Anne, when the Acts of Union ratified the 1706 Treaty of Union and merged the parliaments of the two nations, forming the Kingdom of Great Britain, which covered the entire island. Prior to this, a personal union had existed between these two countries since the 1603 Union of the Crowns under James VI of Scotland and I of England.


As queen regent, Anne’s coat of arms before (left picture) the union were the Stuart royal arms, in use since 1603: Quarterly; I and IV grandquarterly, Azure three fleur-de-lis Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II, Or, a lion rampant  within a double tressure  flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III, Azure, a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland). In 1702, Anne adopted the motto semper eadem (‘always the same’), the same motto used by Queen Elisabeth I. The Acts of Union declared that: ‘the Ensigns Armorial of the said United Kingdom be such as Her Majesty shall appoint’.

In 1707, the union was heraldically expressed by the impalement, or placing side-by-side in the same quarter, of the arms of England and Scotland, which had previously been in different quarters. The new arms (right picture) were: Quarterly; I and IV, Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England) impaling Or a lion rampant within a double tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); II, Azure, three fleurs-de-lis Or (for France); III, Azure, a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland). In Scotland, a separate form of arms was used on seals until the Act of Union.

Robert Simkins, London, 1707 / 1714

simkins 1

simkins 2

Gilt brass, verge fusee movement (dial plate 42.2mm, 15.3mm deep) with Tompion regulator, angled D-shaped cock with Royal coat of arms. Featuring Egyptian pillars. Later (before 1750) almost perfect, white enamelled copper dial. Watch having had a silver champlève dial at the beginning. The cock neatly engraved with the British Royal Arms and showing the motto of the Order of the Garter, ‘ONY SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE’ (shame upon him who thinks evil of it). Also engraved is the motto ‘SEMPER EADEM’ (always the same) as well as an engraved portrait in profile of Queen Anne on the cock stem.

The cock shows the coat of arms of Queen Anne after the unification of England and Scotland to the Kingdom of Great Britain. Of course the size of this cock does not permit to show all the details of the central part of the Arms where the quadrants are. This movement could have been made as commemorative piece either for the unification in 1707 or for Queen Anne, after her death in 1714. Older commemorative watches are known bearing the Royal coat of arms to commemorate the death of William III in 1702. Latter show the English coat of arms and usually don’t show portraits on the cock’s stem. One example in the British Museum (# 1958,1201.616) was made to commemorate the crowning of Queen Anne, the 8.3.1702, but the piece described here is clearly later.

It is very unlikely that this movement (and others like it) were made for the Royal household as a gift to others, as the quality of the manufacture is not as elevated as one would expect for a Royal order. Moreover, most Royal orders include the sponsor’s cypher or initials and sometimes a dedication.

Ex private collection Lille (F)

Robert Simkins, apprentice of John Beeckmann was freed of the clockmakers company the 2.5.1709. He apprenticed 4 watchmakers between 1711 and 1721.

Queen Anne    6.2.1665 – 1.8.1714

Anne became Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland on 8.3.1702. On 1.5.1707, under the Acts of Union, two of her realms, the kingdoms of England and Scotland, united as a single sovereign state known as Great Britain. She continued to reign as Queen of Great Britain and Ireland until her death.

Anne was born in the reign of her uncle Charles II, who had no legitimate children. Her father, James, was first in line to the throne. His Catholicism was unpopular in England and on Charles’s instructions Anne was raised as a Protestant. Three years after he succeeded Charles, James was deposed in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688. Anne’s Protestant brother-in-law and cousin William III  became joint monarch with his wife, Anne’s elder sister Mary II. Although the sisters had been close, disagreements over Anne’s finances, status and choice of acquaintances arose shortly after Mary’s accession and they became estranged. William and Mary had no children. After Mary’s death in 1694, William continued as sole monarch until he was succeeded by Anne upon his death in 1702.

As queen, Anne favoured moderate Tory politicians, who were more likely to share her Anglican religious views than their opponents, the Whigs. The Whigs grew more powerful during the course of the War of the Spanish Succession, until in 1710 Anne dismissed many of them from office. Her close friendship with Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough turned sour as the result of political differences.

Anne was plagued by ill health throughout her life. From her 30s onwards, she grew increasingly lame and obese. Despite seventeen pregnancies by her husband, Prince George of Denmark, she died without any surviving children and was the last monarch of the House of Stuart. Under the terms of the Act of Settlement 1701, she was succeeded by her second cousin George I of the House of Hanover, who was a descendant of the Stuarts through his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth, daughter of James VI and I. In July 1714, the parliament released the Longitude Act and the founding of the Board of Longitude. Queen Anne died at around 7:30 a.m. on 1.8.1714. Anne was buried beside her husband and children in the Henry VII chapel on the South Aisle of Westminster Abbey on 24 August.

Thomas Tompion    1639 – 1713

436px-Thomas_Tompion00Thomas Tompion was an English clock maker, watchmaker and mechanician who is still regarded to this day as the ‘Father of English Clockmaking’. Tompion’s excellence was based on the sound design of his productions as well as the high quality of the materials used. This together with the outstanding skills of the workmen he employed gave him an unrivalled reputation throughout the known world. Many of these workmen had French and Dutch Huguenot origins, for example Daniel and Nicholas Delander, Henry Callot and Charles Molyns, the latter possibly related to the family Windmills. Importantly, those Huguenots who worked for him in the sphere of decorative arts were able to execute Tompion’s demands for the high quality workmanship on which he founded his unrivalled reputation. Tompion was an early member of the Clockmakers’ Company of London — he joined in 1671 and became a master in 1704. He was also one of the few watchmakers  to become a member of the Royal Society.

Tompion’s workshop built about 5,500 watches and 650 clocks during his career.

Law imposed that not more than 2 apprentices at once can be instructed (2). Because of the high social status of Tompion he managed to circumvent this law (2). Tompion’s apprentices included George Allett, Edward Banger, Henry Callowe (Callot), Robert Creed, Daniel Delander, Richard Emes, Ambrose Gardner, Obadiah Gardner, William Graham (nephew of George Graham), George Harrison, Whitestone Littlemore, Jeremiah Martin, Charles Molins (Molyns), William Mourlay, Charles Murray, Robert Pattison, William Sherwood, Richard Street, Charles Sypson, William Thompson, James Tunn and Thomas White, many of whom became important makers and workmen in their own right (1).

Tompion went into partnership with Edward Banger  in 1701 until about 1707 or 1708, when it was dissolved in circumstances which are not at all clear. Certainly from around 1711 it was George Graham who was in partnership with Tompion, some of his later productions are jointly signed, and mysteriously some clocks have this signature on a separate plate which overlays that of Tompion and Banger engraved on the dial plate. Some watches with a joined signature of Tompion and George Graham are known, starting from 1713, after Tompions death Graham signed the watches with his own name and continued Tompions production numbering. (1)

Thomas Tompion, London, No. 4230, 1708



Gilt brass, verge fusee movement (dial plate 41.8mm, 10.7mm between plates) with Tompion regulator, angled D-shaped cock. Featuring Egyptian pillars, lacking, motion work, dial and hands. The top plate retains the movement number and there is a scratched note ‘Dashwood 1698 Jan 8’, which probably refers to  Sir Francis Dashwood, 1st Baronet 1658 – 1724. There is also a scratched mark for ‘Turpin 3rd October 1817’, probably a repair log.

Ex. Christie’s, London, 7.10.1982, Lot 196

Listed in: Evans J, Thomas Tompion, at the Dial and Three Crowns, Antiquarian Horological Society, Ticehurst, 2006, P: 93

Richard Street, London, No. 633, 1710



Gilt brass, verge fusee movement (39 mm diameter, 14.5 mm deep) with square baluster pillars and pierced cock. Verge escapement, steel balance. The back plate signed ‘Ric(hard) Street London’. (1)

Very rare movement by an apprentice of Thomas Tompion. This movement is only one of about 10 known from this maker. (1)

Not recorded by Jeremy Evans in 2006.

Richard Street is described as ‘an outstanding maker’ and was made free of the Clockmakers’ Company in 1687. He was the manufacturer of some of Tompion’s repeating watch movements. For more information please see the book on Thomas Tompion by Jeremy Evans mentioned above. (1)

Christopher Pinchbeck I    c. 1670 – 18.11.1732

407px-Christopher_PinchbeckHe was born in Clerkenwell, England, but worked in Fleet Street, London. His name was probably derived from Pinchbeck, Lincolnshire. He made an exquisite musical clock, for Louis XIV, and a fine organ for the Great Mogul. He was also maker of musical automata. He constructed musical automata that played tunes and imitated birds. He also sold self-playing organs, to save the expense of organists in country churches. At some point he was a partner with Isaac Fawkes (a conjuror and showman). Many of his automata, including ‘Moving Pictures’, were used in Fawkes’ shows. Pinchbeck was known to have built the ‘Apple Tree’ illusion which was performed by Fawkes and was a precursor of the ‘Orange Tree’ illusion. ‘Pinchbeck’ has become almost a general term for any jewelery made out of substitutes for gold. Since gold was only sold in 22 -or 18-carat quality at that time, the development of pinchbeck allowed ordinary people to buy gold ‘effect’ jewelry on a budget.

Christopher Pinchbeck, Jr. (1710 – 1783), followed his father as a master craftsman. Latter became King’s Clockmaker by appointment to George III: among his timepieces is an important astronomical clock made for the King, now in Buckingham Palace. He carried on a successful business in Cockspur Street. In 1766 he is said to have procured for George III the first pocket watch made with a compensation curb. He was elected an honorary freeman of the Clockmakers’ Company in 1781, and died in 1783 at the age of seventy-three. Another descendant of Christopher Pinchbeck was William Frederick Pinchbeck. William wrote the book ‘The Expositor’ in 1805. One of the highlights of the book is the explanation of the secret of the learned pig.

Christopher Pinchbeck I, London, No. 284, ca. 1715




Pair cased, fire gilt verge movement by the inventor of the Pinchbeck metal (invented 1721), which is a special brass alloy (89% Cu, 11% Zn; or 93% Cu, 7% Zn) and looks like gold. Tompion regulator, Silver, D-footed cock and square pillars covered by an engraved silver band retaining original glazing for dust protection. The engraving on the back plate miss-spelled as ‘PINCHBECH’. Such mistakes are regularly made by some engravers. The dial is a mid 18th century enamelled copper replacement, the original dial must have been silver or gold champlève. The outer case (50.2mm) is gilt brass (not Pinchbeck!) with a cold painted bust of a king or prince. The inner part of the outer case features a later hand colored transfer print of the Madonna. The gilt brass, inner case (45.0mm) features a later hand colored transfer print of the infant Jesus accompanied by a lamb, pendant and bow are also later replacements. Between the outer and inner case a stitched watchpaper with flowers and the date for 1797.

George Graham    7.07.1673 – 20.11.1751


George was an English clockmaker, inventor, geophysicist, and a Fellow of the Royal Society. Graham was partner to the influential English clockmaker Thomas Tompion during the last few years of Tompion’s life. He is credited with inventing several design improvements to the pendulum clock, inventing the mercury pendulum and also the orrery. However his greatest innovation was perfecting of the dead-beat escapement in 1715, developed by Richard Towneley and Tompion in the mid-1670s.

Between 1730 and 1738, Graham had as an apprentice Thomas Mudge who went on to be an eminent watchmaker in his own right, and invented the lever escapement towards 1755.

He was widely acquainted with practical astronomy, invented many valuable astronomical instruments, and improved others. Graham made for Edmond Halley the great mural quadrant at Greenwich Observatory, and also the fine transit instrument and the zenith sector used by James Bradley in his discoveries. He supplied the French Academy with the apparatus used for the measurement of a degree of the meridian, and constructed the most complete planetarium known at that time, in which the motions of the celestial bodies were demonstrated with great accuracy.

His major contribution to geophysics was the discovery of the diurnal variation of the terrestrial magnetic field in 1722/23. He was also one of the first to notice that auroras are related to magnetic field variations. The compass needles he produced as an instrument-maker were used by many of contemporary magneticians. Around 1730, George loaned approximately £200 to John Harrison so that he could start work on his marine timekeeper known later as H1. George was commonly known in the trade as ‘Honest George Graham’. This is underlined by the fact, that he refused to patent his inventions, wanting to make them accessible for all watchmakers.

George Graham, London, No. 4573, 1713

G_Graham 4573_1



Gilt brass, full plate fusee movement (40mm diameter) of typical Graham caliper, with pierced and engraved cock and slide plate, the cock with Grahams portrait face instead of the usual grotesque mask. Verge (recoil) escapement. Steel balance, the blued steel balance spring held by square pin, as first used by Tompion. Production number embossed on the top plate and behind the cock, as also custom in Tompion’s workshop. (1)

This is the earliest surviving movement signed by George Graham alone, after Thomas Tompion’s death in 1713 (1). An earlier piece recorded as being from Graham has been found on a manuscript ledger of Benjamin Vulliamy’s workshop, but that piece is lost.

Listed in: Evans J., ‘Thomas Tompion, at the Dial and Three Crowns’, Antiquarian Horological Society, Ticehurst, 2006, P: 94

George Graham, London, No. 5249, 1727



Gilt brass, full plate cylinder movement  in gilt and leather pair cases (diameter 48mm). Egyptian pillars, gilt dust cover, signed ‘G. Graham London’. Pierced and engraved cock with diamond endstone, solid engraved foot and plate for the silver regulator disc. Fusee and chain with worm and wheel barrel. Plain three arm steel balance, blued steel spiral hairspring. Polished steel cylinder, large brass escape wheel. Winding through the original gold, white enameled dial. Roman and Arabic numerals, gold beetle and poker hands. The minute hand is cranked in order to miss the winding square. Contemporary gilt inner case. Gilt outer case covered in green leather, decorated with gilt piqué pins.

The inside of the cap is scratched with the movement number, a typical Graham workshop custom. In addition to the movement number, also Graham’s initials ‘G G’ are scratched in cursive underneath the number, suggesting that Graham worked on this piece himself.

One of the earliest 13 known watches with cylinder escapement. This type of escapement had been designed by Tompion, and patented by Edward Barlow, William Houghton, and Tompion in 1695. Graham perfected the cylinder escapement around 1725/26 and used it exclusively over the verge type starting from production number 5182 and ending with 6590 in 1751 (1). Graham also introduced the white enameled dial (mostly enamelled on gold) for pocket watches in England about at the same time he switched for cylinder escapements, around 1726, replacing the champlève silver and gold dials (1). Surviving original white enamelled gold examples are rare (1). Also, he stopped using pierced cock foots and side plates only mounting plain engraved ones, as soon as he switched to cylinder escapements (1). Consequently he started also using gilt, brass caps, scratched with the movement number inside, not used for his former verge watches (1). All these changes were also applied by all his apprentices and employees, once they set up their own businesses.

The cylinder escapement increased the precision of watches considerably. One of the only negatives is, that its components are rather delicate and sensitive to damage. For this reason the French watchmakers preferred the more robust verge escapement over the cylinder for many years, until Julien Le Roy started to use it regularly around 1740.

Listed in: Evans J, Thomas Tompion, at the Dial and Three Crowns, Antiquarian Horological Society, Ticehurst, 2006, P: 96

Successors of George Graham’s workshop


Fleet Street and Water Lane. From John Rocque’s map of London, 1746

Other than mentioned in several references it was Thomas Colley, one of Graham’s employees, who was appointed by Graham to be his successor, after latter’s death in 1751 (1). Colley took Simon Barkley as partner, he was working for Graham as well (1). By the death of Barkley in 1753, John Priest, again a workman of Graham’s took Barkley’s place next to Colley (1). Justin Vulliamy is thought to have visited Grahams workshop to learn about the cylinder escapement. Larcum Kendall is known to have worked for Graham for several years, making cylinder escapements and it’s very likely that he continued to work for Thomas Mudge. Mudge, apprentice to Graham was an independent watchmaker from 1748 and took William Dutton, also apprentice of Graham, as partner from 1755 (1). Mudge was not the successor of Graham, even if it was him, who represented the quality and ingenuity of Graham on the long run. They apparently even had their placid and humble character in common.

All former workmen and employees of George Graham, including Larcum Kendall, used the same movement setups and workshop customs for simple movements, once they set up businesses on their own. All watches having cylinder escapement made by these men have brass cylinder escapements and most retained the 13 teeth and the banking by pin in the cylinder (1). All used enamelled dials, many of them on gold, especially pieces by Mudge. All pieces have cocks with solid, engraved foot and respective solid and engraved side plate. The centres of the cock plates are set with big diamond end stones held by a blued or sometimes polished, round, steel disc secured by two screws. All gilt brass caps are signed in the same style, and most bear the scratched movement number inside. Some also had the movement number embossed into parts of the movement, such as the back of the cock or on the top plate. Many of these traditions perdured in successors of Graham’s and then Mudge & Duttons’s workshop until the early 1800s, for example in some movements made by Matthew Dutton, William Dutton’s son (1).

Thomas Colley, London, No. 6648, 1755




Capped, gilt brass, full plate cylinder fusee movement (40mm diameter), cock with un-pierced foot and table with symmetrical engraving centred with a diamond endstone, movement number scratched inside the cap, a typical Graham workshop custom. Cylinder (dead-beat) escapement retaining original Graham banking, brass escape with 13 teeth. Steel balance, 3-turn blued-steel balance-spring. Back plate engraved ‘Grahams Succ.(esso)r London 6648’. Cap engraved ‘Graham’s Succ.(esso)r Tho.(mas) Colley LONDON’. The movement later ‘enlarged’ with wider brass-edge and custom made white enamel dial. (1)

The last recorded piece signed by George Graham is No. 6590, so this movement is one of the first pieces made after his death. Later movements will be signed as ‘Grahams Successors’. This is one of only about 10 known movements signed by either Colley on his own, or with his partner Samuel Barkley or later John Priest. (1)

Not recorded by Jeremy Evans in 2006.

John Priest, London, No. 222, 1760



Gilt brass, full plate fusee movement (35.5mm diameter) with round baluster pillars and finely engraved balance cock. Diamond end stone. Signed back plate ‘John Priest London 222’. Graham-type cylinder (deadbeat) escapement, brass escape with 13 teeth. (1)

This is only one of few movements known by this maker and the only one known to David Penney, which bears the name of John Priest alone and not in conjunction with Thomas Colley. (1)

Not recorded by Jeremy Evans in 2006.

Thomas Mudge  (9.1717 – 14.11.1794)

Thomas MudgeThomas Mudge was the second son of Zachariah Mudge, headmaster and clergyman, and his wife, Mary Fox. He was born in Exeter. Thomas, when 14 or 15, was sent to London to be apprenticed to George Graham, the eminent clock and watch maker who had trained under Thomas Tompion. Graham’s business was situated in Water Lane, Fleet Street. When Mudge qualified as a watchmaker in 1738 he began to be employed by a number of important London retailers. Whilst making a most complicated equation watch for the eminent John Ellicott, Mudge was discovered to be the actual maker of the watch and was subsequently directly commissioned to supply watches for Ferdinand VI of Spain. He is known to have made at least five watches for Ferdinand, including a watch that repeated the minutes as well as the quarters and hours. (1)

In 1748 Mudge set himself up in business at 151 Fleet Street, and began to advertise for work as soon as his old master, George Graham, died in 1751.  Although not Graham’s successor, it was Mudge who brought Grahams principles to perfection. He rapidly acquired a reputation as one of England’s outstanding watchmakers, and is now rightly considered one of the greatest and most influential watch and clock makers of the period. In 1753 he married Abigail Hopkins of Oxford, with whom he had two sons.

Most probably William Dutton, another of Grahams apprentices, worked for Mudge since the opening of latters workshop. Around 1765 he took William Dutton, as partner, singing all subsequent work as Mudge & Dutton. Mudge was to supervise the watch production, while William Dutton took care of the clock business. Around 1755, if not earlier, Mudge invented the detached lever escapement, which he first applied to a clock, but which, in watches, can be considered the greatest single improvement ever applied to them since the invention of the balance spring and which remains a feature in almost every pocket timekeeper made up to and including the present day. (1)

BrühlIn 1760 Mudge was introduced to Count Hans Moritz von Brühl (20.12.1736 – 9.6.1809), envoy extraordinary from the court of Saxony, who henceforth became a steady patron. In 1765 Mudge was invited as expert by the Board of Longitude to assist at the dismantling of Harrison’s H4. An argument arose with the Board, as Mudge openly spoke about the details of the construction of H4 to the French watchmaker Ferdinand Berthoud, who wanted to take advantage of getting insights into H4’s construction to integrate them into his own work on marine timekeepers. Mudge, as George Graham before him, was a honest, humble and altruist person, who never wanted to patent his developments. He regarded the copying of his principles as an honour. It is in this context that the divulgation of the construction details of H4 to Berthoud need to be understood, he thought to encourage the development of the best possible timekeeper.

Also in 1765 Mudge published the book, ‘Thoughts on the Means of Improving WatchesParticularly those for Use at Sea’. It’s known, that Larcum Kendall worked for the firm for many years. Most of the best finished watches might be made by him.

In 1771, due to ill-health Mudge, quit active business and left London to live in Plymouth with his brother Dr. John Mudge. From that date Mudge worked on the development of a marine chronometer that would satisfy the new rigorous requirements of the Board of Longitude, which had been amended in 1765 after the earlier work of John Harrison (1). He sent the first of these (see below) for trial in 1774, and was awarded 500 guineas for his design.

He completed two others by 1779 (‘Green’: 1777, ‘Blue’: 1776 – 1779) in the continuing attempt to satisfy the increasingly difficult requirements set by the Board of  Longitude. They were tested by the Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne, and declared as being unsatisfactory. There followed a controversy in which it was claimed that Maskelyne had not given them a fair trial. A similar controversy had arisen when John Harrison had been denied the full amount of the 1714 prize by the Board of Longitude. Eventually, in 1792, two years before his death, Mudge was awarded £2,500 by a Committee of the House of Commons who decided for Mudge and against the Board of Longitude, then headed by  Sir Joseph Banks.


Left to right: Thomas Mudge, ‘Green’, 1777, Maritime Museum Greenwich. Thomas Mudge, ‘Blue’, 1776 – 1779, 12.25cm diameter: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.

In 1770 George III purchased a large gold watch produced by Mudge, that incorporated his lever escapement. This he presented to his wife, Queen Charlotte, and it still remains in the Royal collection at Windsor Castle. In 1776 Mudge was appointed watchmaker to the king. In 1789 his wife, Abigail died. Thomas Mudge died at the home of his elder son, Thomas, at Newington Butts, London on 14 November 1794. He was buried at St Dunstan-in -the- West, Fleet Street.

Mudge_Charlotte Watch

Thomas Mudge, 1770: watch with detached lever escapement. Picture taken and modified: timezone.com, Royal collection of HM Queen Elisabeth II.

The importance of Thomas Mudge in the development of watches is highly underrated and his importance for the developments in horology was mainly overshadowed by the success and publicity of John Harrison. Even if the principles of John Harrison were ground braking, no other watchmaker at that time reached the quality of manufacture of the Mudge & Dutton firm. (1)

Thomas Mudge, Plymouth, No. 1, 1774

MUDGE _1_1

Thomas Mudge, 1774, marine chronometer No.1, British Museum (1958,1006.2119). Pictures taken and modified: British Museum, London


Thomas Mudge, marine chronometer , No. 1, 1774, 13.25cm diameter; spring-driven; eight-day movement; powered by two separate mainsprings housed in single barrel; fusee with Harrison’s maintaining power; Mudge’s constant force escapement; temperature compensation achieved by use of two bimetallic strips; separate enamel dials: minutes of time and equivalent in degrees to left, hours of time and degrees to right, seconds to bottom, ‘up-and-down’ to top; difference between local time (established by observation) and Greenwich time (displayed by chronometer) gives longitude; octagonal mahogany box with glazed top, bottom and sides; outer octagonal mahogany box. Picture taken and modified: British Museum (158, 1006.2119), London

As mentioned above, this timekeeper was sent for a trial to Greewich, where it has been largely overlooked and mis-judged. Its balance spring broke twice and there was an accusation that it had been dropped, so it was excluded from the race for the rest of the Longitude Price, even if it has been measured as the most accurate of all candidates (1)! Mudge, had spent all of his economies for research on marine chronometers and most probably his illness, that he could not afford a metal case for this timekeeper, which is now boxed in a beautiful glazed, mahogany case (2).

It has to be emphasised that this marine chronometer made in 1774 by Thomas Mudge remained the most precise timekeeper until 1887! (2)

Thomas Mudge, London, No. 494, 1765




Gilt brass, full plate fusee movement (47 mm diameter) with square baluster pillars and finely engraved balance cock. Diamond end stone. Signed back plate Tho.(mas) Mudge  London 494’. Graham-type cylinder (deadbeat) escapement with original banking, brass escape with 13 teeth. Gilt brass cap signed ‘Tho.(mas) Mudge  London’, scratched with movement number ‘494’ as per Graham workshop custom. (1)

Thomas Mudge, later in partnership with William Dutton, Fleet St, London. Although the firm continued to employ the best London finishers at all times, watches bearing just the name of Mudge alone are rare (1). This movement was produced in the mid 1760’s during the most productive period for Mudge, after receiving recognition for his earlier impressive work for John Ellicott and gaining the King of Spain, from Ellicott, as a customer (1). During the same year this movement was made, Mudge was appointed expert of the Board of Longitude.

The workload he undertook proved to be one that cost Thomas his health and he retired to live with his brother John, an eminent doctor, in 1770/71 (1). It was ‘in retirement’ that he produced his most beautiful, and astonishingly accurate (se Gould), marine chronometer. (1)

William Dutton  (1738 – 1794)

William Dutton, the son of Matthew Dutton of Marston in Buckinghamshire, was apprenticed to George Graham on 5th January 1738. He received his freedom on 7th July 1746. He was a liveryman of the Clockmakers Company from 1766-94. Most probably Dutton worked for Thomas Mudge from the beginning of the opening of latter’s workshop in 1748, he then  entered into a partnership with Thomas Mudge around 1765 taking care of the watch production and took over the whole business in 1771, when Mudge retired due to illness. For some time the firm’s name remained the same until the late 1780s when he started to sign his work as ‘William Dutton’ or ‘W. Dutton’.

For a short period of time he ran the firm together with his two sons: Matthew and Thomas, signing the output ‘W. Dutton & Sons’ (1).

Thomas Mudge & William Dutton, London, No. 1392, 1790





Gilt brass, full plate fusee movement (46.5 mm diameter) with square baluster pillars and finely engraved balance cock. Diamond end stone. Signed back plate Tho(mas) Mudge W(illiam) Dutton London 1392’. Graham-type cylinder (deadbeat) escapement with original banking, brass escape with 13 teeth. Enamelled gold dial. Original gold, late type beetle and poker hands. Gilt brass cap signed ‘Tho(mas) Mudge W(illiam) Dutton London’, scratched with movement number ‘1392’ as per Graham workshop custom (1).

Thomas was rather ill at the time this movement was made and he already left the premises in London to join his brother. This is one of the last movements of the firm co-signed with the name of Thomas Mudge. Starting from No. 1448, the movements were signed William Dutton & Sons. (1)

William Dutton, London, No. 1363, 1790


Gilt brass, full plate fusee movement (42 mm diameter) with square baluster pillars and finely engraved balance cock. Diamond end stone. Signed back plate ‘William Dutton London 1363’. Verge (recoil) escapement. Enlarged brass edge, later cream enamelled copper dial. (1)

Unlike George Graham, Thomas Mudge and William Dutton are known to have used verge escapements throughout their working lives. One of the very few known movements bearing only William Dutton’s signature. The numbering of the verge pieces seems not to have followed the ones equipped with cylinder escapements. (1)

(François) Justin Vulliamy  1712 – 1797

justin vulliamyHe was born in Switzerland, moved to London around 1730, where he was apprentice of Benjamin Gray (1676–1764) who was appointed watchmaker in ordinary to George II in 1742. He might also have had connections to the workshop of George Graham as he came to London from Paris to learn more about Graham’s cylinder escapement. Justin married Gray’s daughter Mary, and went into partnership with him (from around 1743), signing their work with both names. They worked at London’s 68 Pall Mall. They were among the first London watchmakers to take up George Grahams cylinder escapement. After Benjamin Gray’s death in 1764, Justin Vulliamy took over Gray’s business and signed his work ‘Justin Vuillamy’ until it was taken over by one of Justin’s sons: Benjamin Vulliamy.

The Gray/Vulliamy letter code:

From the beginning they used a particular letter code to number their movements which Benjamin Gray introduced already when he was working on his own. Usually letter codes are easily transferrable into a sequential number code by use of a logical key. This is not possible for the Gray/Vulliamy lettering code, so only one small part of it has been understood to date. They started with a three letter code switching to a four letter code around 1812.

A part of the puzzling letter code, the flair for letter -and word games is underlined by the use of alternate signatures for their suboptimal work during the production of Benjamin Vulliamy, these signatures are: ‘Fras Risdon’, a combination of Fra(nçoi)s, Benjamin’s father’s never used Swiss first name and ‘Risdon’, the maiden name of Benjamin Gray’s wife Maria Risdon, Benjamins’ Grandmother. The other alternate signature is ‘J Gray’ obviously combining the first name of Benjamin’s father ‘J(ustin)’ and his grandfather’s last name ‘Gray’. The use of these names shows a great devotion to and pride of the origins of the Vulliamy watchmaking dynasty. Most probably for the decryption of the letter code this needs to be taken into account.

They used their letter code well into the 19th century, but then also used number codes, which might also not be sequential (1). Most numbers are used for work of lower quality.

Benjamin Gray & Justin Vulliamy, London, Code: ois, ca.1745


Gilt brass cylinder movement (36mm diameter), brass escape, Graham-type banking. Square baluster pillars, steel balance and spiral balance spring. Original gold dial, enamelled using ‘venetian’ enamel, which requires more heat when fired than conventional enamel (as used by George Graham). Materials used for making dials other than gold would not withstand these high temperatures. Black Roman and Arabic numerals with dots within the minute track, typical for the Gray/Vulliamy production. (1)

This movement might be one of the earliest known made by the partners Gray/Vulliamy.

Benjamin Gray & Justin Vulliamy, London, Code: nco, ca.1750


Gilt brass cylinder movement (41 x 35mm), 13 tooth brass escape, Graham-type banking. ‘Egg’ shaped plates, baluster pillars. Eccentric seconds work at 6. Lacking cock, regulator, side plate, dial plate, dial, motion work, chain, balance and balance spring. (1)

Gray_Vulliamy shield

Picture taken and modified after: Sotheby’s, Masterpieces from the Time Museum Part 2, NY, 19.06.2002, Lot. 18

Only about 4 egg-shaped movements are known, two are cased (British Museum, London, Time Museum, Rockford, Ilinois (latter sold: ‘Masterpieces from the Time Museum’; Sotheby’s New York, June 2002, for 45’000$)). Benjamin Gray started the manufacture of these irregular shaped watches before sharing the business with Justin Vulliamy in 1743 (1). The oldest version of this type of watch is not exactly egg shaped but more shaped like a shield. The shield and later the egg shape gives a watch having a large second dial at 6 a very elegant form and it draws the view to the large second had suggesting that the watch is of highest precision. The manufacture of the shield or egg-shaped plates must have been done by hand, which is very laborious and difficult (2).

Ex private collection Ferdinand Lammot Belin, Washington DC, USA

Ex private collection Winthrop Kellogg Edey, New York, USA

Ferdinand Lammot Belin Sr.  1881 – 1961

BelinFerdinand Lammot Belin, Sr., was an American international diplomat and spent part of his life in Istanbul and Peking, where he held diplomatic posts. While in Washington, he served at the White House during the Presidency of Herbert Hoover as Chief of the International Conference and Protocol Division, and then as Ambassador to Poland in 1932 – 1933. His son, Ferdinand Lammot ‘Peter’ Belin, Jr, was a survivor of the catastrophey of the zeppelin  ‘Hindenburg’ in New Jersey in 1937. Berlin Sr. started to collect watches while in Peking starting from 1917 and possessed an impressive collection sold at Sotheby’s the 29.11.1979.

Winthrop Kellogg ‘Kelly’ Edey  18. 6. 1937 – 22. 2. 1999


Kelly Edey c. 1970, Picture: Collection of Theodore Dell

As the grandson of Morris W. Kellogg, an engineer who made millions designing and building oil refineries, not to mention the nation’s World War II atomic-bomb plants, Mr. Edey was relieved of the need to earn a living. Starting from 6 years of age his interest for watches and clocks flourished, he started then to take them apart and putting them back together. Apart from his diary and his lifelong interest for the Ancient Egyptian culture, Kelly Edey  devoted his life to collecting and studying watches and clocks. He wrote several books on the subject, one about French clocks (1967). He shared his expertise as consultant for Christie’s (New York), the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and for the Time Museum in Rockford Illinois.1982 he gave 39 pieces of the 60 he possessed along with his diaries to the Frick collection in New York. One diary entry of the 17th of January 1964 mentions Andy Warhol making a movie and pictures of him (screen tests for ‘The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys’).

Benjamin Vulliamy  (1747 – 1811)

benjamin vulliamyFrom an early age, Benjamin had shown interest in pursuing his father’s career. As an adult, he began to earn a reputation as a builder of mantel clocks, decorative timepieces that adorned the halls of high society (nowadays, some can be found at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery). His talent earned him a Royal appointment in 1773, through which he came to receive an endowment of £150 a year as George III’s King’s Clockmaker (there was a similar distinction, Royal Watchmaker, then held by George Lindsay). The king, an enthusiast for watches and mechanical devices, was patron of Justin Vulliamy, but only Benjamin received this significant honour.

Around 1780 Benjamin entered the society ‘Vulliamy & Son’. In December 1790 Benjamin Vulliamy bought a part of Larcum Kendalls stock which was auctioned off after his death. Father and son Vulliamy worked together until the death of Justin, on 1.12.1797. They signed their work just ‘Vulliamy’. Around 1780, Vulliamy was commissioned to build the Regulator Clock, the main timekeeper of the King’s Observatory Kew , which served as Prime Meridian and was responsible for the official London time until 1884, when the Greenwich Royal Observatory  assumed both roles. Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy took over the business in 1801.

Justin & Benjamin Vulliamy, London, Code: sus, 1785

B_Vulliamy 1785

Gilt brass cylinder movement (46mm diameter), 15 tooth brass escape, Graham-type banking. Cap jewels on balance and escape. Baluster pillars, steel balance and spiral balance spring. Later enamel dial. (1)

The Longitude Problem, the development of the Chronometer:

monde_2The measurement of longitude was a problem that came into focus as people began making transoceanic voyages. Determining latitude was relatively easy in that it could be found from the altitude of the sun at noon with the aid of a table giving the sun’s declination for the day. For longitude, early ocean navigators had to rely on dead reckoning. This was inaccurate on long voyages out of sight of land and these voyages sometimes ended in tragedy. Finding an adequate solution to determining longitude was of paramount importance.

Gemma_FrisiusMany ideas were proposed for how to determine longitude during a sea voyage. Earlier methods attempted to compare local time with the known time at a given place, such as Greenwich or Paris, based on a simple theory that had been first proposed by Gemma Frisius (1508 – 1555, Mathematician, The Netherlands). The methods relied on astronomical observations that were themselves reliant on the predictable nature of the motion of different heavenly bodies. Such methods were problematic because of the difficulty in accurately estimating the time at the given place.

Longitude Act 1714The Longitude Prize was a reward of £ 20,000 offered by the British government for a simple and practical method for the precise determination of a ship’s longitude. After the Scilly naval disaster of 1707 which claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 sailors, Queen Anne refocused on the problem. The prize, established through an Act of Parliament (the Longitude Act) in July 1714, was administered by the Board of Longitude.

This was by no means the first such prize to be offered. Philip II of Spain offered a prize in 1567, Philip III in 1598 offered 6,000 ducats and a pension, whilst the States-General of the Netherlands offered 10,000 florins. But these large prizes were never won, though several people were awarded smaller sums to continue their research.

John Harrison set out to solve the Longitude problem directly, by producing a reliable clock that could keep the time of a given place. His difficulty was in producing a clock which was not affected by variations in temperature, pressure or humidity, remained accurate over long time intervals, resisted corrosion in salty air, and was able to function on board of a constantly-moving ship. Many scientists, including Isaac Newton and Christiaan Huygens, doubted that such a clock could ever be built and favoured other methods for reckoning longitude, such as the method of lunar distances. Huygens ran trials using both a pendulum and a spiral balance spring clock as methods of determining longitude, with both types producing inconsistent results. Newton observed that:

“a good watch may serve to keep a reckoning at sea for some days and to know the time of a celestial observation; and for this end a good Jewel may suffice till a better sort of watch can be found out. But when longitude at sea is lost, it cannot be found again by any watch”.

John Harrison  3. 4. 1693  –  24. 3. 1776

john harrisonJohn Harrison was born in Foulby, in West Yorkshire. His father worked as a carpenter at the nearby Nostell Priory estate.

Around 1700, the Harrison family moved to the Lincolnshire village of Barrow upon Humber. Following his father’s trade as a carpenter, Harrison built and repaired clocks in his spare time. Legend has it that at the age of six, while in bed with smallpox, he was given a watch to amuse himself and he spent hours listening to it and studying its moving parts.

Harrison built his first longcase clock in 1713, at the age of 20. The mechanism was made entirely of wood, which was a natural choice of material.

Harrison, 1715, science museum london

Wooden clock by J. Harrison, 1715, Science Museum, London

Three of Harrison’s early wooden clocks have survived: the first (1713) is at the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers’ collection in the Guildhall; the second (1715) is in the Science Museum; and the third (1717) is at Nostell Priory in Yorkshire, the face bearing the inscription ‘John Harrison, Barrow’.

In the early 1720s, Harrison was commissioned to make a new turret clock at Brocklesby Park, North Lincolnshire. The clock still works and like his previous clocks has a wooden movement of oak and lignum vitae. Between 1725 and 1728, John and his brother James, also a skilled joiner, made at least three precision longcase clocks, again with the movements and longcase made of oak and lignum vitae. The grid-iron pendulum (alternating brass and iron rods assembled so that the different expansions and contractions cancel each other out) was developed by him during this period. These precision clocks are thought by some to have been the most accurate clocks in the world at the time, even better than his famed H4!

Harrison was a man of many skills and he used these to systematically improve the performance of the pendulum clock. Another example of his inventive genius was the grasshopper escapement – a control device for the step-by-step release of a clock’s driving power. Developed from the anchor escapement, it was almost frictionless, requiring no lubrication because the pallets were made from lignum vitae. This was an important advantage at a time when lubricants (vegetal / animal oils) and their degradation were little understood.

In 1730, Harrison designed a marine clock to compete for the Longitude Prize and travelled to London, seeking financial assistance. He presented his ideas to Edmond Halley (discoverer of the Halley`s comets periodicity in 1705), the Astronomer Royal, who in turn referred him to George Graham. Graham must have been impressed by Harrison’s ideas, for he loaned him money to build a model of his ‘Sea clock’. As the clock was an attempt to make a seagoing version of his wooden pendulum clocks, which performed exceptionally well, he used wooden wheels, roller pinions and a version of the ‘grasshopper’ escapement. Instead of a pendulum, he used two dumbbell balances, linked together.

Harrison H1

It took Harrison five years to build his first Sea Clock (H1). He demonstrated it to members of the Royal Society who spoke on his behalf to the Board of Longitude. The clock was the first proposal that the Board considered to be worthy of a sea trial. In 1736, Harrison sailed to Lisbon on HMS Centurion and returned on HMS Orford. On their return, both the captain and the sailing master of the Orford praised the design. The master noted that his own calculations had placed the ship sixty miles east of its true landfall which had been correctly predicted by Harrison using H1.

Harrison H2This was not the transatlantic voyage demanded by the Board of Longitude, but the Board was impressed enough to grant Harrison £500 for further development. Harrison moved on to develop H2, a more compact and rugged version. In 1741, after three years of building and two of on-land testing, H2 was ready, but by then Britain was at war with Spain in the War of Austrian Succession and the mechanism was deemed too important to risk falling into Spanish hands. In any event, Harrison suddenly abandoned all work on this second machine when he discovered a serious design flaw in the concept of the bar balances.

harrison H3He had not recognised that the period of oscillation of the bar balances could be affected by the pitching action of the ship. It was this that led him to adopt circular balances in the Third Sea Clock (H3). The Board granted him another £500, and while waiting for the war to end, he proceeded to work on H3.

Harrison spent seventeen years working on this third ‘sea clock’ but despite every effort it seems not to have performed exactly as he would have wished. Certainly in this machine Harrison left the world two enduring legacies – the bimetallic strip and the caged roller bearing. The failure of the sea clocks 1, 2 and 3 were due mainly to the fact that their balances though large, did not vibrate quickly enough to confer the property of stability on the timekeeping. Around 1750 Harrison had also come to this conclusion and abandoned the idea of the ‘Sea clock’ as a timekeeper, realising that a watch sized timekeeper would be more successful as it could incorporate a balance which though smaller, oscillated at a much higher speed. A watch would also be more practicable, another factor required by the Longitude Act of 1714.

After pursuing various methods during thirty years of experimentation, Harrison moved to London where to his surprise he found that some of the watches made by Graham’s successor Thomas Mudge kept time just as accurately as his huge sea clocks. It is possible that Mudge was able to do this after the early 1740s thanks to the availability of the new ‘Huntsman’ or ‘Crucible’ steel produced by Benjamin Huntsman sometime in the early 1740s which enabled harder pinions but more importantly, a tougher and more highly polished cylinder escapement to be produced. Harrison then realised that a mere watch after all could be made accurate enough for the task and was a far more practical proposition for use as a marine timekeeper. He proceeded to redesign the concept of the watch as a timekeeping device, basing his design on sound scientific principles.

All watches signed by John Harrison are in public collections. Just two watches made by his son William survive: one is in a public collection and one in a private British collection.

During his lifelong search to win the Longitude prize Harrison got several grants adding up to 23’000£ to pursue his research for the perfect timekeeper, but actually he never officially won the Longitude Prize!

The ‘Jefferys’ watch:

Harrisons Jefferys watchHarrison had already designed a precision centre seconds watch for his own personal use, which was made for him by the London watchmaker John Jefferys c. 1752 – 53. This watch incorporated a novel frictional rest escapement and was not only the first to have a compensation for temperature variations but also contained the first ‘going fusee’ of Harrison’s design which enabled the watch to continue running whilst being wound. These features led to the very successful performance of the ‘Jefferys’ watch so therefore Harrison incorporated them into the design of two new timekeepers which he proposed to build (H4 and the ‘lesser watch’). These were in the form of a large watch and another of a smaller size but of similar pattern. Constructed by John Jefferys and his apprentice Larcum Kendall, the watch turns out to be Harrison’s breakthrough timepiece. He had already devoted decades –and spent thousands of pounds advanced by Parliament trying to make an accurate shipboard clock. But clocks are bulky and poorly suited to shipboard swaying, which can disrupt their internal mechanisms. And using techniques obscured by a fire damage (see below), Jefferys drastically downsized mechanisms for temperature compensation and friction reduction. For the first time, every gear in a pocket watch was set on a jewelled bearing.

At the end of the 19th century, a dealer offered Harrison’s personal pocket watch to the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. “They really wanted this watch, but as far as they were concerned it was purely sentimental,” Sir George White, keeper of the Clockmakers‘ Museum collections, recounts. The price was too high, so they let it go. The watch passed into the stock of one Mr. Rust, a jeweller whose London shop was subsequently bombed by the Luftwaffe during WWII. His vault fell several stories to the basement and cooked overnight in a fire. The watch survived, though the white enamel face turned black and the metal gearing softened so that it no longer ticked. In this sorry state, Harrison’s watch passed into the Clockmakers’ safekeeping. “It’s a miracle Mr. Rust didn’t bin it,” White says. “He’d no way of knowing that the watch would come to have monumental importance.”

“I don’t think anyone expected it to be as good as it was,” White says. In this watch, all the problems of marine chronometry were essentially resolved. Harrison’s next prototype chronometer, much smaller than the one he had contemplated before his encounter with Jefferys, was to become H4. The ‘Jefferys’ watch is the first using a temperature compensation an can thus be regarded as the first precision watch.

John Harrison, London, ‘H4’, No. 1, 1759

Harrison H4

John Harrison, ‘H4’, London 1759, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Aided by some of London’s finest workmen (most probably Larcum Kendall replacing Jefferys who died 1754), Harrison proceeded to design and make the world’s first successful marine timekeeper that allowed a navigator to accurately assess his ship’s position in longitude. The huge watch (13.3cm diameter, 1.5kg) has a novel type of ‘vertical’ escapement, which is often incorrectly associated with the ‘verge’ escapement, which it superficially resembles. However, the action of the frictional rest escapement enables the balance to have a large arc. In comparison, the verge’s escapement has a recoil with a limited balance arc and is sensitive to variations in driving torque. The D shaped pallets of Harrison’s escapement are both made of diamond, a considerable feat of manufacture at the time. For technical reasons the balance was made much larger than in a conventional watch of the period, and the vibrations controlled by a flat spiral steel spring. The movement also has centre seconds motion with a sweep seconds hand. The third wheel is equipped with internal teeth and has an elaborate bridge similar to the pierced and engraved bridge for the period. It runs at 5 beats (ticks) per second, and is equipped with a tiny remontoire. A balance-brake stops the watch half an hour before it is completely run down, in order that the remontoire does not run down also. Temperature compensation is in the form of a ‘compensation curb’ (or ‘Thermometer Kirb’ as Harrison called it). This takes the form of a bimetallic strip mounted on the regulating slide, and carrying the curb pins at the free end. During its initial testing, Harrison dispensed with this regulation using the slide, but left its indicating dial or figure piece in place. The watch is equipped with a system called ‘Harrison’s maintaining power’, which consists of a brass (in later watches in steel) lever acting on a ratchet at the base of the fusee, permitting to wind the watch while it still runs.

Harrison H4 signatureHarrison showed everyone that it could be done by using a watch to calculate longitude. This was to be Harrison’s masterpiece, resembling an oversized pocket watch from the period.  It is engraved with Harrison’s signature, marked Number ‘1’ and dated ‘AD 1759’.

John & William Harrison, London, ‘H5’, No. 2, 1770

Harrison H5

John & William Harrison, ‘H5’, London 1770, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Harrison began working on his second ‘Sea watch’ (H5) while Kendall made good progress on his copy of H4. The Board of Longitude was asked to consider H5 and K1 as the two copies of H4, but told John and William, in no uncertain terms, that both copies of H4 should be made by the Harrison’s. After three years he had had enough; Harrison felt “extremely ill used by the gentlemen who I might have expected better treatment from” and decided to enlist the aid of King George III. He obtained an audience with the King, who was extremely annoyed with the Board. King George tested the watch No. 2 himself in his own observatory and after ten weeks of daily observations between May and July in 1772, found it to be accurate to within one third of one second per day. King George then advised Harrison to petition Parliament for the full prize after threatening to appear in person to dress them down. Finally in 1773, when he was 80 years old, Harrison received a monetary award in the amount of £8,750 from Parliament for his achievements, but he never received the official award (which was never awarded to anyone). He was to survive for just three more years.

John Jefferys  1701 – 1754

His parents, John, a wool merchant and Jane Jefferys lived in a house called Darbies in the village of Midgham in the parish of Thatcham in Berkshire. He had at least five brothers and one sister. Although his father was a Quaker, he was christened on the 18 March 1701.

On 4 November 1717 he began an apprenticeship with watchmaker Edward Jagger at Well Close Square, Stepney, London. After nine years of teaching on 26 January 1726 he became a member of the Clockmakers Company of London. In 1735 he took Larcum Kendall as a new apprentice. In 1739 a cater-cousin of John’s, fourteen year old Jethro Tull of Buttons, Midgham, also joined Larcum and was apprenticed to John for the term of seven years at a cost of forty guineas to Jethro’s father Richard. Around 1753 he built a pocket watch for watchmaker John Harrison. This watch was one of the inspirations for Harrison to concentrate on building a watch sized piece for competing for the Longitude Prize. Now the watch is owned by Trinity House and on view in the Clockmakers’ Company museum. Little work is by Jefferys is found today, mostly because, as a ‘repeating motion maker’, he was part of the highly skilled craftsmen of individual watch parts. Latter supplied the ‘finishers’ and watch retailers and seldom signed their work themselves.

Unfortunately John Jefferys never saw the benefits or consequence’s of his creation as he died in 1754. After his death, Larcum Kendall took over his business and workshop and continued to work for John Harrison and later the Admiralty. (1)

John Jefferys, London, No. 48, 1735

Jefferys 48_2

Gilt brass, full plate verge movement (35 mm diameter). Square baluster pillars. Verge escapement. Pierced cock and slide plate (cock not jewelled), steel balance lacking balance spring. The back plate signed ‘Jno Jefferys London’ and numbered ’48’. (1)

This movement has been made around the time when Larcum Kendall was taken as apprentice.

John Jefferys, London, No. 201, 1745


Gilt brass, full plate verge movement (36.5 mm diameter). Square baluster pillars, pillar-plate stamped 201. Pierced and engraved slide plate. Verge escapement. The back plate signed with his full name ‘John Jefferys London’ and numbered ’201’. (1)

Only six watches (including the two movements mentioned here) signed by John Jefferys are known, one of them is John Harrison’s own pocket watch. Jefferys was John Harrison’s most important watchmaker until Larcum Kendall (Jefferys apprentice) took over when Jefferys died in 1754. (1)

Ex private collection George Foster (UK)

Larcum Kendall  21. 09. 1719 – 22. 11. 1790

Larcum Kendall was born in Charlbury, Oxfordshire to Moses Kendall and Ann Larcum. Though mostly now remembered for his work in creating the highly successful copy of Harrisons Longitude Timekeeper H4, Kendall was one of the most able watchmakers working in London in the 18th century. Despite a long life at the bench, very few watches and clocks are known to bear his name. This is not an indication of his lack of employment, but points to the fact that perhaps he did not have the ambition, or did not see the need, to seek retail orders. What is certain is that he was involved with the London watch trade at the highest level.

Kendall was apprenticed to John Jefferys, as repeating motion maker, for seven years on 7th April 1735 and it was Jefferys who was to bring Kendall into direct contact with John Harrison and provide what was probably the strongest influence on Kendall and his future work (1). Kendall set up his own business in 1742. He is also known to have worked for George Graham for several years making cylinder escapements and seems to have continued doing this for the firm of Thomas Mudge and William Dutton after Grahams death in 1751 (1).

It has been assumed that Jefferys played the principle role in helping Harrison produce H4 but new evidence has uncovered the fact that Jefferys died in 1754, before construction of H4 began. It is probable that the role of Harrison’s main workman would have passed to Kendall at this time and is almost certainly the reason why Kendall was appointed as one of the practical experts to the Board of Longitude in 1765 together with Rev. William Ludlam, Fellow of St. Johns College, Cambridge, Rev. John Mitchell, F.R.D, Woodwardian Professor of Geology, Thomas Mudge and William Mathews of Fleet Street, watchmakers; and John Bird of the strand, instrument maker. Latter was on a ‘replacement list’ together with Justin Vuillamy. All six alongside the Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne spent several days been shown the construction of H4, and on the 22nd of August, 1765 signed the certificate stating that all details had been declared by Harrison to their entire satisfaction.

More significant is the fact that Kendall was given the honour of proving the worth of Harrison’s designs by being commissioned to make a copy of H4 in 1766. He started with the manufacture in May 1767 and finished in late 1769.

Kendall K1K1 cost 450 guineas and was handed over to the Board of Longitude in January 1770. After the trials at Greenwich it was then assigned to Captain James Cook for his second voyage of discovery to the South Seas in 1772 – 75, where Cook and ships astronomer William Wales had high praise for the watch and for Kendall, and on his return in 1775 Cook wrote to the Secretary of the Admiralty, “Mr Kendall’s watch has exceeded the expectations of its most zealous advocate…”. K1 now resides at Greenwich and is a testimony to Kendall’s skills of a watchmaker. The back plate is signed Larcum Kendall LONDON and dated 1766. Despite the success of K1 Kendall made no further copies and, instead produced two simplified timekeepers K2 and K3.

Kendal K2K2 was handed over to the board of Longitude In March 1772, at a cost of 200 guineas, this time the dial was signed LARCUM KENDALL LONDON and on the back plate: Larcum Kendall 1771 London.

This new version has a regulator dial. The wheel work needed for separating the three hands has less play as compared to the conventional concentrical system, which usually increases precision. Thomas Mudge will use this system for his wooden cased marine timekeeper built in 1774, which will be the most precise watch for over 100 years. Latter piece by Mudge is in the British Museum (Reg. No. 1958,1006.2119).

K2 lacked the precision of K1 but it is chiefly famous because it was with William Bligh on the Bounty in 1787 when, as a result of the mutiny, it was taken by Fletcher Christian to Pitcairn Island. It was found in 1808 by an American and was bought on Pitcairn from the last survivor of the mutiny and only returned to England in 1840.

Kendall_K3_BK3 was completed in 1774 at a cost of 100 guineas, it is signed LARCUM KENDALL LONDON and on the back plate: Larcum Kendall 1774 London. Its style is vastly different from K1 and K2 as it has three small dials for hours, minutes and seconds and is fitted into a octagonal wooden case. It was on board HMS Discovery in 1776 with the Astronomer William Bayly. But as K2 it was lacking the precision of K1.

K1 – K3 are preserved in the Royal Observatory museum at Greenwich.

Kendall produced a pocket chronometer, which is now in the Museum of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, Guildhall, London it is signed on the back plate L. Kendall London B+y and is in a silver pair case hallmarked for 1786, inside the case are watch papers printed Vulliamy & Sons, 74 Pall Mall, London this watch was presented to the Clockmakers Company in 1849 by B.L. Vulliamy and was almost certainly purchased by his father Benjamin Vulliamy at the sale of Larcum Kendall’s Workshop in December 1790, Lot 37.

The sale of Kendall’s workshop was held at Kendall premises at No. 6 Furnivals Inn Court on the 23rd of December 1790 by Christie’s, many watch making tools and parts were sold and of note were was an unusual wheel cutting engine, and a curious foot lathe.

Lots 37-39 in the sale were of interest and are listed below:

37. A time keeper, complete in silver cases, by ditto scapement 36 guineas

38. A Time keeper,  with silver cases, by ditto, complete except scapement

39. A gold horizontal seconds watch, cappd and jeweld by ditto 30 guineas

William WalesThe sale must have been a fascinating place to be, with famous clock and watchmakers present, another important name at the auction was that of William Bayly Astronomer on Board Cooks ship Adventure 1772 – 75 and Discovery in 1776 – 80. Principal Astronomer on Cooks second voyage was William Wales. Latter was born in Yorkshire in 1734 and in 1765 he was appointed by the Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne as one of four computers to work on calculations for the first Nautical Almanac, which was published in 1767. In 1772 he was proposed by Maskelyne to be astronomer on Cook’s Resolution, where he was appointed to judge the effectiveness of K1. Wales owned a pocket time piece by Kendall which was sold at auction for 20 guineas 9 shillings and 6 pence after his death in 1798.

The quality of Kendall’s work was second to none, as is shown by the few watches, signed by him, which remain today, but he never showed any real ingenuity of his own. He was primarily a watchmaker to the top retail trade, producing first rate products to the design of those with greater imagination; the majority of his work, which also included some clocks and precision regulators, would appear to have been sold under other retailer’s names.

He died at Furnival’s Inn Court on 22 November 1790. His obituary states that the Quakers ‘…received his body into the bosom of their church at his death…’ and he was buried in the Quaker cemetery at Kingston in Surrey on 28 November 1790. As well as leaving a large sum in trust for his brother and family, his will, written on 6 November 1790 and proved on 8 December, also leaves his ‘implements in trade’, personal effects etc., to Moses, who evidently then arranged for them to be sold by auction; (see above). It is not known whether Kendall ever married. No wife or children are mentioned in his will and the furniture and effects sold at auction strongly suggest the home of a lifelong bachelor.

Larcum Kendall, London, 1765

Kendall 1765_1

Kendall 1765_2

Kendall 1765_3

Gilt brass, full plate fusee movement (34.5 mm diameter) with square baluster pillars and finely engraved balance cock. Diamond end stone. Graham-type cylinder (deadbeat) escapement with original banking, brass escape with 13 teeth. Fully overhauled by one of the best restorers in England. (1)

Only six watches or movements signed by Kendall are known (besides K1 – K3). One pair cased watch with tortoise shell outer case (signed L. Kendall) is in the ‘Science Museum’, London. A pocket chronometer dated 1786 is part of the ‘Clockmakers’ Museum Collection’ in the ‘Guildhall Library’ (also signed L. Kendall, this collection will move to the ‘Science Museum’ in autumn 2015).

The movement shown here resembles the ones made by the Mudge & Dutton company for which Kendall is thought to have worked (1). Besides K1, K2 and K3 and a recased cylinder watch made in 1776 sold at Bonhams London (23. 11. 2004, Lot 42, sold for 64’530£). This is the only known movement by Kendall which is signed with his full name. Moreover this movement seems to have been manufactured just before Kendall was asked to make a copy of H4, and represents one of the earliest, if not the earliest, known piece(s) made by him.

John Arnold  1736 – 1799

John Arnold

John Arnold was born in Cornwall and was apprenticed to his father, also a clockmaker. He probably also worked with his uncle, a gunsmith. Around 1755, he left England and worked as a watchmaker in the Hague, the Netherlands, returning to England around 1757.

In 1762 he encountered William McGuire for whom he repaired a repeating watch. Arnold made a sufficient impression so that McGuire gave him a loan, enabling him to set up in business as a watchmaker. In 1764, Arnold obtained permission to present to King George III an exceptionally small half quarter repeating watch with cylinder escapement mounted in a ring. A similar repeating watch by Arnold has survived; it is of interest that the basic movement is of Swiss in origin but finished in London. The escapement of this watch was later fitted with one of the first jewelled cylinders made of ruby.

Arnold made another watch for the King around 1768, which was a gold and enamel pair cased watch with a movement that had every refinement, including minute repetition and centre seconds. In addition, Arnold fitted bi-metallic temperature compensation, and not only was every pivot hole jewelled but the escapement also had a stone cylinder made of ruby or sapphire. This watch Arnold designated ‘Number 1’ as he did with all watches he made that he regarded as significant, these numbering twenty in all.

Other early productions by Arnold from 1765 to 1770 display both originality and ingenuity; this includes a centre seconds watch (later re-cased, dial replaced) wound up by depressing the pendant once a day. The movement of this watch also was fully jewelled (around 25) with a temperature compensation and originally had a ruby cylinder escapement (2). The watch is also numbered ‘1’ and its main spring is scratch-dated 1766 (2). It represents the earliest known movement with jewelled cylinder (later replaced) and the first known keyless movement (2).

MaskelyneArnold’s facility and ingenuity brought him to the attention of the Astronomer Royal Neville Maskelyne who at this time was seeking a watchmaker skilled enough to make a copy of John Harrison’s successful marine timekeeper. However, the challenge was taken up by Larcum Kendall, who spent two years making a near identical copy (K1) that cost £450, a huge sum at the time. Although successful as a precision timekeeper, the Admiralty for obvious reasons wanted a timekeeper on every major ship, and Kendall’s was too expensive and took too long to make. Kendall made a simplified version (K2) in 1771, leaving out the complicated remontoir system. But the result was still too costly, and not as accurate as the original.

In retrospect therefore, it was a significant occasion when in 1767 Neville Maskelyne presented John Arnold with a copy of the ‘Principles of Mr. Harrison’s Timekeeper’ as soon as it was published, evidently with a view to encourage him to make a precision timekeeper of the same kind.

It was from around 1770 that Arnold developed the portable precision timekeeper, almost from the point where John Harrison ended his work in this field. But compared to Harrison’s complicated and expensive watch, Arnold’s basic design was simple whilst consistently accurate and mechanically reliable. Importantly, the relatively simple and conventional design of his movement facilitated its production in quantity at a reasonable price whilst also enabling easier maintenance and adjustment.

Three elements were necessary for this achievement:

•  Escapement: A detached escapement: minimal interference with the vibrating balance and balance spring

•  Balance: A balance design that enabled compensation for the effect of temperature on the balance spring

•  Balance spring: A method for adjusting the balance spring, so that the balance oscillates in equal time periods, even through different degrees of balance arc

After making some experimental pieces, he produced what could be regarded as a production model to the Board of Longitude in March 1771. This piece was completely different from Harrison’s watch. It was relatively simple, close to the same size as Harrison’s, with a balance of a similar diameter. The radical difference, however, was a newly designed escapement that featured a horizontally placed pivoted detent that allowed the balance to vibrate freely, except when impulsed by the escape wheel (detached escapement). The spiral balance spring also had a temperature compensation device similar to Harrison’s bimetallic strip of brass and steel. Arnold proposed manufacture of these timekeepers at 60 guineas each.

James Cook

Three of these timekeepers traveled with the explorers Captain James Cook and Captain Furneaux during their second voyage to the southern Pacific in 1772 – 1775. Captain Cook also had Kendall’s first timekeeper on board as well as two of Arnold’s. Whereas Kendall’s performed very well and kept excellent time during the voyage, only one of Arnold’s was still running on their return to England in 1775. During this period, Arnold also made at least one precision pocket watch, a miniature version of the larger marine timekeepers.

Around 1772, Arnold modified this escapement so that it now was pivoted vertically and acted on by a spring. This was a much more successful arrangement.

Captain PhippsIn 1773, Captain Constantine Phipps made a voyage to the North Pole taking with him not only his Arnold pocket timekeeper and an Arnold box timekeeper in gimbals, but also Kendall’s ‘K2’ timekeeper. From Phipps’s account, it appears that the pocket watch performed very well indeed, and was a convenient instrument for ascertaining the longitude.

It seems likely that before 1775 Arnold’s earliest pocket chronometers were plain watches with centre seconds.

By 1772, Arnold had finalised the design of his pocket timekeepers and started series production with a standardised movement caliber, this being around 50 mm in diameter, larger than a conventional watch of the period, and showing seconds with a pivoted detent escapement and spiral compensation curb. However, the latter appears to have proved ineffective, which seems to have substantially slowed the rate of production.

Even though he produced a number of pocket timekeepers, from around 1772 – 1778, Arnold was still experimenting with different types of compensation balance and methods of balance spring adjustment. The most difficult problem to surmount was the problem of making an effective and continuously adjustable temperature compensation device. For technical reasons, the temperature compensation for the balance spring had somehow to be incorporated into the balance itself and not act on the balance spring directly as had been done previously.

In 1775, Arnold took out a patent for a new form of compensation balance with bimetallic inserts. These inserts actuated two weighted arms making them move in and out from the centre, changing the radius of gyration and thus the period of oscillation.

In the same patent, he included a new helical balance spring. This shape reduced lateral thrust on the balance pivots as they rotated, and reduced random errors from the “point of attachment” effect, which any balance with a flat spring suffers from. As Arnold stated rather succinctly in a 1782 letter to the Board of Longitude, “…the power in all parts of the spring is uniform”.

The fact that Arnold had recognised the technical advantages of a balance spring of this form clearly demonstrates a high degree of insight. From 1772 to 1775, Arnold also made about thirty five pocket timekeepers. Not many, about ten of these, survive and none in their original form, as Arnold was constantly upgrading their specification. They appear originally to have had a pivoted detent escapement, with a steel balance and a helical balance spring. Surviving chronometers from this series include Numbers 3, 28 and 29.

Further experimentation and invention by Arnold led to a breakthrough in the late 1770s.

Arnold 'double-T' compensation balance

Arnold ‘double-T’ compensation balance, British Museum. London

He redesigned the compensation balance and developed two designs that showed promise. Known as the ‘double T’ and ‘double S’ balances, and marked as such in Arnold’s 1782 patent, both employed bimetallic strips of brass and steel with weights attached, which changed the radius of gyration with change in temperature. Although these probably needed a lot of adjustment, they appear to have worked well compared to his previous attempts at a compensation balance.

Around 1777 Arnold redesigned his chronometer, making it larger in order to accommodate the new ’T’ balance that worked with his pivoted detent escapement and patented helical spring. The first chronometer of this pattern was signed ‘Invenit et Fecit’ and given the fractional number 1 over 36, as it was the first of this new design.


Arnold Nr. 36, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

It is generally known as ‘Arnold 36’ and was, in fact, the first watch that Arnold called a ’chronometer’, a term that subsequently came into general use and still means any highly accurate watch. The Royal Observatory in Greenwich tested ‘Arnold 36’ for thirteen months. The testers placed it in several positions during the trial, and even wore it and carried it around. The watch exceeded all expectations, as it demonstrated great accuracy. The timekeeping error was 2 minutes 32.2 seconds, but the error in the last nine months amounted to just one minute. The greatest error in any 24 hours was only four seconds, or one nautical mile of Longitude at the equator.

Subsequently, Arnold produced a pamphlet that detailed the trial and results, with attestations of veracity from all those concerned with the tests. The astonishing performance of this watch caused controversy, because many thought the result was either a fluke or a ‘fix’ of some kind, particularly as Maskelyne was, effectively, one of Arnold’s patrons.

From a technical point of view, however, the design was entirely sound and highly accurate over long periods. Arnold evidently understood and applied  the lessons that Harrison had learned before him—using a large, quickly oscillating balance (18,000 beats per hour) with small pivots. Arnold’s detent escapement provided minimal interference with the controlling helical balance spring, since the temperature compensation was in the balance itself. Harrison had suggested this as a prerequisite, though he never developed the idea. Arnold’s pivoted detent escapement did not need oil on acting surfaces, with the advantage that the rate of action did not deteriorate, and remained stable for long periods. At the time, only vegetable oil was available, which degraded quickly compared to modern (mineral) lubricants.

This chronometer, 60mm in diameter, is housed in a gold case, and miraculously has survived in perfect and original condition.

Both Harrison and Arnold demonstrated that an accurate watch had to be of large diameter, so by the end of the 18th century, a watch of large size was considered the primary characteristic of a well made and superior watch.

The fact that Arnold had gained great success by modifying the technology of the timekeeper by means of simple yet effective mechanical techniques, also meant that other watchmakers could copy these methods and use them without permission. This is why Arnold took out his patents.

Two other makers also made precision watches using detached escapements: Josiah Emery and John Brockbank. Both were friends of Arnold, and both employed the highly skilled workman and then escapement maker Thomas Earnshaw. Josiah Emery used with Arnold’s permission, an earlier form of his compensation balance and helical balance spring, in conjunction with the detached lever escapement of Thomas Mudge and John Brockbank employed Earnshaw to make his pattern of chronometer but with Brockbank’s design of compensation balance.

Earnshaw chronometer escapement

Earnshaw spring detent escapement

In 1780, while making these chronometers for Brockbank, Earnshaw modified the pivoted detent by mounting the locking piece on a spring thus dispensing with the pivots. Earnshaw stated that Arnold managed to see this new idea and promptly took out the 1782 patent for his own design of spring detent.

Arnold spring detent

Arnold’s spring detent escapement

Therefore, there has been a great deal of debate over who invented the spring detent escapement, Arnold or Earnshaw. This argument, first initiated by Earnshaw has been continued by horological historians such as Rupert Gould to the present. However the argument is irrelevant. In recent years, research has established that Arnold’s success was not due to the form of detent escapement, but to his original methods of adjusting the balance spring for positional errors by manipulating the overcoil terminal curve. For obvious reasons Arnold tried to keep these methods secret, certainly it is recorded that he clearly expressed his concerns about possible plagiarism to Earnshaw, warning him in no uncertain terms not to use his helical balance spring.

Nevertheless, a year later, in 1783, Earnshaw—through another watchmaker, Thomas Wright—took out a patent that included Earnshaw’s pattern of integral compensation balance and spring detent escapement in the multiple specification. However both of these were undeveloped and compared to Arnold’s were of little use, the balance especially having to be redesigned.

The bimetallic compensation balance and the spring detent escapement in the forms designed by Earnshaw have been used essentially universally in marine chronometers since then, and for this reason Earnshaw is also generally regarded as one of the pioneers of chronometer development.

Arnold helical balance spring with terminal curves

Arnold helical balance spring

However, because Arnold’s balance spring patents were in force (each for 14 years) Earnshaw could not use the helical balance spring until the 1775 patent lapsed in 1789, and in the case of the 1782 patent, 1796. Until around 1796, Earnshaw made watches with flat balance springs only, but post 1800 practically every marine chronometer including those by Earnshaw had a helical spring with terminal overcoils.

Arnold was the first to produce marine and pocket chronometers in significant quantities from around 1783, during the next 14 or 15 years he produced hundreds before he had any kind of commercial competition. The facts prove that authors such as Gould and Sobel are quite incorrect in their assertion that there was commercial rivalry between Arnold Sr. and Earnshaw.

His technical advances enabled the quantity production of marine chronometers for use on board ships from around 1782. The basic design of these, with a few modifications unchanged until the late twentieth century. With regard to his legacy one can say that he, Jean – Antoine Lépine and Abraham – Louis Breguet largely invented the modern mechanical watch. Certainly one of Arnold’s most important inventions, the overcoil balance spring is still to be found in most mechanical wrist watches to this day.

Arnold and Breguet:

Louis Philippe Joseph, duc d'OrléansThe French watchmaker Abraham – Louis Breguet  became a great friend of Arnold. In 1792 the Duke of Orleans met Arnold in London and showed him one of Breguet’s clocks, and Arnold was so impressed that he immediately travelled to Paris and sought permission for Breguet to take on his son as his apprentice. Arnold appears to have given Breguet ‘carte blanche’ to incorporate or develop any of Arnold’s inventions and techniques into his own watches (see Breguet No. 165 and No. 178 below).

These included his balance designs, helical springs made of steel or gold, the spring detent escapement, the overcoil balance spring, and even the layout of an Arnold dial design that Breguet incorporated into his own. These were made from engine-turned gold or silver—a pattern that became the classic and distinctive Breguet dial. Arnold’s pattern first appeared in 1783 on the enamel dials Arnold designed for his small chronometers, and the proportions and layout of their figuring is identical to that of the classic ‘Breguet’ type of engine turned metal dials which appeared around 1800, and which were quite unlike anything else made in France or Switzerland at the time.

Arnold also appears to have been the first to think of the concept of the ‘tourbillon’, this must have derived from his known work on the recognition and elimination of positional errors. In the tourbillon system, the balance and escapement is continuously rotated and virtually eliminates errors arising from the balance wheel not being perfectly balanced whilst in vertical positions. Arnold appears to have experimented with this idea but died in 1799 before he could develop it further. It is known that Breguet made a successful and practical tourbillon mechanism around 1795, but nevertheless he acknowledged Arnold by presenting one of his first (certainly not the first) tourbillon in 1808 to Arnold’s son John Roger. It is a tribute to his friend Arnold Sr. and he incorporated his tourbillon mechanism into one of Arnold’s early pocket chronometers, Arnold No.11. An engraved commemorative inscription on this watch reads:

“The first tourbillon timekeeper by Breguet incorporated into one of the first works of Arnold. Breguet’s homage to the revered memory of Arnold, given to his son AD 1808.”


This important and significant watch is now in the British Museum’s collection of clocks and watches. By the time of Arnold’s death in 1799 he was the most famous watch maker in the world together with Abraham – Louis Breguet. Arnold was recognised for his preeminence as the inventor of the precision chronometer.

John_Roger_ArnoldArnold’s son John Roger Arnold (1769 – 1843) served an apprenticeship with both his father and Abraham – Louis Breguet. From 1787 he and his father founded the company Arnold & Son which lasted until 1799. After his father’s death in 1799, John Roger continued the business, taking into partnership John Dent between 1830 and 1840. He became Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1817. After his death in 1843 the company was bought by Charles Frodsham.

John Arnold’s pocket chronometer numbering system:

Arnold’s pocket chronometers can be differentiated into several categories. The largest versions are the ‘best kind’ The numbering starts with No. 75. In 1794, this version changes. The slot for the detent is placed in line with the maintaining power detent arbor as in the ‘second kind’ versions. This new version retains the larger size. The numbering is given with a fraction or without.

The ‘second kind’ watches are smaller and their new numbering is given in fractions which difference is 301. Vaudrey Mercer believes that the difference states the total number of pocket timekeepers made until starting this new series. This kind has a new layout and is the escape wheel is smaller and positioned better. The first watch of this type is numbered 1/302 and was made 1783. These watches have the Arnold spring detent and a balance of the OZ type. When including John Roger into the firm in 1787, the numbering reaches 126/427, the last number recorded is 518/819 made in 1796.

The ‘second best kind’ are big and similar to the best kind but they lack the seconds dial. The fraction numbering differs by 1000, only three watches of this kind are known.

John Arnold & John Roger Arnold, London, No. 249/550, 1793


Arnold 249_2


Arnold 249_4

Gilt brass, full plate fusee movement (43 mm diameter) pierced, engraved and unfortunately repaired cock. Jewelled (diamond) balance and escape. Arnold-type spring detent escapement, detent in a slot, the necked foot typical of the period. Arnold’s bimetallic balance (OZ type) screwed to a plain gold balance. Original 4-turn gold helical spring with Arnold’s terminal curves. Original enamel dial with the chronometer number hand written on the counter enamel, later gold hands. (1)

Arnold oz- Balance

Arnold’s OZ-balance

The gold helical spring has been introduced by Arnold to counteract problems with the steel versions, which oxidised easily at sea because of the damp conditions and were subject to magnetic influence. He also introduced the gold balance in 1791 for the same reasons.

Engraved on the backplate ‘John Arnold & Son, Inv(eni)t et Fecit, No. 249/550’. The numbering reveals the movement belonging to the ‘second kind’ (301 – series) of pocket chronometers, see above.

John Roger Arnold spent two years (1792 – 1793) as apprentice of Abraham – Louis Breguet in Paris. The movement dates from the year when John Roger returned from Paris. The style of his French master can be seen in the shape and finishing of the foot of the dust pipe around the winding square.

Thomas Earnshaw  4.2.1749 – 1.3.1829

(c) Science Museum, London ; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationBorn in Ashton-under-Lyne, later following John Arnold’s earlier work, further simplified the process of marine chronometer production, making them available to the general public. He is also known for his improvements to the transit clock at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in London and his invention of a chronometer escapement and a form of bimetallic compensation balance.

After completing his apprenticeship in 1770 he worked as finisher for several watchmakers in London. Then in 1780, he devised a modification to the detached chronometer escapement, the detent being mounted on a spring instead of pivots. This spring detent escapement was patented by Thomas Wright (for whom he worked) in 1783. Whilst initially the design was crude and unsuccessful, with modifications it later became the standard form in marine chronometers, following the invention of the detent escapement by Pierre Le Roy in 1748. John Arnold also invented a similar escapement in 1782, over which patent attribution Arnold and Earnshaw had great disputes.

William BlighIn July, 1791, Captain William Bligh purchased on behalf of the Admiralty Earnshaw’s chronometer no. 1503 at a price of 40 Guineas for an expedition he was to command in HMS Providence to transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies. This was the second expedition that Bligh had undertaken with this mission. The first expedition was with HMS Bounty which had ended in the infamous mutiny led by Fletcher Christian and from which Bligh returned to England only with the greatest of difficulties. The second expedition, however, was entirely successful.

Around 1796 Earnshaw, who had temporarily lost interest in the Board of Longitude reward, was tempted back by the failure of Josiah Emery to win it. Earnshaw had a low opinion of Emery’s chronometers and claimed that an already existing chronometer of his, no. 265, could outperform Emery’s even though it had just returned from a voyage to the West Indies and had not been cleaned (dirty oil has an adverse effect on the going of a chronometer). Earnshaw was easily proven right in this and his chronometer had a good average rate over a 12 month trial. However, he failed to win any reward because the method of rating required the rate of the piece in the first month being used as the baseline for the trial rather than the absolute timekeeping of the instrument. Ironically, this method had originally been proposed by Earnshaw’s ally Maskelyne.

In June 1801, Matthew Flinders’ ship, HMS Investigator, carried two boxed Timekeepers by Earnshaw E520 and E543, at a cost of 100 Guineas each. Investigator also carried two of Arnold’s timekeepers on the first circumnavigation and mapping of the coastline of Australia. The chronometer, E520, is mounted in a wooden box with gimbals to compensate for the motion of the ship. Flinders went to shore regularly to check the settings of the chronometers against the stars. The Earnshaw chronometer was the only one working at the end of the journey, causing Flinders to refer to it in his book ‘A Voyage to Terra Australis’ as “this excellent timekeeper”. Flinders was taken prisoner-of-war by the French in Mauritius. In 1805 Captain Aken, a fellow prisoner, was released and returned to England. Flinders gave him the chronometers to return to the Greenwich Observatory. By some unknown sequence of events Earnshaw 520 was sold to an Australian collector and in 1937 became the property of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Powerhouse Museum) in Sydney. It was not until 1976 that it was identified as the chronometer of Flinders’ historic journey.

In 1805, Earnshaw and Arnold were granted awards by the Board of Longitude for their improvements to chronometers; Earnshaw received £2500 and John Arnold’s son John Roger Arnold received £1672. Earnshaw’s contribution to chronometer engineering simplified and ‘democatized’ the construction of precise watches. The bimetallic compensation balance and the spring detent escapement in the forms designed by Earnshaw have been used essentially universally in marine chronometers since then, and for this reason Earnshaw is generally regarded as one of the pioneers of chronometer development.

Charles-Darwin-by-John-Co-001Between 1831 and 1836 chronometer no. 506 was carried on HMS Beagle on a voyage to circumnavigate the globe and establish, for the first time, a chain of points around the world of accurately known longitude. The ship was commanded by Captain Robert FitzRoy, a future Vice-Admiral and founder of the Meteorological Office. This was only one of many chronometers carried by the Beagle since great accuracy was required for this task. This was also the voyage that carried Charles Darwin who was afterwards inspired to write his book about the theory of evolution, On the Origin of Species. The chronometer is object 91 in the BBC Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 Objects.

Peter Torckler / Thomas Earnshaw, London, No. 406, 1775

Earnshaw Finisher

Gilt brass, cylinder (brass), capped full plate fusee movement (38mm diameter), engraved cock and slide plate. Cylinder escapement retaining original Graham-type banking, 13-tooth brass escape. Steel balance, spiral balance-spring. Original enamel dial, signed WESTON (the manufacturer of the dial) on the counter enamel, brass edge with underside scratched ‘Earnshaw Finisher’. (1)

This might be the earliest movement attributed to and ‘finished’ by Thomas Earnshaw at the beginning of his watchmaker career (he ended his apprenticeship 1770), when he was working as ‘finisher’. A finisher is an accomplished watchmaker who had to perform specific tasks during the manufacture of a watch movement: turn in the train, finish off the barrel, turn and pivot the train wheels, cut the undercuts in the pinion heads and face (polish) them, and leave the movement ready for the escapement maker (2).

Normally it is impossible to know who made what during watch manufacture, very little workshops kept track of this info, one of the most detailed records surviving are those of Abraham – Louis Breguet’s atelier. Normally scratched messages on watch movements concern repair logs and not manufacture.

Lincolns watch_BA historically very important message was found on the first of Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watches (Liverpool movement, american made gold case, now Smithsonian, National Museum of American History, Washington DC), left there by a watchmaker entitled to repair this watch in 1861 (start of the civil war). It was found only recently, in 2009 following the request of one of the watchmakers family members to remove the dial. The inscription reads: Jonathan Dillon, April 13-1861, Fort Sumpter [sic] was attacked by the rebels on the above date J Dillon, April 13-1861 Washington, Thank God we have a government, Jonth Dillon. A later inscription from a watchmaker in 1864 is also present, countersigning a further repair. Abraham Lincoln never new there were these inscriptions.

Peter Torckler

Peter Torckler (also Torkler) is a little documented figure of 18th century London. He appears to most probably have been an émigré craftsman who established a business in London, most presumably to take advantage of the London based export trade to the East which was unrivalled in other parts of Europe. He would have undoubtedly employed the skilled talent available in London of specialists in the production of the myriad of components required to produce elaborate automata and who would also have supplied the other producers of such items. Torckler is listed in the London trade directories for 1780 – 83 as working from 9, Red Lion Street, Clerkenwell, right in the centre of the clock and watch-making district and just three doors from the renowned maker James Upjohn who supplied the elephant chariot clock in the Beijing Palace Museum. Another of Torckler’s automaton clocks, though not of animalistic in form, but incorporating twisted glass rods to simulate waterfall is retained in The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg indicating that the current clock was not a sole foray into this market (see. R. Smith, ‘The Sing-Song Trade’, op.cit., figs 12a-b).

It is thought that the maker of this clock is the same Peter Adolph Torckler who was born in Riga and who arrived with an Edward Torckler (presumably his brother) in Calcutta in 1795. Torckler is recorded as having established himself as a partner in the mercantile firm of Howell and Torckler in Calcutta dealing in goods imported from China perhaps indicating that he had already established some trading links in the Far East. Torckler died in Calcutta in 1824 aged seventy-six and as such could well have been working in London in the 1780s.

That Torckler was working in London during the latter years of the eighteenth century can be further supported by a faint inscription to the reverse of enamelled dials which read ‘Weston’. This mark is almost certainly for William Weston whose workshop was based in Greenhill’s Rents, West Smithfield from 1764.

2013 an automaton surmounted by an articulated Asian elephant signed Peter Torckler has been sold at Sotheby’s for 1.4 Million £.

Palmer, London, No. 314, ca. 1770

Palmer1770Gilt brass, skeletonized verge fusee movement with round pillars (top plate 36.0mm, 5.5mm between plates). Pierced and engraved single footed cock with garnet endstone, silver regulator disc. Finely pierced and engraved open work top plate and mainspring barre cover. Lacking chain.

The first skeletonized watches date from the beginning of the 18th century, but these early versions are very rare. The first manufacturer of skeletonized watches was Jean – Antoine Lépine about 1760, although a few are known which date from the end of the 17th century.

Unknown Manufacturer, London for Dutch market, No. 9001, 1787



Silver cased (British hallmarks for 1787, lacking pendant and bow), gilt brass, verge fusee movement (dial plate 41.6mm, 7.4mm) with baluster pillars. Pierced cock with two large feet (typical Dutch design), silver Tompion regulator dial. Back plate engraved ‘VIVAT WILLEM DEN 5 PRINS VAN ORANGE EN NASSAA’ and numbered ‘No. 9001’. Enamelled copper dial with Arabic numerals.

This watch has been made in England for the Dutch market as propaganda and to underline the British support for Prince William V. There are watches of this type known with enamelled portraits of Prince William V and his spouse Wilhelmina of Prussia on the dial.

Dutch Patriot Revolt    1787:


During this time, the banks of the Dutch Republic held much of the world’s capital. The government sponsored banks owned up to 40% of Great Britain’s national dept. This concentration of wealth (and the connections the government had to the British House of Stuart ) led to the formation of the Dutch Patriots by a minor Dutch noble named Joan van der Capelen tot den Pol. They were seeking to reduce the amount of power held by the Stadtholder, William V, Prince of Orange (08.03.1748 – 09.04.1806). These Patriots eventually became strong enough to challenge government troops. They continued to progress until Frederick William II of Prussia  (whose sister was married to Prince William) decided to intervene militarily. This, together with a small contingent of troops sent by the British, overwhelmed the Patriots and put Prince William firmly in control.


royaume de franceIn 18th century France called ‘Siècle des Lumières’ (Century of lights) the size of the watches decreased after the death of Louis XIV. During the French regency period (1720 – 1730), the beginning of the reign of Louis XV, the rim of the back plate got usually decorated with a wavy line, sometimes made out of silver. The front winding system of the French got more and more suppressed by the introduction of the hind winding system and the use of dust caps (cuvettes). The dials remained of enamelled copper but lost their cartouches and the bumps, making the dials smooth to the touch and much flatter towards the end of the century.

The cock followed the size shrinkage of the watch movements and got characteristic ‘ears’ between the cock plate and the attachment screws around 1720. In later years the regulator-dial and the cock got almost to equal size, the ‘ears’ disappeared.


Left to right: big, big variant, medium, small sized ears of French cocks. Typical also the change in decorative style from elaborate naturalistic scrollwork to more ‘rocaille’ like shapes influenced by the French Rococo style, as seen in the most right picture.

Some French watchmakers criticised the cylinder escapement refined by George Graham, calling it not reliable enough. Indeed, the verge escapement being more robust than the delicate cylinder escapement. Nevertheless, despite criticisms, most French watchmakers later introduced the cylinder escapement. Julien Le Roy and his son Pierre experimented a lot with slight modifications to the cylinder escapement. Later watchmakers such as Jean – Antoine Lépine and Abraham – Louis Breguet introduced the virgule escapement and perfectioned the lever escapement, invented around 1755 by the English watchmaker Thomas Mudge. Around 1760 some French watchmakers such as Ferdinand Berthoud followed the steps of Pierre Le Roy (son of Julien) and their English concurrence in developing high precision watches to compete for the Longitude Prize.

The cases were plain with minimal engraved decoration. Latter changed around 1740, when Julien Le Roy started to make very luxurious watches, which cases were inlaid with precious stones, and mostly made of three colored gold. Later the cases got elaborate enameled scenes, with a preference for romantic topics.

Rosalba_Carriera_Portrait_Antoine_WatteauThese romantic scenes were in fashion after 1720, when the painter Jean – Antoine Watteau (10.10.1684 – 18.7.1721) introduced the genre of the ‘fêtes galantes’ which were inspired by Italian comedy and ballet. Later these scenes were enamelled on the back of gold cases. The best enamel work coming from Geneva. Around 1760, when the fashion of smaller watches got introduced (wrongly referred to as ‘women’s watches’) also very elaborate, female portraits were enamelled on the backs of gold cases. Towards 1770 quilloched geometrical patterns appeared on the cases which were overlaid with colored, tanslucent enamel. The Russian jeweller Karl Fabergé perfected this decorative form and made it his signature feature on jewelry towards the end of the 19th century.

Jean – Antoine Lépine followed this fashion until his optimisations of style and mechanics made the watches even smaller (up to 25mm in diameter) and he also started to use exclusively Arabic numerals on dials already starting from the 1760s. Lépine and later Abraham – Louis Breguet, introduced enormous watches (up to 65mm in diameter) taking up the development of pocket chronometers in England, but which were extremely flat, launching a new fashion. This reduction in thickness was achieved thanks to the refinement of the cylinder escapement, the development of other escapement types and the introduction of the Lépine caliper. Actually many ébauches (raw, unfinished movements), even those for emminent watchmakers such as Lépine or Breguet were made in Switzerland and then sent to France for finishing.

View over the 'Quai de l'Horloge' left of the Place Dauphine and the 'Quai des Orfèvres on its right

Hand colored ‘Merian’ map, 1615. View over the ‘Quai de l’Horloge’ left of the ‘Place Dauphine’ and the ‘Quai des Orfèvres’ on its right. All is situated on the west edge of the ‘Île de la Cité’, an island on the river ‘Seine’ on which also the cathedral of ‘Notre Dame’ is locaded. On the west tip of the island the famous ‘Pont Neuf’ connects both sides of the ‘Seine’ with the ‘Île de la Cité’.

All important French watchmakers such as Berthoud, Lépine and Breguet were situated at the ‘Quai de l’Horloge’, as they could find the gold – and silversmiths manufacturing the watch cases around the corner at the ‘Quai des Orfèvres’ and the enamelers for the dials in between these two locations on the ‘Place Dauphine’ (renamed ‘Place Thionville’ for a short period of time). The name of this place can be found written on the counterenamel of some watch dials from Lépine, Breguet and others at the end of the 18th century. This site was used by watchmakers since the reign of Louis XIV.

Quai de l'horloge def

The ‘Quai de l’Horloge’ today (December 2013). No watchmaker is located there any more, just an antiques dealer, some restaurants, administrative offices and few apartments. On the right one can see the ‘Pont Neuf’.

Place Dauphine today (December 2013)

‘Place Dauphine’ today (December 2013), view towards west. Also here nothing is left of the watch trade, just some shops, small restaurants and a park is left surrounded by administrative buildings and apartment houses.

Augustin Fortin, Paris, ca. 1720



Silver consular cased (50.9mm), gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee movement with silver regulator dial and blued steel regulator hand, quite small ‘big-eared’, two-footed cock with early type jeweling (sapphire) on steel cockerel. The back plate surrounded by a silver wavy inlay typical of the French regency period (1720 – 1730). Featuring square baluster pillars, enameled copper dial with bumps (rare feature, typical of the beginning of the regency period). 

Augustin Fortinmaître horloger in 1726. Fortin was appointed garde-visiteur of the clockmaker’s guild, responsible for the maintenance of standards of the members of the guild. His clients included the Maréchal de Cossé-Brissac, the Comte de Mailly and the Marquise de Crussol.

Ex private collection Bordeaux (F)

Bichon, Moulins, ca. 1730



Silver consular cased (44.7mm), gilt brass, front wound (brass protection), verge fusee movement with silver regulator dial and blued steel regulator hand, quite small ‘big-eared’, silver two-footed cock with early type jeweling (sapphire) on steel cockerel. The back plate surrounded by a silver wavy inlay typical of the French regency period (1720 – 1730). Featuring square baluster pillars, enameled smooth copper dial.

Ex private collection A. Chapiro (F)

Published in: Chapiro A., Taschenuhren aus vier Jahrhunderten, Callwey 1995, P. 102, Fig.: 243

Adolphe Chapiro  1924 – 2012

chapiro 2Born in Moscow, Chapiro was director of research at the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Nationale, French national centre for research). He is author of a book, several chapters and over 300 scientific articles concerning the chemistry of plastic. From 1980 on he was president of the A.N.C.A.H.A (Association Nationale des Collectionneurs et Amateurs d’Horlogerie Ancienne, French National Association of collectors and lovers of antique horology) and has published 40 articles and several books on the history and techniques of antique horology.

He has also written the catalogue of the horological collection of the National Renaissance Museum in Écouen and the catalogue of French watches of the Time Museum collection in Rockford, Illinois.

Besides his extensive research on the subject he has also built an impressive collection of watches and clocks spanning 400 years of history, specialising on French watchmakers.

Jean Imbard, Lyon, ca. 1735


Gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee movement (dial 37,6mm,  8.0mm between plates) with silver regulator dial and steel regulator hand, quite small ‘big-eared’,  two-footed cock with early type jeweling (garnet) on steel cockerel. Featuring square baluster pillars. Enameled copper dial, signed ‘Charmy à Lyon’. Clearly the style influence of the regency period starts to disappear. The rather ‘big ears’ of the cock and the rather big regulator dial are still around, the wavy decoration of the back plate is gone.

Charmy Lyon

Astronomical clock, St. Jean cathedral, Lyon, France

Pierre Charmy must have repaired the movement or just replaced the dial soon after its manufacture. Charmy was also involved in the complete reconstruction of the astronomical clock in the St. Jean cathedral in Lyon in 1782. The clock had been made in 1596 by Nicolas Lippius, a mathematician from Basel (Switzerland). It was common at that time that watchmakers who repaired or retailed the watches put their own name on the dial. In England it was also common to put the owners name on the dial, sometimes replacing the numerals. This custom was adopted starting from 1690 until the end of the 19th century.

Charles Le Roy, Paris, No. 1465, ca. 1740


Gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee movement (top plate 37,3mm,  6.2mm between plates) with silver regulator dial and blued steel regulator hand, quite small ‘mid-sized eared’,  two-footed cock with early type jeweling (garnet) on steel cockerel. Featuring small square baluster pillars. Lacking motion work, dial and hands, not working. Dial plate scratched ‘Belleteste le 23.7.1778’, a repair log.

Charles Le Roy is not directly related to the famous Julien Le Roy. Another Charles Le Roy (Basile – Charles Le Roy) will manufacture watches in the late 18th century.

Ex private collection A. Chapiro (F)

Julien Le Roy    1686 – 1759

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJulien Le Roy was a major 18th-century Parisian clock- and watchmaker. He was born in Tours in 1686, and by the age of 13, had already made his first clock. In 1699, he moved to Paris for further training. He became maitre horloger in 1713 and later juré of his guild. Further appointments followed, including the Directorship of the Société des Arts, but the pinnacle of his achievement was being appointed clockmaker (Horloger Ordinaire du Roi) to King Louis XV in 1739. 1732 he invented the ‘Répétition à Toc’, where the hammer of the repeater movement strikes on the watch case. 1740 he rearranges the repeater mechanism. Latter improvement exhibited as engraving on the ridge of the typically thick dial plates: ‘Inventé par Julien LeRoy 1740’. Le Roy also used the chain driven repeating mechanism ‘all or nothing’, which invention is attributed to him by some experts. Le Roy also introduced the adjustable bracket for the verge escapement wheel called ‘potence’ in French watches around 1730. He carried on his business from premises in the Rue du Harlay until his death in 1759. Of the about 5000 watches made in Julien Le Roy’s workshop between 1729 and 1779, only 1-2% have survived.

Pierre_Le_RoyHis son Pierre Le Roy (1717 – 1785), a brilliant clock – and watch maker in his own right, carried on his father’s business until the early 1780s. He experimented a lot with the cylinder escapement. Some watches with experimental and unique escapements exist. In 1748, he invented a pivoted detent type of escapement, or detached escapement, which makes him the inventor of the detent escapement. He was also a gifted chronometer maker and a rival of Ferdinand Berthoud. Due to special circumstances he lost the affiliation ‘Horloger du Roi et de la Marine’ to Berthoud. Le Roy kept a big resentment against Berthoud, who recognised the genius of Pierre le Roy after his death in 1785. Pierre le Roy signed his watches with ‘Julien Le Roy’ to honor his father. Some cocks even bear his fathers initials ‘JLR’. The numbering system allows to attribute the watches with the signatures ‘Julien Le Roy’ to each of the makers: Julien Le Roy numbered his watches from 1 to about 3500 (1759), whereas all watches bearing the signature ‘Julien Le Roy’ and being numbered 3500 to 5000 are of Pierre Le Roy’s manufacture who continued his fathers numbering. Some rare watches made by Pierre have an inverted fusee, an invention made around 1760 by Pierre’s brother Jean – Baptiste Le Roy. This invention allowed for a more even distribution of forces to the fusee chain.

Julien’s brother also named Pierre Le Roy (born 1647) was also a watchmaker working independently but collaborating with Julien, with whom he had a very good relationship. He introduced a new type of dead beat escapement, a modified version of Debaufres’ escapement and made other contributions to horology. He signed his work with ‘P(ie)re Le Roy’ enabling to distinguish his watches from Pierre Le Roy, Julien’s son.

Julien Le Roy, Paris, No. 303, 1727




Gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee movement (39.62mm diameter). Silver regulator dial and blued steel regulator hand, quite big sized two-footed cock with big steel cockerel. Featuring square baluster pillars. Backplate signed ‘J(ulie))n Le Roy A Paris’ and numbered ‘303’. Enamelled copper dial  ‘I(ulie)N LE ROY A PARIS ‘. Copper winding hole and movement latch protection.


Left: sink hole for oil retention invented by Julien Le Roy in the 1720ies; Right: comparison between verge movement without adjustment bracket for crown wheel (top), and with adjustment for crown wheel (bottom).

This is one of the oldest, numbered piece known by Julien Le Roy. This movement shows already the ‘sink holes’ to retain oil at the tip of the wheel axes invented by Julien le Roy in the 1720ies, but this movement predates the invention by Julien Le Roy of the adjustment bracket for the crown wheel  introduced by him in 1730 and which was adopted by all French watchmakers by 1735. This important invention suddenly allowed to adjust the play between crown wheel and escapement without the need of dismantling the whole movement. This adjustment bracket is not found in English pieces.

The dating of this movement is made by comparison with the production numbers collected and listed by Brusa, Allix, Sabrier and Chapiro.

Julien Le Roy, Paris, No. 2102, ca. 1744


Gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee movement (dial 38.6mm,  6.6mm between plates) with silver regulator dial and blued steel regulator hand, quite small ‘small eared’, two-footed cock with steel cockerel. Featuring very small square baluster pillars. Enameled copper dial with the signature: ‘Julien Le Roy’.

Julien Le Roy, Paris, No. 2818, ca. 1750


Gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee quarter repeating with two hammers ‘à toc’ movement (dial plate 41.0mm,  6.4mm between plates) with silver regulator dial and blued steel regulator hand, quite small ‘small eared’,  two-footed cock with steel cockerel. Featuring very small round baluster pillars. Enameled copper dial with the signature: ‘Julien Le Roy’. Dial plate rim engraved with scrolls and leaves: ‘Inventé par Jul le Roy en 1740’.

Pierre Le Roy (fils), Paris, No. 3788, 1760


Gilt brass, verge fusee movement with inverted fusee in later silver consular case. Three armed balance with steel balance spring, small gilt brass cock bearing Julien Le Roy`s initials `JLR` intricately fitted between the scroll work of the cock, back plate signed ‘Julien Le Roy’ honouring Pierre’s father and numbered ‘3788’ back plate signed ‘Julien Le Roy’ honouring Pierre’s father. The production number dating the movement after Julien Le Roy’s death as described above. Small baluster pillars. Later unsigned enamelled copper dial.

This movement has been built not long after Julien Le Roy`s death, estimated roughly at production number 3500. It represents one of the first known movements made by Pierre Le Roy (fils) commemorating his father and using the inverted fusee.

The inverted fusee used by Pierre Le Roy (fils):

Fusee renversee, LeRoy

Adapted from: G. Brusa, C. Allix, The Fusée Renversée, Antiquarian Horology, June 1968, P: 410, Fig.: 5. Left the ‘normal’ alignment, right the alignment with inverted fusee.

The inverted fusee (tip of the fusee towards the dial) is a special feature of a few rare examples of Pierre Le Roy’s work, distributing the force on the chain more evenly than in the normally used configuration with the fusee tip towards the back plate. The construction of such an inverted fusee is more complex and delicate, so as towards 1770 movements got completely of different construction after the introduction of the Lépine-movement type, no one adopted this amelioration.

Pierre Le Roy (fils), Paris, No. 3840, 1761


Gilt brass, verge fusee movement. Three armed balance with steel balance spring, rare small gilt brass cock bearing Julien Le Roy`s initials `JLR` intricately fitted between the scroll work of the cock, back plate signed ‘Julien Le Roy’ honouring Pierre’s father and numbered ‘3840’. The production number dating the movement just about after Julien Le Roy’s death as described above. Small square baluster pillars. Lacking verge escapement counter pivot (will not be restored to keep it as published, see below).

This movement has been built not long after Julien Le Roy`s death, estimated roughly at production number 3500. It represents one of the first movements made by Pierre Le Roy (fils) commemorating his father.

There can clearly be discerned the engraved initials ‘C . B’ on the top plate, which might be the ones of the finisher of this movement. The initials could belong to Charles Buzot, who was maker of ‘springs and pendules’. His son Jean-Charles Buzot was apprentice to Ferdinand Berthoud starting the 7 of February 1754 for 8 years.

Ex private collection A. Chapiro (F)

Published in: Chapiro A., Taschenuhren aus vier Jahrhunderten, Callwey, Munich, 1995, P: 112, Fig.: 268

Pierre Le Roy (fils), Paris, No. 4389, 1765


Gilt brass, verge fusee movement with inverted fusee. Three armed balance with steel balance spring, small gilt brass cock, back plate signed ‘Julien Le Roy’ honoring Pierre’s father and numbered ‘4389’. The production number dating the movement definitively after Julien Le Roy’s death as described above. Small square baluster pillars. Enameled copper dial signed ‘Julien Le Roy’.

Jean Romilly, Paris, No. 2108, ca. 1760


Gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee movement (dial 33.4mm, 4.1mm between plates) with silver regulator dial and copper regulator hand (replacement), quite small ‘small eared’, two-footed cock with steel cockerel. Brass balance and blued steel balance spring. Back plate engraved ‘Romilly A PARIS’ and numbered ‘No. 2108’. Featuring very small round pillars. Enameled copper dial signed ‘Romilly A PARIS’. Lacking hands.

Jean Romilly (1714 – 1796) was born in Geneva from French parents. He became master in 1752 in Paris and worked at the Quai Pelletier. Between 1772 and 1781 he was located at the Place Dauphine where most of the well reputed French watchmakers worked. He was very inventive and was asked, together with Julien, his son Pierre Le Roy and Ferdinand Berthoud to contribute to the big encyclopaedia of Diderot and d’Alembert. His inventions include: A ‘marine timekeeper’, amelioration of the double virgule escapement of Caron, 8 day watches, one one-year running watch (later improved by Ferdinand Berthoud), watches with equation of time (later improved by Ferdinand Berthoud), watches with ‘seconde morte’ (jumping second), one built in 1754. Latter watch has a cylinder escapement with 30 teeth. Most known watches from Roomily are as the one shown here of simple manufacture and with verge escapement and in decorated gold cases. Romilly justified the production of such ‘simple’ watches in one article in Diderot’s encyclopaedia:

“Watches are instruments for timekeeping, but they’re also used as ornament. I have put watch movements in rings, snuff boxes, bracelets. (…) I have build a repeating watch of only 6.8mm thickness. (…) Workmen building watches like this must have special skills. (…) It is sure that if a watchmaker can built very small movements, he will build even better normal sized movements”.

Jean Arthur, Paris, ca. 1760


Gilt brass, front wound, cylinder fusee movement (dial 34.1mm, 3.8mm between plates) with silver regulator dial and blued steel regulator hand, quite small ‘small eared’, two-footed cock with steel cockerel. Featuring very small round pillars. Enameled copper dial with no signature.

Jean Arthur, ‘maitre horloger’ in 1757. Not much is known about this watchmaker, just a few watches made by him are known to exist. He also made skeletonized watches as early as Jean-Antoine Lépine. It is thought that he new Ferdinand Berthoud.

Ex private collection A. Chapiro (F)

Published in: Chapiro A., Taschenuhren aus vier Jahrhunderten, Callwey 1995, P. 160-162, Fig.: 338A

Ferdinand Berthoud    18.03.1727 – 20.06.1807

Ferdinad BerthoudFerdinand Berthoud was born in Plancemont, canton of Neuchâtel, Switzerland to Judith and Jean Berthoud, a carpenter and architect. He showed an early interest in horology and in march 1741 he started a four year apprenticeship to his older brother Jean – Jacques. With an exemplary recommendation by his brother he traveled to Paris in 1745 to perfection his skills. He took advantage from the network his brother had in Paris and starting from 1753 he already had a remarkable reputation. He built a long case clock with equation of time which granted him the support of the Royal Academy of Sciences, in the name of King Louis XV. The 4th of November 1753 he became maître (master), a rare honour for a non French citizen. He subsequently opened a workshop at the Rue du Harlay (the same street as the workshop of Julien Le Roy). The 20th of November 1754 he submitted a project to the Royal Academy of Sciences showing a ‘marine timekeeper’, the first recorded mentioning of efforts towards resolving the Longitude Problem by Berthoud, but the machine itself has never been recorded. Along with Julien Le Roy, his son Pierre, and Jean Romilly, Berthoud was asked to contribute to the encyclopaedia of Diderot and d’Alembert in 1755. His first book on horology was published on 1759 (see section about historical books and ephemera). At some point Berthoud wanted to patent his new invention of temperature compensation for the balance spring, only to find out that the system had already been invented by John Jefferys, who together with John Harrison was about to develop the most accurate watch to date.

berthoud marine chronometer

Berthoud’s No.1 Marine Chronometer, 1761, Musée du Conservatoire des arts et des métiers, Paris

In early 1761 he presented his ‘Horloge de Marine No. 1’ which finally didn’t work very well. In a letter written by Berthoud to Pierre Jaques-Droz in 1763 Berthoud expresses his admiration for Henry Sully and Julien Le Roy, which shows in the use and further development of their principles. The same year he was nominated by the King to examine Harrison’s H4. His trip to London in May 1763 was in vain, as Harrison refused to show H4 to Berthoud. But upon his return to Paris Berthoud was elected foreign member to the British Royal Academy of Sciences from the 16th of February 1764 on, which increased his international reputation in the field of precision horology. Daniel Bernoulli a very well respected Swiss mathematician and physicist and already member of the reputed society, was in favour of Berthoud’s election. At the beginning of 1766 he returned to London to finally get to see H4. Harrison expected a prime of 4000£ for the disclosure of the secrets of H4, but Berthoud arrived with only 500£. Not discouraged by Harrison’s repeated refusals, Berthoud dined with Thomas Mudge. Mudge, member of the disclosure panel of the board of Longitude, told Berthoud all he knew about H4, thinking to act in the interest of the board that the knowledge should be disseminated. He might have acted in the interest of the board, but against the interests of Harrison! Berthoud seemed satisfied with his trip, but still had no insights into H4. Fortunately for Harrison, Berthoud was not able to make good use of what Mudge had told him. But Ferdinand Berthoud had seen the tools used by British specialists to built Marine timekeepers which he tried to get for himself through sponsoring by the King.

Berthoud’s most important rival was Pierre Le Roy (fils) who used a different approach to obtain a working marine chronometer. Two of Berthoud’s marine timekeepers, Nr. 6 and Nr. 8 and one made by Pierre Le Roy were submitted to testing in two phases from December 1768 until 1772. Berthoud’s Nr. 8 performed perfectly, even if Le Roy’s system would have been more reliable, but unfortunate circumstances gave Berthoud advantages which lead him to receive the affiliation ‘Horloger Méchanicien du Roi et de la Marine’, the 1st of April 1770 for his work. Le Roy couldn’t match Berthoud’s extrovert energy, lobbying and marketing, even though he criticised Berthoud publicly. Le Roy withdraw from the competition completely. Berthoud produced 75 marine chronometers in 35 years. Pierre Le Roy’s ground breaking work on marine chronometers was long forgotten, until the interest and research in the history of watchmaking during the late 19th century redeemed his reputation.


Marine chronometer, Pierre Le Roy, Paris, 1766

Berthoud Marine clock No.8

Ferdinand Berthoud, ‘Treatise on Marine Clocks’, Paris, 1773: Detached escapement, compensation mechanism of the Marine Clock no. 8

Towards the end of the 18th century Berthoud’s efforts were overtaken by John Arnold and Thomas Earnshaw in London and by his brilliant nephew (Pierre) Louis Berthoud (1754 – 1813), who became his apprentice in 1769, at the age of 15. In 1770 Ferdinand decided not to work on simple watches for private clients any longer, concentrating solely on marine chronometers. All the questions in current research regarding watchmaking precision were studied by Berthoud: escapements, whether of the cylinder, detent or lever type; the problem of friction; the isochronism of the sprung balance; thermal compensation; the indication of true and mean time. His research was often conducted for the benefit of both marine clocks and their civil counterparts. His manufacture built somehow cheaper and simple watches to finance his research on marine chronometers. In 1775 he passed the supervision of his workshop to his nephew Henry Berthoud (Louis’ brother). The leadership of Henry proved disastrous and at his death by suicide the 29th of June 1783 he left a dept of 60’000 livres.

Ferdinand’s nephew Louis Berthoud was leading the workshop after the death of Henry from 1784 on. The size of the workshop was reduced and the work outsourced to other workshops, Ferdinand but mostly Louis Berthoud only being responsible for the finishing of the movements. However, Louis was allowed to sign his work only from about 1787 on. He retained a life long resentment against Ferdinand for not giving him enough credit for his important contributions. Louis was named ‘Horloger de la marine Impériale’ in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte preferring him to Abraham – Louis Breguet of whom he was disappointed as the perpetual repeating watch (No. 216) bought from him for his ‘Egypt campaign’ in 1798 didn’t resist the sand and broke down. Moreover, rumours state that a Breguet jumping hour model made Napoleon miss an important meeting. It is transmitted that Napoleon then smashed the watch to pieces.

Ferdinand Berthoud signed his more important pieces, on which he mostly worked himself, with his full name, the less important pieces made or later finished in his workshop (after 1770), which he didn’t work on, were signed ‘Fd. Berthoud’. Watches signed only ‘Berthoud à Paris’ are mostly contemporary (Swiss made) fakes, more so, if they are not numbered. However, some original clocks survive which are signed ‘Berthoud à Paris’. Ferdinand Berthoud remained a quite modest and assuming watchmaker until the end of his life. Napoleon Bonaparte made Ferdinand Berthoud Knight of the ‘Légion d’honneur’ in 1802. He died in his small house in Grossly near Montmorency (north of Paris) at the age of 80 in 1807.

Ferdinand Berthoud’s legacy in the ‘Musée du Conservatoire des arts et métiers’, Paris:

Berthouds atelier

The workshop of Ferdinand Berthoud was sponsored by the King Louis XVI in 1782. Berthoud was allowed to follow his research on marine timekeepers and to use the facilities and what he produced, but the workshop and its content remained property of the King. Upon the masters death in 1807, the whole content of his workshop was transferred to the ‘Musée du Conservatoire des arts et métiers’ in Paris, founded 1794, where it still can be admired. Most of Berthoud’s marine chronometers, as well as his tools and his workbench, are permanently exposed at the museum.

Ferdinand Berthoud, Paris, No. 649, 1768

Ferdinand Berthoud_649_rest


Ferdinand Berthoud_649_3

Ferdinand Berthoud_649_2

Ferdinand Berthoud_649_4

Ferdinand Berthoud_649_5

Gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee, quarter repeating movement with two hammers ‘à toc’ (dial plate 40.0mm) with silver regulator dial and blued steel regulator hand. Featuring very small round baluster pillars. Back plate engraved ‘Ferdinand Berthoud A PARIS’ and numbered ‘No. 649’. Dial plate rim engraved with geometric figures and signed ‘Ferdinand Berthoud′. Enamelled copper dial with Arabic numerals, ’Fleur de Lys’ and line indexes and with the full signature ‘Ferdinand Berthoud’. Counter-enamel signed ‘Coteau’. Lacking chain.

This movement was made just at the beginning of the critical period of the trials of Berthoud’s marine chronometers Nr. 6 and Nr. 8. The dating of this movement is made with help of No. 417, an experimental piece belonging to the British Museum, signed on the dial plate ‘Ferdinand Berthoud inv. et fecit. 1763’. The dating using hallmarks on the cases can be problematic, as sometimes earlier or later cases are matched (married) to movements. Also, as a normal procedure in the workshops, movements were fitted into cases years after their manufacture and were sold at this later date.


Silver astronomical pocket chronometer no. 3, Ferdinand Berthoud (made by Jean Martin), Paris, 1806 – L.U.CEUM collection

This repeating movement above is of best quality and in the style of Julien Le Roy. Also the signature on the rim of the dial plate is a Julien Le Roy workshop custom, as well as the repeating mechanism underneath the dial and the way to attach the dial with one screw. Other features are adopted from Jean – Antoine Lépine, such as the Arabic numerals on the dial. As Lépine, also Berthoud was very critic of new escapement types, preferring the very reliable verge to others. Later movements of the same type show brass cylinder escapements and centre seconds, indicating that he changed his mind tending towards the style of British precision timekeepers. Ferdinand Berthoud built very few pocket chronometers, mostly with the help of his apprentice Jean Martin, but paved the path for his nephew Louis Berthoud, who was a very prolific pocket – and marine chronometer manufacturer. Very few original pieces from the workshop of Ferdinand Berthoud survive. Even rarer are pieces bearing the full signature, they are mostly found in public collections.

Joseph Coteau  1740 – 1812

Joseph Coteau

Directoire period Skeleton Mantel Clock, Paris, 1796. Marble, ormolu and enamel. The enamels are signed several times ‘Coteau invt et Ft’. David Roche Foundation, South Australia

Possibly the most famous enameler of his day, who supplied dials for the greatest clockmakers of France, such as Robert Robin, Ferdinand Berthoud and later Dieudonné Kinable. Born in Geneva, but soon he worked also in France as painter on enamel and porcelain. He became maître-peintre-émailleur at the Académie de Saint-Luc in Geneva in 1766. By 1772 he was installed in Rue Poupée, Paris. In 1778 he was received as ‘maître’. Beyond his enamel dials, Coteau was a skilled miniaturist, discovering a new method for gilt-decorated enamels. A Sèvres document states that he and Parpette (who also worked at the factory) introduced jewelled enamelling (a technique that involved enamelled gold-leaf foils) to both soft and hard paste porcelain. Coteau also experimented with various polychromes, producing a blue, that was so rare and difficult to perfect that few of his contemporaries managed to copy. He described his invented procedure: “d’appliquer solidement l’or marié avec les émaux de toutes couleurs sur la porcelaine”. Coteau worked closely with the Sèvres factory in developing their ‘jewelled’ porcelain, and his name first appears in the kiln records at Sèvres in 1780. He was appointed Peintre-émailleur du roi et de la Manufacture Royale de Sèvres in 1780. By 1784 his production was considerable and though he was in great command he fell out with Sèvres over payments and thus his contract was terminatedCoteau appears not to have enamelled watches or watch dials (this watch dial being the only one made by Coteau known to us) or small scale pieces but tended to specialise in larger works which were technically more complex due to shrinkage during firing.


Napoleon Bonaparte as Emperor set a high standard for the men in his all-new society. He had a grand vision for France evidenced by his promotion of talented artists and craftsmen. Coteau was among the much appreciated high skilled artisans by which Napoleon Bonaparte liked to get his personal objects decorated. Subsequently Coteau worked for Elisa Bonaparte (3.1.1777 – 7.8.1820), who was a younger sister of Napoleon Bonaparte and as Princess of Lucca and Piombino, then Grand Duchess of Tuscany, she became his only sister to possess political power.

Ferdinand Berthoud, Paris, No. 2078, 1770





Gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee movement (35.4mm diameter). Silver regulator dial and steel regulator hand, medium sized two-footed cock with steel cockerel. Featuring round pillars. Backplate signed ‘Berthoud A Paris’. Enamelled copper dial with silver buttons inlaid with small diamonds (except for two) between the hours, signed ‘Berthoud A PARIS’. Counter enamel numbered ‘2078’.

One of the very few surviving simple watches attributable to Ferdinand Berthoud’s workshop. The quality of the manufacture is excellent and even surpasses the quality of almost identical contemporary pieces by Jean – Antoine Lépine. Would it not be for the number on the counter enamel of the dial, it could have been identified as a contemporary forgery, as the signature is neither ‘Fd. Berthoud’ nor ‘Ferdinand Berthoud’. But the quality and the numbering together provide enough proof for a positive attribution. The workshop was run by Henry Berthoud at the time this movement has been made. Many external workshops provided pieces and manpower for the production of these pieces, but for sure Ferdinand Berthoud didn’t work personally on these ‘simple’ watches any longer at that time.

The ledger of Berthoud’s workshop is kept at the ‘Conservatoire national des arts et des métiers’ in Paris.

Daniel – Henry & Jonas Berthoud (Berthoud frères), Paris, No. 2336, 1789

Frères Berthoud

Gilt brass, full plate, front wound, verge fusee movement of somehow mediocre quality. Lacking balance, dial plate, dial and motion work. Back plate engraved ‘Fr. Berthoud à Paris No. 2336′.

This movement belongs to the qualitatively less impressive pieces made after 1780. It is not distinguishable from other contemporary verge movements. The quality of the manufacture is rather pleasing, but the finishing is very disappointing. It was made in the workshop founded in 1786 by two far cousins of Ferdinand Berthoud. This workshop also made watches for the workshop of Ferdinand Berthoud, but as they were finished there, they were signed ‘Fd. Berthoud’. Two sons of Louis Berthoud, Charles-Auguste and Louis Simon Henri Berthoud, succeeded the family business and also signed their work ‘Fr. Berthoud’, but this movement is earlier.

Louis Berthoud, Paris, No. 2520, 1793

Louis Berthoud No. 2520_1

Louis Berthoud No.2520_2

Gilt brass, full plate, steel cylinder movement (47.5mm diameter). Brass three arm balance with blued steel balance spring. Balance held by a single bridge with steel cockerel holding a sapphire end stone. Fusee with Harrison’s maintaining power. Long steel regulator hand, regulator index engraved onto the backplate. Backplate engraved ‘Louis Berthoud A PARIS, No. 2520’. The movement has been modified at manufacture from a hinged system to an unhinged system for casing. Enamelled copper dial with Roman numerals and seconds subdial at 6 o’clock. Dial signed ‘L(oui)s BERTHOUD’ at 12. Blued steel hour hand of early, flat ‘Breguet’ style. Lacking Minute and second hand.

A rare survivor of Louis Berthoud’s simple watch movements. He was mostly responsible for the manufacture of pocket and and later of marine chronometers. Interestingly this watch has one of George Harrison’s most widely adopted innovations for pocket watches in England: Harrison’s maintaining power. This is the only French watch known to us which includes this feature.

The dating is confirmed by watch No. 2521, a quarter repeating, pocket chronometer. Latter piece was sold to Monsieur Blanchard de Pigon the 20.3.1793 for the sum of 70 Louis d’Or – one of the earliest French watches to be fitted with pierced jewels (sold at Christie’s, 15.6.2011, Lot. 153).

Ex private collection Jean – Claude Sabrier (F)

Jean – Claude Sabrier    1938 – 29.11.2014

JC_SabrierPassionate about horology, immensely hard-working, ever helpful to colleagues and friends, imbued with a sense of the absurd, and generally always in high good humour, Jean-Claude Sabrier was a committed student – collector, retailer and historian – of clocks and watches in all their variety.

Scion of a family of jewellers, Sabrier soon abandoned this narrow field, establishing himself as a general antiques dealer in Normandy where he continued to reside for the rest of his life. At the same time he laid the foundations of the extensive knowledge of horology that would lead him to become one of the leading consultants for the subject in Europe. In 1980 he joined forces with Hervé Chayette in Paris to launch regular auctions exclusively devoted to horology. Such had never previously been attempted in France but, modelled on those conducted in London by Sotheby’s and Christie’s, they were held on a sustained basis twice or thrice a year from 1980 until 1988. Then, after being solicited by Sotheby’s Europe, Sabrier was seduced into joining the Genevan based firm of Antiquorum. There he remained until 2000.

The final years of his professional life were spent with the Swatch Group as advisor on the development of their patrimonial collections, in particular those of the private Breguet museum.

In parallel with such commercial activity, Jean – Claude Sabrier always continued historical research, based on both texts and objects. In addition he actively aided the staff of the several museums that he frequented, and collaborated in the mounting of some important exhibitions, in particular those devoted to Ferdinand Berthoud in Paris, Besançon and La Chaux-de-Fonds (1984), and the Le Roy family at Tours (1987).

It was however precision horology that came increasingly to dominate Sabrier’s attention, and it was in this field that he produced an enduring monument of detailed research in his study of Louis Berthoud and Henri Motel (1993), a work honoured by the Académie de la Marine. In 1997 he was awarded the Gaia Prize for the generality of his works, but several more were to follow, in particular the study devoted to Jacques – Frédéric Houriet (2006), and collaboration in the exhibition of Breguet watches mounted at the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (2004).

Sabrier_souscripition_ Le figaro

Souscription watches; Breguet and other manufacturers. Picture: figaro.fr

Sabrier has left an extensive private horological library and manuscripts mainly of French watchmakers and chronometry. His watch collection of mainly French makers focused on chronometry and included also an impressive collection of self winding watches and maybe the biggest collection of original and rare contemporary ‘copies’ of Breguet’s ‘souscription’ watches. In parallel he collected general scientific literature and objects focusing on the longitude problem and astronomy. His collection included also objects of vanity of different materials, its centre piece being a French ‘memento mori’ watch from the mid 1600.

Text and picture taken and modified after: Chayette & Cheval, catalogue sale 148: Original text credit: Anthony Turner, CNRS expert

André – Charles Caron, Paris, No. 408, 1765


Gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee movement (35mm diameter). Silver regulator dial and steel regulator hand, medium sized two-footed cock with steel cockerel. Featuring round pillars. Backplate signed ‘Caron A PARIS’ and numbered ‘No. 408’. Lacking motion work, dial and hands.

André – Charles Caron (26. 04. 1698 – 23. 10.1775) was the master of Jean – Antoine Lépine. Not much is known about his personal life and very few pieces from his production have survived. Caron was associated with Lépine from 1756 and 1769 during which the pieces were supposedly signed ‘Caron et Lépine’, but none with this combined signature have survived. 1756 Lépine married Caron’s daughter Madeleine – François Caron. 1766 Lépine succeeded to Caron. André – Charles Caron was the father of the famous Pierre – Augustin Caron (later de Beaumarchais).

Pierre – Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais     24. 01. 1732 – 18. 05. 1799


At various times in his life, he was a watchmaker, inventor, playwright, musician, diplomat, spy, publisher, horticulturist, arms dealer, satirist, financier, and revolutionary (both French and American).

It is transmitted that in In 1753, he invented the double virgule escapement and that Jean – André Lepaute then royal clockmaker in France had stolen the idea from him. Is known that Jean Romilly has already presented a virgule escapement in 1750 and later perfected the double virgule version. The double virgule system shows an additional row of pins showing downwards and activated by a second ‘virgule’ or comma shaped piece protruding from the balance staff. With a strategically perfect written letter, Beaumarchais managed to counter Lepaute’s statement, which made the court of Paris vote to his favour. This decision projected Beaumarchais into the focus of the wealthy at the court of King Louis XV. It is not surprising though that with his writing capabilities, Beaumarchais managed to build his own horological legend.

In 1755 Beaumarchais met Madeleine-Catherine Aubertin, a widow, and married her the following year. She helped Beaumarchais secure a royal office, and he gave up watchmaking. Shortly after his marriage, he adopted the name ‘Pierre – Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’, which he derived from ‘le Bois Marchais’, the name of a piece of land belonging to his new wife. He believed the name sounded grander and more aristocratic and adopted at the same time an elaborate coat of arms. His wife died less than a year later, which plunged him into financial problems, and he ran up large debts.

An early French supporter of American independence, Beaumarchais lobbied the French government on behalf of the American rebels during the American War of Independence. Beaumarchais oversaw covert aid from the French and Spanish governments to supply arms and financial assistance to the rebels in the years before France’s formal entry into the war in 1778. He later struggled to recover money he had personally invested in the scheme. Beaumarchais was also a participant in the early stages of the French Revolution. He is probably best known, however, for his theatrical works, especially the three Figaro plays.

Due to the complexity of manufacture and the not much increased precision of the double virgule system, it got only rarely adopted. The watchmaker who used it most, was Jean – Antoine Lépine, who was the brother-in-law of Beaumarchais. Also few other watchmakers have used this type of escapement. Only five movements by Lépine bearing this escapement have survived.

Jean – Antoine Lépine    18.11.1720 – 31.05.1814

Jean-Antoine_LépineBorn in Chalex as son of a watchmaker he was first apprentice of Decroze, watchmaker in Sacconnex-en-Genevois, near Geneva. From there he moved to Paris in 1744, serving as apprentice to André – Charles Caron (1698–1775), at that time clockmaker to Louis XV. In 1756 he married Caron’s daughter Madelaine – François Caron and associated with André – Charles Caron, under ‘Caron et Lépine’, between 1756 and 1769 at the ‘Rue Saint-Denis’. The 12. 03. 1762 he was made Master and appointed Horloger du Roi (Clockmaker to the King) Louis XV in 1766, the same year he succeeded Caron. 1772 he’s recorded at the ‘Place Dauphine’ and between 1778 and 1779 he’s known to have been at the ‘Quai de l’Horloge du Palais’. In 1781, 1783 and 1787 he works at the ‘Rue des Fossés St. Germain l’Auxerrois, du coté du Louvre’ and 1789/90 he’s at the ‘Place des Victoires No. 12’.

In 1782, Pauline, his daughter married Claude – Pierre Raquet who was Lépine’s apprentice until he became master the 21. 04. 1785. 1792 Lépine was associated with Raquet and retires between 1793 and 1794 with 73 years. The workshop is then still named ‘Lépine’ was succeeded by descendants of Raquet until it was sold 1815.

He was also associated with the philosopher Voltaire, at his watch manufactory set up in 1770 at Ferney. It is not known the exact role he played in the Ferney manufactory but it is certain that he gave commissions to the workshops there until 1792. An unsigned memoir of 1784 reports that Lépine stayed in Ferney for 18 months and that he had watch movements made there with a value of 90,000 livres a year.

Around 1770, he devised a means of manufacturing a pocket watch that could be thinner, favouring the onward quest for further miniaturization (‘hanging barrel Lépine caliber’). His radical design broke with a 300-year tradition and ushered in the age of precision timekeeping, the modern pocket watch was born.

In addition to paving the way for the making of even thinner watches, this innovation was readily adaptable as the basic model for mass-producing watch-movements, a process that was to begin in the 19th century. Up to the 1840s, watches were all hand-finished, so that parts were not interchangeable.

The calibre was quickly adopted throughout France and today its basic design is what characterizes all mechanical watches. It is important to note that the term ‘Lépine’ can refer to both the calibre itself or a type of pocket watch with a flat, open-faced case in which the second wheel is placed in the axis of the winder shaft, in opposition to the savonete (or Hunter) watch where the second wheel and winder shaft are placed on perpendicular axes. This design has been known within the watch industry as the Lépine style ever since.

Lépine’s work profoundly influenced all subsequent watchmaking, particularly Abraham – Louis Breguet who used a modified version of the ‘calibre à ponts’ for his ultra slim watches. Indeed, except from the very start of his career Breguet almost always used Lépine calibres and then modified them.

Needless to say that as a clock and watchmaker to Louis XV, Louis XVI and Napoleon Bonaparte, Lépine’s creations were well respected and in demand.

Following watches are representatives of the evolution of Lépine’s developments.

Jean – Antoine Lépine, Paris, ca. 1764

Lepine pre1766_1

Lepine pre1766_2

Lepine pre1766_3

Gold consular case (39.0mm), containing a gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee movement. The case lid is surrounded by a silver rim containing diamonds, the rest of the case is engraved with geometrical figures. Diamond catch button. Silver regulator dial and steel regulator hand, quite small two-footed cock with steel cockerel. Featuring round pillars, enamelled copper dial with inserted silver, flower shaped inlays containing small diamonds between the Roman numerals. The dial is signed ‘Lépine à Paris’. Silvered brass hands with diamonds, the hour hand shaped like a ‘Fleur de Lys’.

Jean – Antoine Lépine, Paris, ca. 1766


Lépine 1766_2

Gold consular case (33.0mm), containing a gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee movement. The case lid is surrounded by a silver rim containing diamonds, the rest is engraved with geometrical figures. Diamond catch button. The back of the case is decorated with multicolour gold (white, yellow, rose) leaves around an enamelled bezel with portrait of a lady. The bezel is surrounded by a silver rim and surmounted by a silver bow tie shaped knot, all inserted with small diamonds. The type of colour scheme used for the enamelling is called ‘grisaille’ because of the monochrome aspect usually using shades of grey (here with purple background). Silver regulator dial and blued steel regulator hand, quite small two-footed cock with steel cockerel. Round pillars, enameled copper dial with Roman and Arabic numerals. The dial is signed ‘L’Epine h(orlo)ger du Roy à Paris’. Silvered brass hour hand with rubies, shaped like a ‘Fleur de Lys’, minute hand with diamonds.

Lépine was awarded the title ‘Horloger du Roy’ in 1766, from then on he signed almost all his work like this. He used several different abbreviations for this title as well as the full version.

Jean – Antoine Lépine, Paris, 1766


Gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee (dial plate 38.0mm) with silver regulator dial and lacking regulator hand. Featuring very small round baluster pillars. Back plate engraved ‘L’Epine hor(loger) du Roy A PARIS’ and unnumbered.  Enamelled copper dial with Roman and Arabic numerals, and signed ‘L’Epine Hor(loger) du Roy A PARIS’. Winding hole protected by a steel cylinder.

An example of the many differently written signatures on backplates and dials by Lépine, especially after he got watchmaker to Louis XV. The abbreviations are mostly the same, but the calligraphy and the use of capital letters in the writing of the words and his name can differ.

Jean – Antoine Lépine, Paris, No. 1103, 1766





Gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee, quarter repeating movement with repeating work of Lépine patent with two steel hammers ‘à toc’ (dial plate 39.0mm) with silver regulator dial and blued steel regulator hand. Featuring very small round baluster pillars. Back plate engraved ‘Lépine Hor(loger) du Roy A PARIS’ and numbered ‘No. 1103’. Dial plate rim unengraved. Enamelled copper dial with Roman and Arabic numerals, and signed ‘Lépine invent et fecit’. Counter-enamel signed ‘Palet’. Gold hour and minute hands of typical Louis XV style.


Modified after: Moinet.L, Nouveau traité général d’horlogerie, 2e edition, Paris 1853, pp.201 – 219, 349 – 360

This is the earliest known movement featuring the repeating work invented by Lépine towards 1763. There is a report about it published in ‘L’Academie Royale des Sciences’ in 1766. It was supposed to replace the system with chain and pulley. This new system requires less pieces for the repeating work but it has not been adopted right away, due to its complex manufacture. Many pieces equipped with it have survived, all others known to us and to literature have been used with the new Lépine calibre and Lépine used it for all repeating movements from 1784, in parallel with the augmentation in diameter of the watches. The shapes of the different pieces of the system evolved with time, then starting from the 19th century all watchmakers adopted this version. Louis Moinet published the definitive setup in 1853. Literature puts the change of signature from ‘Lépine à Paris’ to ‘Lépine Horloger du Roy à Paris’ to production number 1100 which is dated 1766. This information permits to date this movement quite precisely. Moreover this movement is the earliest known with the addition ‘Horloger du Roy’ to Lépine’s signature.

Ex private collection Jean – Claude Sabrier (F)

Development of the ‘Lépine caliber’, the bridged watch movement, 1762 – 1792:

Lépine develop

While perfecting parts of the watch movements, especially concerning cylinder and virgule escapements and searching for the ultimate aesthetics in dial and hands design, Lépine made the most radical step in the history of horology sequentially abandoning the full plate movement towards a better serviceable version, where the wheels, balance and the escapement would be fixed to the top plate for one pivot and with a system of bridges on the other side. The fusee was omitted (again) which this time did not influence precision as not necessary with cylinder or virgule escapements, and thus the movements got much thinner. To further enhance the regularity he used a tapered main spring, thinner on the outer part. The development of the bridged movement took place in several steps, which overlap. However, Lépine never stopped to use the full plate verge system throughout.

The advantage of the new caliber is obvious: each wheel can be serviced and adjusted without the need of disassembling the whole movement and the new arrangement allowed the watches to be thinner.

Other continental watchmakers developed the bridged movement further, the ultimately aesthetics in arrangement of the bridges being perfected by Abraham – Louis Breguet. After Breguet the development followed the spirit of simplifying and automatising manufacture leading to the bridged Lépine movement derivates still found today in all modern mechanical watches. This development being made throughout the 19th century.

First transitional calibre, 1762 – 1764

Lépine1This version was developed with the goal of creating the smallest and slimmest movement possible. The most important feature of this calibre is the barrel showing through the back plate. Many movements of this later type have an English type steel or brass cylinder escapement, which saves a lot of space as compared to the verge escapement. These movements are still wound from the dial side and are still hinged to a consular case. Only very few of these movements survive and all were used by Lépine or Paris watchmakers linked to Lépine’s workshop.

Jean – Antoine Lépine for Daniel Vaucher, Paris, ca. 1762



Gilt brass cylinder movement (dial 24.5, 6mm deep, not including center arbor). Pillar-less going-barrel movement with enclosed wheel train, visible by a removable section engraved with the regulation scale (1). Cylinder (dead beat) escapement with brass escape (1). Steel balance, spiral balance-spring. First transitional type of movement before the development of the ‘hanging barrel Lépine caliber’. Two colour enameled copper dial, unsigned. Lépine was the first to use Arabic numerals for the hours, later slightly modified these will get the ‘Chiffres Breguet’ (‘Breguet numerals’).

Second transitional calibre, 1767 – 1770

Lépine2Only five watches with this calibre are known. They have either a double virgule, a virgule or a mixed escapement. One of these watches has a pump winding mechanism through the stem, the others are wound from the dial side. The feature of this caliber is the big opening in the back plate for the balance axis, leaving a clear view of the escapement. Because of this big opening the balance can be placed very low, the balance spring being on the level of the back plate. The balance cock has changed its shape, being an arc fixed by two screws.

Jean – Antoine Lépine, Paris, No. 1251, 1767




Gold cased, back wound, gilt brass, full plate double virgule movement of the second transitional type, on the way to the development of the bridged calibre Lépine movement. Very low placed brass balance, steel balance spring at level of the plate. T-shaped bridge holding balance staff equipped with steel cockerel. Big steel regulator hand, regulator index engraved on back plate. Plate signed ‘Lépine hor(lo)ger du Roy A Paris’ and numbered ‘1251’. Movement is not fixed by a hinge but by three steel retaining screws. Later enamelled copper dial, signed ‘L’Epine Horloger du Roy’, later ‘Breguet-hands’. Unsigned gilt brass cuvette.

This is one of only about 5 surviving watches signed by Lépine, featuring the double virgule escapement as invented by Pierre – Augustin de Beaumarchais.

Third transitional calibre, 1770 – 1771

Lépine3aLépine3bOnly two representatives of this calibre are known. One has a cylinder escapement (IIIa), the other features a virgule escapement (IIIb). These movements are fitted into the case from the back, they are not hinged any longer. The winding is made from the back, and the setting of the hands as well. Latter being an invention of Lépine and getting standard in later versions. This caliber has a cuvette (dust cap, not hinged as in later versions) with the instructions for winding and hand setting directions. The barrel pierces the back plate, which had been reintroduced, holding the escapement and the other train wheels. The balance and the barrel are attached by a bridge. IIIb variant has a bridge holding the main spring barrel with one screw only.

Jean – Antoine Lépine for Carl Erick Orbin, No. 371, Stockholm, 1770, 1785






Gold consular cased, gilt brass full plate cylinder movement of unique transitional Lépine caliber (between second and third type), going barrel held by arched and engraved cock, engraved balance cock of French style. Brass cylinder escape wheel. Back plate engraved ‘Carl Er(ick) Orbin Stockholm No. 371’. Regulator index engraved on backplate. Balance cock engraved with Orbin’s initials ‘C E O’, un-jewelled steel cockerel. Lever at edge of the dial (4 position) operates the stopwork lever witch acts as balance brake and can be used to stop the movement. Centre seconds work underneath the dial with seconds hand between hour and minute hand. Enamelled copper dial with the name of the owner (name – dial) as hour markings ‘Johan Romberg’. Dial signed ‘Orbin’. Original gold hands of English style.

The developments of Lépine spread and were sold quite fast over all of Europe and probably because of the connection of Jean – Antoine Lépine with André Hessen, an expatriated Swede living and working in Paris (see below), it reached also the Scandinavian peninsula.

This movement incorporates several new developments, such as a unique transitional calibre by Lépine, with going barrel, pierced back plate and his new system of barrel brake at the level of the back plate. Also it retains the cylinder escapement and his new concentric type of balance spring regulator hand with wide circular steel corpus. Taken together, all technical features lead to an attribution of this movement as being between the second and third transitional type, also including some features of the first transitional calibre. New developments are never obtained in a linear progression, this movement shows the search for the optimal compromise and the trial – and error type of research. The balance brake activated by a lever makes this watch a scientific tool which may be synchronised with a reference precision clock for precise timekeeping. Such watches were used as observation watches in an astronomical context.

The balance brake activated by a lever at the border of the dial is often misinterpreted as allowing the movement to be a form of primitive chronograph. This system was only used to stop the movement in order to synchronise it with precision clock for most precise timekeeping. (1)

Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Moritz von Romberg  1724 – 1792

Son of Konrad Stephan Baron of Romberg (1691 – 1755), head of the Knights of the county of Mark and Mechtel Matia Christine von Botlenberg (1700 – 1771). Johann Romberg made a steep career in the Prussian army getting General Major and chief of the Infantry Regiment ‘Schottenstein’ Nr.16 in Königsberg (Prussia) the 22 of May 1785.

KönigsbergWappenKönigsberg, once part of Prussia has been since renamed Kaliningrad in 1946 and is now the capital of a Russian exclave named ‘Oblast Kaliningrad’ between Poland and Lithuania. The city has a direct maritime connection to the bay of Danzig and thus to the eastern see. Königsberg (Kaliningrad) is only about 600km away from Stockholm and readily reachable by boat. It is understandable that Romberg commissioned the watch in Stockholm, as no other main watchmaking centres existed around the region of Königsberg.

Fourth transitional calibre, 1771

Lépine4This calibre has almost all features of the definitive bridged version. The movement retains the top plate, all wheels, the escapement and the balance being held by bridges. The cuvette is articulated and spring activated upon depression of a small button on the rim of the movement. The only difference between this transitional version and the definitive version is the bridge holding the main spring barrel, the definitive versions having a freely ‘hanging’ barrel.

Jean – Antoine Lépine, Paris, 1771

Lépine transitional 4

Taken from and modified after: Musée du temps, Besançon; Inventary #: 1998.125.13

Gilt brass, back wound, cylinder movement (53mm diameter), multi cocked fourth transitional calibre before introducing the classical Lépine bridged caliber. Polished steel balance, brass cylinder. One bridge for the 3rd and 4th wheel, as well as one bridge for the spring barrel. Lacking motion work and dial, unsigned. Hands are set from the back as in the definitive version.

Definitive version; Classical Lépine bridged calibre, 1772 – 1792

LépinedefDifferent escapements are used, but one can note that in earlier movements the virgule escapements prevails, whereas in movements after 1785 with a production number over 5000, the cylinder escapement is more present. The movement is as flat as it gets. Following features are seen in these movements:

  • No back plate, all wheels including balance held by bridges
  • Hanging main spring barrel, held by a strong circular steel clip
  • Caliber fixed on a ring with a hinge for the spring activated cuvette. Latter inscribed with instructions, signature and production number.
  • Hand setting and winding is performed from the back

barrel brakesThere are some features permitting to discern earlier from later versions of the Lépine caliber. One feature is the shape of the spring retaining the main spring axis (from left to right):  the oldest and rarest version (a) is horseshoe shaped ad rather large, used before 1775. The second version (b) is of feather shape, used between 1775 and 1780. The last and most common type (c) is small and of circular shape, used from 1780. The last version can come with different shapes of indentations. Later versions are made of two wheels of different shapes with triangular or multiple triangular edges.

The other possibility of dating Lépine calibers is looking at the ‘Retard’ (slow, R) and ‘Avance’ (fast, A) indications on the balance bridge: On movements before 1780, the abbreviations are on the edge of the balance spring bridge table. The earliest versions (1772 – 1775) have the A,R engraved upside down, readable when seen from the balance spring side, later (1775 – 1780) the orientation is inverted. After 1780 the abbreviations are engraved onto the balance bridge foot.

Jean – Antoine Lépine, Paris, ca. 1774

Lepine 1770_2_adjGilt brass, back wound, movement with virgule escapement (28.7mm diameter), hanging barrel Lépine caliber. The movement lacks the typical two plate construction and represents the second type of the hanging barrel ‘Lépine caliber’, the spring barrel featuring an early ‘curved feather’ spring. The ‘A,R’ on the balance bridge table, readable from the balance side, as in the earliest versions before 1775. Enamelled copper dial signed ‘Lépine Invenit et Fecit’. The movement also includes a new type of hidden case spring and is prepared to accept a ‘cuvette’ (dust cap).

The movement is cased in a often called ‘Chamberlain display case’. This type of display case was used by Major Paul Chamberlain (USA), hence the name. His friend and watch collector Henry Wing, made them. They were used by many US collectors between the first and second world war. (1)

Jean – Antoine Lépine, No. 2076, Paris, 1775 









Silver cased (later) gilt brass, back wound, unique experimental movement with virgule escapement (overall diameter  40.8mm). Two plate construction using the same layout as Louis Berthoud (see above) with fusee and chain. The ‘A,R’ on the balance bridge table, readable from the balance bridge foot side, as in the intermediate versions between 1775 and 1780. Balance bridge pierced as per Lépine style. Enameled copper dial signed ‘Lépine Invenit et Fecit’ and features the earliest known and unique version of combined Arabic and Roman numerals. In addition the hours markers are subdivided into 6 instead of 5, making the hour having 72 minutes instead of 60. Original brass Lépine hands. Counter enamel hand signed ‘J. F. Cave de Harley’, where Lépine usually had many of his dials made. New type of hidden case spring and has a ‘cuvette’ (dust cap) with the usual engraved instructions and ‘L’Epine H(orl)ger du Roy’ and is numbered ‘No. 2076’.

This movement shows many unique, experimental features such as the ‘Lépine hands’, later better known as ‘Breguet hands’ (Breguet made slight modifications, see below), as well as the earliest use of a round minute hand pinion instead of a squared one. Latter feature might be emphasizing the use of the back winding and especially the fact, that the hands can be adjusted from the back as well, making the square shape of the minute hand pinion obsolete. The dial shows the first attempt of Lépine to mix Arabic and Roman numbers to attain a mostly symmetrical aspect. The unique dial showing the hour subdivided into 72 minutes might have been a specific order. Apart of having implications in astronomy and astrology, the only known use of such a subdivision is to find within the Jewish calendar. Further research is needed for us to understand the details of such a unique subdivision.

Lépine hands:

Lepine hands

Watch hands as designed by Lépine. The box on the right is correctly marked as containing Lépine hands. Original picture credit: ‘Saturne’; forum.horlogerie-suisse.com

The hand style erroneously attributed to Breguet, which shows a very thin tip protruding from a circular skeletonized disc was developed by Lépine porbably as early as 1775 maybe from ‘pear’ like precursors (see watch below, Kinable No. 626). The original Lépine hands were thin, had a long tip and most importantly the skeletonisation of the disc is concentric. Abraham – Louis Breguet will modify this style by making the tip more triangular, shorter and by placing the hole excentrically in the disc more in direction of the tip, leaving a ‘crescent moon’ like aspect. This style of hands is now known as ‘Breguet hands’ as they were marketed as such since Breguet introduced them. They still are extensively used by the Breguet firm until present.

Jean – Antoine Lépine, Paris, ca. 1780


Gilt brass, back wound, movement with steel cylinder escapement (46mm diameter), hanging barrel Lépine caliber (1). The movement lacks the typical two plate construction and represents the third type of the hanging barrel ‘Lépine caliber’, the spring barrel featuring a ‘circular’ spring. The ‘A,R’ on the balance bridge table, readable from the balance bridge foot side, as in the intermediate versions between 1775 and 1780. Later English enamelled copper dial. The movement also includes a new type of hidden case spring and has a ‘cuvette’ (dust cap) with the usual engraved instructions and ‘Lépine Invenit et Fecit’.

Later English enamelled copper dial. The movement also includes a new type of hidden case spring and has a ‘cuvette’ (dust cap) with the usual engraved instructions and ‘Lépine Invenit et Fecit’.

Jean Antoine Lépine, Paris, No. 5490, 1788

lepine-1788_adj_all_1lepine-1788_adj_allGilt brass, back wound Lépine movement, quarter repeating à toc, with virgule escapement and hanging barrel. The movement lacks the typical two plate construction and represents the final step towards the development of the hanging barrel Lépine movements. The spring barrel features a later circular feather spring. Gold, engine turned, consular case with enameling and ‘pearl like’ inserts. Gilt brass cuvette engraved with three ‘fleur de lys’, instructions for setting the time and for winding the watch, signed ‘Lepine H(orlo)ger du Roy’, numbered 5490, and an ‘M’, which meaning is unknown. Rare and very fine, open work, gold ‘Fleur de Lys’ and ‘arrow tip’ hands only used between 1782 and 1788. ‘Enameled copper dial signed Lépine Invenit et Fecit. The ‘A,R’ readable on the balance bridge foot, as in the latest versions after 1780. The dial shows an interesting mix of Arabic and Roman numerals, typical of some watches made between 1788 and 1790, bearing the production numbers 5400 to 5700.

Lepine_mix-numbers_2The first set of watches showing these numerals have an Arabic ’11’, later models (see picture on the left) show a Roman ‘XI’. This strange way to show the numerals is explained by the strong search for symmetry and aesthetics by Lépine, culminating in these ‘oversophisticated’ creations.

Watch Listed in: Chapiro A., Jean – Antoine Lépine horloger (1720 – 1814), Les Editions de l’Amateur, Paris, 1988

Dial: Ex private collection Jean – Claude Sabrier (F)

Dieudonné Kinable, Paris, No. 626, 1792


Gilt brass, back wound Lépine movement, with steel cylinder escapement featuring hanging barrel. The movement lacks the typical two plate construction and represents the final step towards the development of the hanging barrel ‘Lépine caliber’. The spring barrel features a later ’circular feather’ spring. The ‘A,R’ readable on the balance bridge table, readable from the balance bridge foot side as in the intermediate versions between 1775 and 1780 (early movement, later cased and sold). Silver, plane, consular case. Gilt brass cuvette engraved with instructions for setting the time and for winding the watch, signed ‘Kinable au Palais Royal’, numbered 626. Rare and very fine, open work, blued steel ‘pear tip’ hands only used by few watchmakers in Paris other than Lépine and Breguet. Enameled copper dial signed ‘D. D. Kinable Palais Royal N. 131’.

Dieudonné Kinable was a watchmaker born in Liège (Belgium) and went to Paris around 1787. He specialized in lyre-shaped clocks which body is made of ‘porcelain de Sèvre’, ordering 21 pieces from the porcelain manufacture between 1795 and 1806. Judging from the similarities, it is most likely that Kinable ordered the raw movements from the same source as Breguet or that he had the watches refined and fitted by Breguet or Lépine. Kinable’s name also is mentioned in Breguet’s Repair Log. Later he signed his works just with ‘Kinable’.

Ex private collection A. Chapiro (F)

Published in:

Chapiro A., Jean – Antoine Lépine, 1720 – 1814, an “unknown” maker, Antiquarian Horology, September 1975, P: 448, Fig.: 5

Chapiro A., Jean – Antoine Lépine horloger (1720 – 1814), Les Editions de l’Amateur, Paris, 1988, P: 67, 68, 142

Chapiro A., Taschenuhren aus vier Jahrhunderten, Callwey, Munich, 1995, P: 170 -172

Jean – Antoine Lépine & Voltaire, Ferney, No. 6, ca. 1770

Manuf_RoyaleGilt brass back plate (23.3mm) with small double footed cock and steel and brass cockerel. Featuring a silver regulator dial. Signed ‘Manuf(actu)re Royale de Ferney’. This movement was one of the first ones made in the ‘Royal facilities in Ferney’ and is numbered No.6.

The few surviving examples are signed ‘Manufacture Royale de Ferney’, but strange enough no reliable records of the founding of this manufacture can be found (see below).

Voltaire    21.11.1694 – 30.05.1778


François – Marie Arouet, known by his ‘nom de plume’ Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, his attacks on the established Catholic Church, and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and separation of church and state. Voltaire was a versatile writer, producing works in almost every literary form, including plays, poems, novels, essays, and historical and scientific works. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets (Candide 1759 and many others). He was an outspoken advocate, despite strict censorship laws with harsh penalties for those who broke them. As a satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize intolerance, religious dogma, and the French institutions of his day.

Manufacture Royale de Ferney:

Chateau de FerneyVoltaire was fleeing Paris and its intrigues and moving to Ferney near Geneva where he bought a Chateau. Ferney had 40 inhabitants in 1740. With the aim of sustaining his new hometown he founded a factory for silk stockings there in 1768, which was not very successful. Voltaire took advantage of the political instability  in Geneva, which made many watchmakers leave and welcomed them in Ferney, where he allowed them to settle and lent them money. The watch workshops flourished and the ‘Royal watch manufacture’ was born. However, there never was a royal patron-ship and there is no written proof of the founding of this manufacture.

In 1773 there were 600 craftsmen, 1776 already 1200. The production was manyfold: from simple movements to repeaters, also engraved and enamelled (genevan style) cases.

Voltaire was personally involved in the distribution of the production in Ferney, taking advantage of his many contacts. Like this, he convinced Lépine (then already ‘horloger du Roi’) to open a workshop there which ran until 1792, years after Voltaire’s death in 1778.

Jean – Antoine Lépine, No. 237, Ferney, ca. 1780






Gilt brass, back wound, movement with virgule escapement (45.4mm, diameter). Hanging barrel Lépine caliber with center seconds (second type with pierced bridge for second and third wheel). The movement lacks the typical two plate construction and represents the third type of the hanging barrel ‘Lépine caliber’, the spring barrel featuring a ‘circular’ spring. The ‘A,R’ on the balance bridge table, readable from the balance bridge foot side, as in the intermediate versions between 1775 and 1780. Enameled copper dial signed ‘L’Epine’, minutes subdivided in 5th. New type of hidden case spring and has a ‘cuvette’ (dust cap) with the usual engraved instructions and ‘Lépine No. 237’.

The decoration on the bridges and the main spring barrel are typical of the Geneva region, where the Ferney facility is situated. Moreover the dust cap is neither signed as ‘Horloger du Roy’ nor ‘Invent et fecit’ and the main manufacturing site ‘Paris’ is omitted as well. Latter observations as well as the unusually low production number speak for a production in Ferney.

The center seconds ‘complication’ got momentum after the horological break through of John Harrison’s precision watch. The fashion for precision watches swapped over to France some time later, towards 1775. These center seconds watches were not used as chronographs, but were used as (pseudo) – scientific observation watches by (hobby) – astronomers.

Antoine François, Paris, No. 852, 1775


Gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee movement. One footed cock with balance spring regulator in the style of the Lépine calibers. Back plate signed ‘Antoine François a Paris’ and numbered ‘No. 852’. Featuring small round pillars. Enameled copper dial signed ‘François’ in red. Arabic numerals for hours and minutes, red dots for the hours. Lacking hands.

A classic ‘look alike’ watch movement. For the customer the movement resembled the newly introduced Lépine caliber, but it retains the two plates and very reliable verge escapement.

Antoine François, master watchmaker in 1766. There is not much information about him and not much watches of his survived, but he is known because of his close collaboration with Lépine. His watch No. 171 has a double virgule escapement and a case made by Xavier Gide, future collaborator of Abraham – Louis Breguet.

André Hessen, unknown birthdate – 1805

He was born in Sweden, settled in Paris and became in 1775 watchmaker to ‘S.A.R Monsieur’, meaning to ‘Son Altesse Royale Monsieur’ which translates to ‘His Royal Highness Mister’ and refers to the brother of Louis XVI, King of France: Charles Philippe Comte d’Artois. Hessen was a close collaborator of Lépine and although convinced of the importance of the verge system, he later made watches with experimental escapements as well as watches with highly decorated enamelled cases. 1785 he published in London and Paris his thoughts about a new method for constructing watches (a discussion about the Lépine caliber). As mentioned above, he was a critic of new types of escapement, as Berthoud, used exclusively the verge escapement until 1785, still he must have recognised the advantages of this new types of escapements and later used the virgule escapement a lot. In 1790 Hessen returned to Stockholm.

André Hessen, Paris, No. 334, 1775

Andre Hessen 1

Andre Hessen 2

Gilt brass, front wound, verge fusee movement (35.1mm diameter) with silver regulator dial, lacking regulator hand, quite small ‘small eared’, two-footed cock with steel cockerel. The cock decorated with the initials ‘C P’, for ‘Charles Philippe’ (see below). Back plate signed ‘A(nd)ré Hessen A PARIS’ and numbered ‘N. 334’. Featuring very small round pillars. Enameled copper dial signed ‘A(nd)ré Hessén h'(orlo)ger de S.A.R Monsieur’. Arabic numerals for hours and minutes. Gold hour hand, lacking minute hand.

The cock bears the initials of Charles Philippe, indicating that this movement was made for him, most probably intended as a gift to someone in his service.

Charles Philippe Compte d’Artois, King Charles X    9.10.1757 – 6.11.1836

Comte_d'Artois,_later_Charles_X_of_France,_by_Henri_Pierre_DanlouxHe was known for most of his life as the Count of Artois before he reigned as King of France and of Navarre (as Charles X) from 16 September 1824 until 2 August 1830. An uncle of the uncrowned King Louis XVII, and younger brother to reigning Kings Louis XVI and Louis XVIII, he supported the latter in exile and eventually succeeded him. His rule of almost six years ended in the July Revolution of 1830, which resulted in his abdication and the election of Louis Philippe, Duke d’Orléans, as King. Exiled once again, Charles X died in Gorizia, then part of the Austrian Empire. He was the last of the French rulers from the senior branch of the House of Bourbon descended from King Henry IV.

The Hessen-movement, ca.1780:

The development of the bridged calibre by Lépine coincided with the new fashion of larger and thinner watches slowly spreading over the channel from England in about 1780. In England, larger watches were already in fashion since the publication of George Harrison’s H4. A large watch (ideally with central seconds) represented the new fashion statement and made owners appear to be connected with the important new scientific discoveries in astronomy and geography. The movements equipped with verge escapements, which were still largely used for their toughness, could hardly compete with these new technical and aesthetic developments.

Still, André Hessen defended the advantages of the verge escapement, being used for over 200 years, being robust and easy to service and declared the new escapements, mostly adapted from England, as ‘fashion statement’ without technical merit. His solution to stay competitive, was to adapt the verge movement aesthetically and to some regard also functionally to Lépine’s new and revolutionary advances. The method Hessen found, was to enclose the wheel train, as Lépine did in his first transitional caliber, having fusee and main barrel showing through the main plate and reducing the back plate to a crescent shaped ‘bridge’ which holds the fusee and main barrel. On the dial side an additional bridge is added to hold the escape -and 3rd wheels. All these changes guarantee for a very slim construction and an easier maintenance of the movement, because single components can be removed without disassembling the whole piece. This Hessen-verge-caliber was thought to be a serious competitor of the Lépine movement.

New evidence shows that between 1781 and 1783 the workshops of Lépine (Rue des Fossés St. Germain l’Auxerrois, now Rue de la Monnaie) and André Hessen’s workshop (Rue Mercier, now part of the Rue de Viarmes) were only a few 100m apart. Moreover also Breguet’s workshop (Quai de l’Horloge) was within walking distance (under 700m) to both other workshops at that time, which explains the use of identical calibers in all three workshops and confirms that the three watchmakers must have known each other.

So it’s not surprising that a few Paris watchmakers and watch retailers, Abraham – Louis Breguet among them, used this updated version of verge movement. Hessen must have tried to promote them, by offering them for a cheaper price as the Lépine movements. Still, these early Hessen-verge-calibers were rarely used and very rarely survive.

When later (after 1785) Hessen recognised the advantages of the new escapements, he modified his enclosed movement to receive the virgule escapement. He also dropped the two-footed cock for the more elegant one footed Lépine-style cock, while retaining the Louis XVI-style decoration on it. Latter virgule escapement version of the Hessen-movement was more largely used. On the long run even the updated Hessen-virgule-caliber could not compete with the even slimmer, more practical and more precise bridged movements by Lépine.

One last version of the Hessen movement is a partial ‘reconciliation’ with the Lépine system by retaining the virgule escapement, modernising the decoration on the cock, making it completely in style of Lépine and some of these versions have a hanging barrel, as Lépine designed them. These last versions described as Lépine-Hessen-movements were used between 1787 and 1790.


Breguet No.135, sold 1792: G. Daniels, The Art of Breguet, Sotheby Parke Bernet Pubns, 1981, Page 150, Pic. 90a,b

Also Breguet, among other Parisian watchmakers used this caliber, as can be seen in No. 135, sold in 1792. Please note, that latter watch is clearly not made in the Breguet workshops and is a ‘retail piece’, most probably bought directly from Hessen, as can be deduced from the lacking signature on the original dial. Moreover the whole design of the case with the application of pearls and translucent enamelling on the guilloched metal surface, does not correspond to the usual design of the Breguet output of that time. The sale of this watch is mentioned in the ledgers, otherwise one could think of a contemporary forgery.

André Hessen for Daniel Vaucher, Paris, ca. 1775

Lepine_Vauchez_first I_T_a_1

Lepine_Vauchez_first I_T_a_3

Lepine_Vauchez_first I_T_a_2

Gilt brass, front wound, Hessen-verge movement (dial plate 47.3mm, 11.4 depth including center arbor), very small,  two-footed cock with steel cockerel. This movement represents the earliest version of the adaptation of Lépine’s new principles to verge movements by André Hessen. The barrel and the fusee showing through the ‘back plate’ and are held by a crescent shaped plate. The wheel train is completely enclosed. The movement is signed ‘Vaucher à Paris’. Enameled copper dial with the signature: ‘L’Epine à Paris’.

Daniel Vaucher, from an important watchmaker dynasty in Fleurier (Switzerland) moved later to Paris and changed his name to ‘Vauchez’. He was a known retailer of some of Lépine’s best watches. He signed his watches (most made in Lépines workshop, like the one above) with ‘Vaucher à Paris’, ‘Vauchez à Paris’ or later ‘Vauchez en la Cité’.

The fact that Vaucher was retailer of watches made by Lépine might explain the presence of Lépine’s signature on the dial, as for contract reasons the finishing of the movement might have been done in the Lépine workshop instead of being made in Hessen’s workshop.

Please note that also Vaucher’s retail shop was situated within a few 100m of the workshops of Hessen, Lépine and Breguet.

Breguet 242 _B

Breguet No. 242, From: H. Chayette, J.-C. Sabrier, A. Turner, Breguet chez Chayette, Rogers Turner Books 2010, P: 72, Fig.: 6

As mentioned above, also Breguet used this earliest verge version of the Hessen-movement. The use of such a movement is compatible with the experimental mind of Breguet, always searching for new systems to adopt, modify and improve upon.

An early movement and a watch from Abraham – Louis Breguet’s workshop (No. 242, 2nd series) survived, which have the exact same construction as the movement above. Latter has an enamelled copper dial (restored) and the production number dates it  towards 1792/3, but the movement was built around 1780. Breguet must have bought it (pre-made) directly from Hessen and retailed it under his own name. Another possibility is, that this movement entered the stock of Xavier Gide, partner of Breguet until 1791.

The ledger from the Breguet workshop states that this watch had been lost the 23rd of October 1810. Obviously it reappeared and was sold at auction at Chayette the 24th of November 1980, lot 131.

André Hessen for J. Cardinaux, Paris, No. 743, 1780


Gilt brass, front wound, Hessen-verge movement in later silver gilt case (vermeil, total diameter 58mm). The case having bezels with deep engraving of scrolls and foliage. Very small, two-footed cock showing the watchmakers initials ‘J C’, and with steel cockerel. The blued steel screws are marked with dots as usual in best quality pieces. This movement represents an intermediate version of the adaptation of Lépine’s new principles to verge movements by André Hessen. The barrel and the fusee showing through the ‘back plate’ and are held by a plate of 3/4 disc shape. This cover is screwed to the ‘back plate’. The wheel train is completely enclosed. The movement is signed ‘Cardinaux à Paris’ and is numbered ’N. 743’. Enamelled copper dial with Arabic numerals and signed ‘Cardinaux’. Mismatched ‘Breguet’ hands, the hour hand of early flat type, the minute hand of later curved type.

André Hessen for Alexandre Patry & Louis – François – Guillaume Chaudoir, Geneva, 1785




Silver, consular cased, gilt brass, front wound, Hessen-virgule, semi-full plate movement (53.8mm diameter). Unique cock retaining the pierced design of earlier versions, but being one footed. The foot is curved as in the ‘hanging barrel Lépine caliber’. The wheel train is completely enclosed. Balance spring tension regulator arm piercing through the ‘back plate’ as later used by Abraham – Louis Breguet. The movement is signed ‘Al(exan)dre Patry & Chaudoir’. Unsigned, enamelled copper dial.

The starburst design on the spring barrel cover is typical of the later pieces made by André Hessen, whereas the wavy decoration on the edges of the spring barrel cover and the cock foot is typical of Geneva work. Please note the new use of the single-footed, Lépine-style cock retaining the Louis XVI style decoration.

This movement represents the most advanced version of the adaptation of Lépine’s new principles by André Hessen and uses a lever escapement. This new variant with enhanced escapement was now used by much more watchmakers, as the more ‘primitive’ verge version shown above. Watchmakers in Paris used it, but it was most popular in Geneva, most probably because the rough movements were made in Geneva or Ferney. Watchmakers using this type of movements include: ‘Le Blond l’ainé à Paris’, ‘ Rouvière à Paris’, ‘Duchène et Comp’, ‘Moré & Dupont à Geneva’

Alexandre Patry   23.11.1758 –  21.12.1822 ; François – Guillaume Chaudoir  1770 – X

Alexandre Patry, born in Geneva from a dynasty of goldsmiths became master around 1780. From 1791 to 1796 he was associated with Louis – François – Guillaume (Hubert) Chaudoir (born in Berlin). The output was signed ‘Al(exam)dre Patry & Chaudoir’ or ‘Patry & Chaudoir’. After 1798 another association with Pierre Chenevière (1766 – 1849) arose with their output named ‘Patry & Genevière’. In the archives of the City of Geneva another firm is mentioned: ‘Patry Oncle & Neveu’, where Alexandre was associated with his uncle whose name was also Alexandre. As both had the same first name, some confusion is sometimes encountered when attributing the pieces to one or the other.

French Revolution  1789 – 1799:

french_flagInspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of theocracies and absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and democracies. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history. The causes of the French Revolution are complex and are still debated among historians. Following the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolutionary War, the French government was deeply in debt and attempted to restore its financial status through unpopular taxation schemes. Demands for change were formulated in terms of Enlightenment  ideals and contributed to the convocation of the ‘Etats-Généraux’ in May 1789. The first year of the Revolution saw members of the Third Estate taking control, the assault on the Bastille in July, the passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in August, and a women’s march on Versailes that forced the royal court back to Paris in October.


Maximilien Robespierre 6.5.1758 – 28.7.1794

A central event of the first stage, in August 1789, was the abolition of feudalism and the old rules and privileges left over from the ‘Ancien Régime’. The next few years featured political struggles between various liberal assemblies and right-wing supporters of the monarchy intent on thwarting major reforms. The Republic was proclaimed in September 1792 after the French victory at Valmy. The Committee of Public Safety came under the control of Maximilian de Robespierre, a lawyer, and the Jacobins unleashed the Reign of Terror (1793 – 1794). In a momentous event that led to international condemnation, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed in January and October 1793 respectively. According to archival records, at least 16,594 people died under the guillotine or otherwise after accusations of counter-revolutionary activities.


Napoleon Bonaparte 15.8.1759 – 5.5.1821

The modern era has unfolded in the shadow of the French Revolution. Almost all future revolutionary movements looked back to the Revolution as their predecessor. Its central phrases and cultural symbols, such as ‘La Marseillaise’ and ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’, became the clarion call for other major upheavals in modern history, including the Russian Revolution over a century later. Dogged by charges of corruption, the Directory collapsed in a coup led by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799, widely seen as the final year of the Revolution. Napoleon, who became the hero of the Revolution through his popular military campaigns, went on to establish the ‘Consulate’ and later the ‘First Empire’, setting the stage for a wider array of global conflicts in the Napoleonic Wars.

Revolutionary calendarThe French Republican (or Revolutionary) Calendar (calendrier républicain (révolutionnaire) français) was a calendar created and implemented during the French Revolution, and used by the French government for about 12 years from late 1793 to 1805, and for 18 days by the paris Commune in 1871. The revolutionary system was designed in part to remove all religious and royalist influences from the calendar, and was part of a larger attempt at decimalisation in France (which also included decimal time of day, decimalisation of currency, and metrication). Even the years were abolished and zeroed, making 1792 year I.

Decimal time:

Horloge-republicaine3In 1788, Claude Boniface Collignon proposed dividing the day into 10 hours or 1000 minutes, each new hour into 100 minutes, each new minute into 1000 seconds, and each new second into 1000 tierces (Latin for “third”). A variant of this Decimal time was officially introduced during the French Revolution. Jean – Charles de Borda made a proposal for decimal time on 5 November 1792. The National Convention issued a decree on 5 October 1793. Although clocks and watches were produced with faces showing both standard time with numbers 1–24 and decimal time with numbers 1–10, decimal time never caught on; it was not officially used until the beginning of the Republican year III, 22 September 1794, and mandatory use was suspended 7 April 1795 (18 Germinal of the Year III), in the same law which introduced the original metric system.

Apart of the decimal time, also symbols belonging to the revolutionary movement are shown on watch dials (tricolour flag, Phrygian cap, balance, mottos like: ‘ça ira’ (it will be OK)). Watches are used as political statement and to show support for the new republican system.

Jean – François De Belle, Paris, 1793 

De Belle

Gilt brass, full plate, front wound quarter repeating à toc movement (49mm), verge escapement, three armed plain balance, spiral steel spring with silver regulator dial, fusee and chain. Small cock with geometrical decoration and steel cockerel. Rim of front plate decorated with geometrical pillar like figures. Backplate engraved ‘De Belle Paris’. White enameled copper dial with Arabic numerals and signed ‘De Belle A Paris’. Dial fixed by one screw at 12. Mismatched Lépine style hands.

Jean – François De Belle was situated at the Rue Saint – Honoré in Paris. He acquired some notoriety and his name figures in many almanachs of the period. During the French Revolution his notoriety allows him to be part of the jury judging the mechanical adaptation in watches for the decimal time introduced the 24. November 1793, together with Jean – Baptiste Lepaute (President), Ferdinand Berthoud, Antide Javier, Jean – Antoine Lépine and Claude Mathieu as well as the physician Jacques – Alexandre Charles and the mathematician and astronomer Joseph – Louis Lagrange. After deliberation the jury rejected all entries the 4. December 1795. Because of the difficulties in adapting the mechanics to the system and the difficulties in trade with all other countries with normal sidereal time the project of decimal time was ended the 7. April 1795.

Jean – Pierre Gregson, London / Paris, No. 5003, 1793



Rosegold consular cased, gilt brass, front wound, full plate fusee movement (38.5 mm case diameter) with round baluster pillars and finely engraved, French style double footed balance cock. English style ruby end stone which replaced a French style steel cockerel. Signed back plate ‘Gregson A Paris No. 5003’. Would have had a verge escapement, but was later converted to an English detached lever escapement. Polished steel balance. Enamelled brass dial with red Arabic hour numerals and black Arabic minute numerals, as per Lépine workshop custom. Original gold beetle and poker hands, of later style. The edges of the gold case finely decorated, back decorated with applied fruits and leaves of three coloured gold.

This watch was built and modified in London but completely in French style, concerning movement, dial (Lépine style) and case. Only the hands are of English style. Later in its life it got updated (most probably in the Gregson workshop) to a more precise detached lever escapement, which needed the addition of a bridge to hold the system and a modification of the lover pivot to house the new polished steel balance staff.

Jean – Pierre Gregson, originally from London, was appointed in 1776 watchmaker to the king in Paris and established himself at the Rue Dauphine. After the appointment he signed his work ‘Gregson Horloger du Roy a Paris’. Gregson originally came from London. His work was greatly influenced by Lépine’s and he was one of the first watchmakers of his time to use the Lépine calibre. In 1787 Gregson founded a watch manufacture in Braille. Gregson had a penchant for complicated escapements and unusual shapes. In his pocket watches he often used cylinder – or comma escapements. The wolf teeth system can often be found. He built, among other gold enamel watches with comma escapements, watches with visible balance wheel and center seconds . He also produced pocket watches with chronometer escapement.
In 1790, after the beginning of the French Revolution’ he returned to London in his safe home and he stopped using the addition ‘Horloger du Roy’ for his signatures. He sometimes signed as ‘Horloger a Paris’. In London he established a new workshop called, now simply ‘Gregson London’.There he continued to build watches in the French style and kept the numbering system as well as intermediately the signature ‘Gregson a Paris’. Between 1800 and 1815, he teamed up temporarily with a colleague named Jefferson together, and used Gregson signature ‘Gregson & Jefferson, London ‘.

Abraham – Louis Breguet    10.01.1747 – 17.09.1823

Abraham Louis Breguet

Breguet was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland to Jonas – Louis Breguet and Suzanne – Marguerite Bollein. The young Breguet soon astonished his master with his aptitude and intelligence, and to further his education he took evening classes in mathematics at the Collège Mazarin (Paris) under Abbé Marie, who became a friend and mentor to the young watchmaker. Breguet was allowed to marry in 1775 after finishing his apprenticeship. He and his bride, Cécile Marie – Louise L’Huillier, set up their home and the Breguet watchmaking company; its first known address was at ’51 Quai de l’Horloge’ in ‘Île de la Cité’ in Paris. Unfortunately the house number is no longer there, as at some point the street numbers have been completely changed.

Quai de l'Horloge today (December 2013). Breguet's atélier was in on of these houses.

Quai de l’Horloge today (December 2013) with one part of the ‘Pont Neuf’ on the right. Breguet’s atélier was in one of the houses behind the white boat.

As Breguet’s fame gradually increased he became friendly with revolutionary leader Jean – Paul Marat, who also hailed from Neuchâtel. Breguet invented or perfected innovative escapements, including the final development of the tourbillon, the overcoil (an improvement of the balance spring with a raised outer coil, invented by John Arnold) and perfected automatic winding mechanisms. Within ten years Breguet had commissions from the aristocratic families of France and even the French queen, Marie – Antoinette. Cécile died in 1780.

H. Sarton_177

H. Sarton, Académie Royale des Sciences, Paris, 16.12.1778

Breguet met  Abraham – Louis Perrelet (supposedly the inventor of the automatic, self winding mechanism (now contested and invention of the self-winding system is attributed to the Belgian Hubert Sarton who deposited a drawing to the ‘Académie Royale des Sciences’ in Paris, the 16.12.1778), later improved by Breguet and named ‘perpetuelle’) in Switzerland and he became a Master Clockmaker in 1784. In 1787 Breguet established a partnership with Xavier Gide and latter’s brother, which lasted only until 1791. Ca. 1792 the Duke of Orléans went to England and met John Arnold, then Europe’s leading watch and clockmaker. The Duke showed Arnold a clock made by Breguet, who was so impressed that he immediately travelled to Paris and asked Breguet to accept his son as an apprentice.


Jacques – Louis David, ‘The death of  Marat’, 1793, Royal Museums of Fine Art of Belgium, Brussels

In 1793 Jean – Paul Marat discovered that Breguet was marked for the guillotine, possibly because of his friendship with Abbé Marie (and/or his association with the royal court); in return for his own earlier rescue by Breguet, Marat arranged for a safe-pass that enabled Breguet to escape to Switzerland the 12th of August 1793, from where he travelled to England. This same year the 13th of July 1793, Marat was stabbed in his bath tub by Charlotte Corday from Caen. Before he died he cried to his wife “Aidez-moi, ma chère amie!” (“Help me, my dear friend!”). Breguet’s journey to Switzerland included a short visit in Ferney and Geneva and a longer stay in the region of Neuchâtel and Le Locle. Afterwards he remained in London for some time, during which he worked for King George III.


Brass templates for the arrangement of different movement types used in the workshop of Breguet. Taken from Antiquorum, Geneva, Hotel Des Bergues, 12th October 1996, Lot: 317

The 20th of April 1795 Breguet returned to Paris, when the political scene in France had stabilised. He returned with many ideas for innovations refining for example the concept of the ‘Montre à Souscription‘. Circa 1807 Breguet brought in his son, Louis – Antoine (born 1776) as a business partner, and from this point the firm became known as ‘Breguet et Fils‘. Breguet had previously sent his son to London to study with the great English chronometer maker, John Arnold, and such was the mutual friendship and respect between the two men that Arnold, in turn, sent his son, John Roger, to spend time with Breguet. Breguet made three series of watches, and the highest numbering of the three reached 5120, so in all it is estimated that the firm produced around 17,000 timepieces during Breguet’s life. With this enormous output it is understandable, that not all pieces were made of even finished ‘in house’. Most of the most simple watches, as well as some of the most complex ones, were bought completely pre-made.

IWM, La Chaux-de-Fondds. Typical box for Breguet watch

IWM, La Chaux-de-Fonds. Typical box for Breguet watch of around 1790 – 1840.

Because of his minute attention to detail and his constant experimentation, no two Breguet pieces are exactly alike. His achievements soon attracted a wealthy and influential clientele: Louis XVI and his Queen Marie – Antoinette, Louis XVIII, George IV (UK), Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander I (Russia), Prince of Wales, Joséphine de Beauharnais, 1st Duke of Wellington. Following his introduction to the court, Queen Marie – Antoinette developed a fascination for Breguet’s unique self-winding watch and Louis XVI of France bought several pieces. At the very start of his career, Abraham – Louis Breguet mostly used the calibres of the celebrated Jean – Antoine Lépine, which he transformed. Later he developed his own calibers. His watches and clocks are widely regarded as some of the most beautiful and technically accomplished. The business grew from strength to strength, and when Abraham – Louis Breguet died in 1823 it was carried on by his son Louis – Antoine.

Breguet’s production numbering systems:


Breguet’s numbering systems, modified and complemented after A. Chapiro

Starting from 1775, at the beginning of his independent work, Breguet mostly used movements (and pre-made watches) provided mostly by the Lépine workshop, or directly by the factory of Gedeon Decombaz, a raw movement manufacturer from Geneva, who also made many of Lépine’s raw movements. These raw movements were just slightly modified, engraved ‘Breguet à Paris’ and remained most likely all un-numbered. Probably as soon as he got master watchmaker in 1784, with an increasing output and more important customers, Breguet introduced a numbering system to keep track of the production details of his watches and their sale date. Some of the very early, unnumbered watches made before 1784 mentioned above, have been stocked in different states of finishing and were completed and sold after 1790 and thus marked with a corresponding production number. Examples of such very early pieces with later production numbers are Nos. 12, 149, 149bis, 242.

Already Tompion had a numbering system, which was continued by George Graham. In France, Julien LeRoy was the first to use a continuous numbering system. Ferdinand Berthoud and Lépine followed this custom as well. Breguet introduced several numbering systems, which makes the attribution and dating of watches rather difficult, more so, as some numbers either appear more than once or none at all and because the sequence of numbers of different watch types sometimes overlaps (see souscription watches below). The table shows the different numbering systems and approximate dates of their use during production. It is unknown, if Breguet used a different system during his stay in Switzerland (8.1793 – 4.1795). The numbering system for the watches made outside of Breguet’s workshops (Etablissement Mixte de Breguet) is not included. Latter numbering system, used in parallel with the 3rd series, was active from 1806 (No. 1) to 1832 (No. 2421).

It is important to know, that no Breguet watch is known with a production number which reaches 6000. Hence, a watch signed ‘Breguet’ with a production number higher than 5500 must be considered a forgery. Especially badly Swiss made 19th century, mostly verge forgeries signed ‘Breguet à Paris’ use numbers over 5500.

Following watches are some representatives of the evolution of Breguet’s developments.

Abraham – Louis Breguet, Paris, 1785


Brass movement calibre for full plate quarter repeating movement (47.5mm diameter), bilaterally engraved wheel positions and pierced pinion holes (left: front, right: back of the movement). Stamped teeth number for the different wheels. Quarter repeating à toc system, steel cylinder escapement with 14 teeth.

Although many of the earliest movements by Breguet come from commercially available raw movements (ebauches) which were modified, the existence of this calibre shows, that Breguet had some ebauches made in house. This allowed for maximal freedom in designing and optimizing the movements, finally leading to Breguet’s impressive developments.

Ref.: Daniels G., The Art of Breguet, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1974, P.142, Pic. 73 a-d, No. 233 3/88, 1st series, 1788

Ex. George Brown, thence by decent

George Brown


Copyright: Daniels London Ltd.

Descendant of Edward Brown of Clerkenwell in England who was foreman in Breguet’s workshop until 1870, when the Breguet firm was passed on to him. The Breguet family then wanted to concentrate on airplanes. In 1927 George Brown took over the helm, the third generation of Browns to run Breguet. He proceeded to run the business until 1970. George Brown was friends with George Daniels, whom he met in the early 1960ies. Daniels then progressively became expert in Breguet watches and agent for Breguet in London. George Brown didn’t have access to skillful watchmakers who would be able to produce hand made watches. He turned to George Daniels who had made a replica of a Breguet clock by hand. Brown was impressed by Daniels work and he new of Daniels ambition to make watches too. Daniels turned down the offer to make watches for Breguet, preferring the attribution ‘Daniels of London’ to ‘Breguet of Paris’ for his work.

The Brown family moved the Breguet premisses several times until around 1933, when it was installed at the Place Vendome No. 28. The Brown’s took great care in cherishing the work of the firm’s founder by keeping manuscripts and old unfinished pieces as well as the calibers to make them, some of which are presented here.

Most of these items found their way into several auctions by Patrizzi & Co. and Chayette & Cheval. The manuscripts written by Abraham – Louis Breguet, kept by George Brown in a cardboard box, have been sold at Patrizzi & Co. Geneva for 2.1 Mio $ in May 2010. These are now part of the Breguet Museum in Paris.

Abraham – Louis Breguet, Paris, No. 165, 1790

Breguet _165_1



Gold cased, gilt brass, front wound full plate movement (49mm diameter). Three arm brass balance with four armed English type steel cylinder escapement. Back plate screwed to the round pillars, as in marine – or high grade pocket chronometers. English jeweling (sapphire) to the cock, separately cocked escape wheel (not fixed between the plates), this separate internal cock called potence is covered by a steel cockerel. Back plate neatly engraved ‘Breguet A PARIS No. 165 (2nd series). The addition ‘A PARIS’ is used by Breguet until 1795. Enamelled copper dial having a steel winding hole protection, with Arabic ‘Breguet’ numerals, indexes marked with ‘Fleur de Lys’ for the five minutes and stars for the minutes, symbols only used on dials by Breguet until 1793. Dial signed with early cursive ‘Breguet’, a style rarely used until 1795 which more realistically reproduces Breguet’s actual signature than the other forms of cursive signatures. Flat blued steel ‘Breguet’ hands of the first type.

Breguet signature cursive type_2

Top: Detail of signature on the dial of No. 324 (1785 – 1787) sold at Sotheby’s the 15.02.2012, Lot 362; Bottom: Detail of signature on the dial of No. 165.

Two versions of this rare dial signature exist with differently written ‘r’, No. 165 bearing the same version as No. 17 and No. 148 (both 2nd series). The first numbering style with the fractional numbering was abandoned towards 1788, No. 112 having the same style of numbering on the back plate as No. 165 and dates from 1789. This type of movement seems to arise from the ‘lower quality’ commercial movements used during the partnership of Breguet with Xavier Gide and is one of only about five surviving of this type and the only and earliest known to us being a ‘montre simple’ with no complication. The finishing of this movement exceeds by far all other French style ‘simple’ movements of this period one can encounter. The elaborate finishing of this movement coincides with Xavier Gide’s description of Breguet’s work, which for him was too slow because Breguet was paying attention to unnecessary details instead of producing more pieces of less perfect quality. This difference in working ethics and philosophy contributed to the premature ending of the collaboration in 1791.

There is much evidence for Breguet having used English steel cylinder escapements for some of his earliest pieces such as No. 128 5/85, made in 1785. He visited London repeatedly in 1790 and 1791 where he tried to finalise important sales and had several watches jewelled (sapphires), this movement possibly being one of those pieces brought to England and jewelled there. The art of jeweling was not much developed by French watchmakers at that time and the best jeweling was provided by English specialists. Later Breguet modified the cylinder escapement (with trapezoid pallets) to be used with his version of ruby cylinder system.

English influence:

In No. 165 above, the English style jeweling of the cock, the use of an English type steel cylinder escapement and the screwed back plate reflect the tight exchange with English watchmakers such as John Arnold in London. Many early watches made in Breguet’s workshop testimony of the big influence of English watchmaking. Breguet visited London several times starting from 1785 then again in 1790 and 1791. When forced to quit France in 1793 Breguet worked for some time in London after his stay in Switzerland, hosted by Jacques – Frédéric Houriet in Le Locle. John – Roger Arnold, John’s son was Breguet’s apprentice (1792 – 1794). Louis – Antoine Breguet, Abraham – Louis’ son was apprentice to John Arnold. These mutual exchanges ensured a refinement of watchmaker skills in both countries and the development of the so called ‘Breguet-style watches’ which came into fashion in France and England starting from about 1810.

Breguet (and to some extent Lépine before him) adopted and refined from English watchmakers: big size of watches (chronometers; J. Harrison, J. Arnold, Th. Earnshaw and others), cylinder escapement (G. Graham), lever escapement (Th. Mudge), temperature compensation for spiral spring (J. Harrison), ruby cylinder escapement (J. Arnold), Tourbillon (J. Arnold), compensation balance (J. Arnold), jeweling (J. Arnold and others), balance spring overcoil (J. Arnold).

English watchmakers later also adopted French features (mostly from Lépine and Breguet): bridged caliber (Lépine), aesthetics and disposition of bridges (Breguet), parachute (Breguet), guilloched metal dials (Breguet, adopted from J. Arnold), ‘Breguet’ hands (Lépine/Breguet), repeating system on gongs (Breguet)

Abraham – Louis Breguet, Paris, No. 203, 1792


Gilt brass, full plate, back wound quarter repeating á toc movement. Ruby cylinder escapement, three armed plain balance, spiral steel spring with regulator and compensation curb underneath the balance, fusee and chain. Rim of front plate engraved with ‘BREGUET A PARIS No. 203 (2nd series). Backplate with same engraving as rim. White enamelled copper dial with early cursive ‘Breguet’ signature used until 1795. Counter enamel hand signed ‘Cave Place Dauphine’. Early, flat blued steel ‘Breguet’ hands. Later gold case.

Conventional repeating work wound by chain and pulley as perfectioned by Julien Le Roy almost half a century before. These movement types have been used before 1795 to 1800 and were developed from commercial repeating movements. They represent the transitional stage between the pre-1787 type (conventional caliber with winding by pump pendant, pulley and chain) and the ‘nouveau calibre’ (made from 1790 – 1815, with single hammer à toc (see No.726), for hours and fractions of an hour) which superseded it.

Ex private collection A. Chapiro (F)

Published in: Chapiro A., Taschenuhren aus vier Jahrhunderten, Callwey, Munich, 1995, P: 223 – 225, Fig.: 474, 476, 477, 478

Abraham – Louis Breguet, Paris, No. 234, 1793



Breguet 234_1

Breguet 234_4

Breguet 234_2

Breguet 234_5

Silver consular cased, gilt brass, full plate, front wound quarter repeating à toc movement (49mm), verge escapement, three armed plain balance, spiral steel spring with silver regulator dial, fusee and chain. Small cock with geometrical decoration and steel cockerel. Rim of front plate engraved with ‘BREGUET A PARIS No. 234 (2nd series). Backplate with same engraving as rim. White enameled copper dial with early, gold cursive ‘Breguet’ signature used until 1795. Dial fixed by one screw and one pin on the rim. Gold Arabic hour numerals and minute markings. Black, counterclockwise date numerals. Every second date number is replaced by a star. Counter enamel hand signed ‘(P) Dauphine 1793’ and hand numbered with the movement number ‘234’. Place Dauphine was the location of the enamelers regularly employed by Breguet and other watchmakers of the ‘Île de la Cité’ for the enamelwork on the dials. Most dials lack the inscriptions on the counter enamel though. Blued steel hands (restored).

Conventional repeating work wound by chain and pulley as perfectioned by Julien Le Roy almost half a century before. These movement types have been used before 1795 and were slightly modified from commercial repeating movements. These represent the earliest stage, still using the pre 1787 type (conventional caliber with winding by pump pendant, pulley and chain) before changing to an intermediate caliber (No. 203) and the later used ‘nouveau calibre’ (No. 726, made from 1790 – 1815. Latter with single hammer à toc, for hours and fractions of an hour) which superseded the earlier versions.

This early repeating movement comes most probably from the commercial stock provided by Xavier Gide. As in other examples based on conventional commercial pieces such as No. 165, the finishing of this movement is of extraordinary quality as compared to similar contemporary pieces made in other workshops. This movement is larger, but of the same type as the repeating movement used for No. 179 sold to Marie – Antoinette in 1792. Furthermore No. 234 has been constructed just a few months before Breguet had to flee Paris (12.8.1793) to gain Switzerland.

The use of gold numerals and gold signature on the dial was also featured on dials of other makers. This style was introduced by Jean – Antoine Lépine. There is only one other known watch of this style by Breguet using gold numerals and signature on enameled dial (No. 231 sold at Antiquorum Geneva, 14.4.1991, Lot. 4, catalogue P.: 24, 25). Latter watch, of almost identical construction as the movement presented above, helps further to date No. 234, as it entered Breguet’s books the 2.1.1793. One further similar piece shown in A. Chapiro’s book ‘Taschenuhren aus vier Jahrhunderten’, P.: 219, 220, Pic.: 464, 465, has proven to be a contemporary forgery. A different and later quarter repeating watch, No. 1899, also features gold Arabic numerals, indexes and the signature ‘BREGUET ET FILS’, sold 1806 to the Duke of Newcastle.

Breguet’s date complication:

Breguet 234_Detail_dateThe counterclockwise application of the date numerals is typical of Breguet’s early work. In this movement type, having a concentric date work and being front wound, the date hand stopped on the ‘0’ mark for the owner to move to ‘1’ by hand. To avoid that the owner forgets to move the hand, the ‘0’ mark was placed in projection of the winding hole. When the owner had to wind his watch, usually once a day, he needed to move the date hand out of the way of the winding hole an did thus automatically move it to the ‘1’ position. This very simple but ingenious system shows the practicality of Breguet’s inventions.

Ex private collection Glasgow (SCT)

Abraham – Louis Breguet, Paris, 1795


Two part brass trial piece (35.5mm diameter) of a moon phase subdial for an eight day travel clock such as Nos. 178 or 179. Index divided into 15 sectors, subdivided in thirds. The definitive version divided into 6 sectors subdivided in fourth. Sectors and subsectors marked as drilled round shapes, filled with black ink. Revolving disc with two circles representing the moon, each with an arrow on top as index marker.

Ref.: Daniels G., The Art of Breguet, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1974, P.164, Pic. 115 a-d, No. 179, 3rd series, sold 1804

Ex. George Brown, thence by decent

The souscription watch:

Houriet souscription

Houriet’s version of the ‘souscription’ watch, 1777. Taken and modified after: Sabrier JC, Frédéric Houriet, Editions Simonin, 2006. Interpretation of Houriet’s drawings by Georges Rigot. Reconstructive drawings by Bernard Müller.

The prototype of the ‘souscription’ watch has been invented as early as 1777, by the Swiss watchmaker Jacques – Frédéric Houriet. He has described its development and construction in one of his manuscripts, where all the basics of the later refined version by Breguet are already mentioned. The single hand watch constructed using as less pieces as possible was quite bulky and as Houriet just sold around 100 in Zurzach (Switzerland) on a market, he didn’t continue to pursue its development. He must have shared the idea with Abraham – Louis Breguet, who regularly visited Houriet in Le Locle and who started the further development and refinements around 1791. The first experimental versions (see below) show still much similarity with Houriet’s design. During Breguet’s exile in Switzerland approximately in 1794 he continued the development of the ‘souscription’ watch most likely with contribution of his friend and host Houriet. He then continued their construction only after his return to Paris in 1795. These watches were developed to contain as little components as possible, so to be affordable by less wealthy clients. The concept was to have the watch paid in four installments, 25% paid upon order and the rest at receipt of the watch. Finally the watches cost between 550 and 900 Francs, which corresponded to a one years salary of a worker at that time, so not really affordable at all!

secrez signature breguetThe dial: Normally made of enamelled copper, with Arabic numerals and five minute separations. The dial is so big, that the time can be read with the resolution of one minute. The dials of some smaller versions are of guilloched silver or gold, some enameled dials got replaced during the 19th century with guilloched ones. These have always Roman numerals. Earlier versions are fixed by screws or pins from the back, later versions with a single screw near 12 -or 6 o’clock. The signature placement and style varies. Earlier versions are signed below 12 or above 6 in cursive style or Roman capital letters. Later the signature is placed on the edge of the dial. A secret signature below 12 is introduced after 1796 to fight counterfeits, almost all enamelled dials have it. This minute signature is made with a pantograph and consists of the skript ‘Souscription, No.—, Breguet’.

276N08882_6NJV4_1The hand: The main feature of this watch is the single hand. There is no minute work. The hand is made of blued steel, is of ‘Breguet’ type and has a verly long tip. The tip mostly has a small ‘bump’ of variing shape towards the end, earlier versions lack this feature, as do late replacements. Some very rare exeptions which are straight and not of ‘Breguet’ type exist, these are mounted exclusively on smaller souscription watches.

The case: The earliest experimental versions have a silver or gold case, with no cuvette, which has a typical late 18th century piston stem and ovoid bow. Intermediate examples retain the same shape, but have a gold front -and rear rim associated with a silver case and no cuvette. Their stem is a short ball pierced by a circular bow. Late versions have mostly a gold case, no cuvette and the ball shaped stem with circular bow gets standart. The backs of the cases can be plain or guilloched. The cases of many souscription watches have been replaced during the 19th century, probably scrapping the cold cases and replacing them with silver versions.

The movement: The watches are mostly huge, the movements have a diameter of 25 lines (56.5mm) whereas the watches have a diameter of 62.2mm. Some intermediate and small sized types exist as well. The souscription watch is very well suited to demonstrate the technical and aesthetic development of Breguet watches. Five different types of souscription movements exist. The drawing below resumes the development of the movement of this watch, with the exception of a prototype (No. 15, third series), which has a more ‘primitive’ aspect and which is not shown. There are basically 2 experimental types and 2 intermediate types before the final version is developed.


Drawing of back views of the existing souscription movement types. The development is from left to right. The back plate or bridges are yellow, the balance is blue.

souscription development11. The earliest version following the prototype is considered an experimental movement (first experimental version) and shows a two plate construction with a smaller back plate. These first experimental versions retain much of Jacques – Frédéric Houriet’s design, placing the wheel work around a big barrel (not centrally located as in Houriet’s version) with the difference of placing the balance underneath the dial to keep the overall construction very thin. The main feature in Breguet’s version, the huge centrally located barrel (diameter: 25mm) is hidden, all the wheels are located around it on one side. These very rare versions have not the ruby cylinder escapement which is used later and their balance wheel is located underneath the dial. The watch is wound through the front, the winding square being inside the attachment for the hand. These versions were started as soon as 1791, even if it is often stated that Breguet invented this watch type while in exile in Switzerland. These types are sold shortly after the return of Breguet in Paris in 1795. The back plates of these versions are not signed. If avaliable, the signature and numbering is on the rim. The production numbers for these watches are from 96 up to about 350 (third series). The numbering of these experimental versions overlaps with the next generation of experimental movements and the first intermediate type. This fact suggests that both experimental versions and the first intermediate type have been refined at the same time.

Abraham – Louis Breguet, Paris, No. 178, 1791 – 1795





Gilt brass, front wound experimental souscription full plate movement (55.7mm diameter). Big barrel suspended at the centre, secured by spring steel clip. First type of Breguet’s lever escapement, lacking balance bridge and balance, which would have been a plain brass non-compensated type. Four spoked brass escape, pallets are slotted for oil retention. Balance spring regulator acting over an intricate system of linkage and adjustable at the rim. White enamelled copper dial with Roman numerals, five-minute divisions and signed ‘Breguet’ in Roman capital letters, a style introduced 1795. NO secret signature (introduced 1796) The dial secured with one screw and one pin at the edge of the movement. Movement rim engraved ‘BREGUET A PARIS No. 178. Single blued steel flat ‘Breguet souscription’ hand (restored). As discussed above the manufacturing of this movement started as soon as 1791, it was certainly finished not earlier than 1795.

The movement above is one of only four known with this experimental caliber using other than ruby cylinder escapements. The others are No. 319 (3rd series), No. 106/4291, and a unnumbered version (3rd series) which has no sale date. No. 106/4291 is almost identical to the presented movement. This example is the only one having Roman numerals on an enameled dial. Other features of these earliest examples are the fixation of the dial by two screws or one screw and one pin from the rim and most prominently, the position of the balance underneath the dial.

It is not surprising that some work started in the early 1790ies was finished after Breguet’s return from his exile in Switzerland 1795. Another interesting fact about this movement is, that it has the same production number as a traveling clock sold to general Napoleon Bonaparte the 24th of April 1798 (Sold at Antiquorum, Geneva, 14.04.1991). The same is true for the watch No. 179, which is a quarter repeating verge sold to Marie – Antoinette, while she was emprisonned in the ‘Temple’. There is also a travelling clock with the same number 179 (Sold at Christie’s, Auction 7864, 8.07.2010, London, Lot. 98). According to the Breguet cerificate Nr. 2889 (1945, revised by Emmanuel Breguet 2010) the manufacture was started 1796 and the clock was sold in 1804 to the King of Naples, S.M. Ferdinand IV de Bourbon.

The travelling clock No. 178 was the first, No. 179 the second of this type ever made by Breguet, so the overlapping numbering with the pocket watches No. 178 and No. 179 might reflect an incertainty about how to integrate the numbering of travelling clocks into the production registers.

Breguet’s lever escapement:

By 1787 Breguet was able to construct very reliable lever escapements, which design was certainly inspired by English work. Breguet redesigned the lever escapement completely making it better than anything he might have seen in London. He renamed the escapement ‘échapement libre‘. The lever escapement has been invented by Thomas Mudge around 1755 (apprentice of George Graham, who refined the cylinder escapement), but it was found to be too complicated to produce. So despite great results concerning amelioration of time keeping it was rarely used by him. Thomas Earnshaw and George Margetts have been presented with this type of escapement by Mudge and they developed it further. Breguet then managed to make the lever escapement simpler and cost effective.

souscription development2 2. The second experimental version before the final three armed construction, is also of full plate configuration, but features an overhanging ruby cylinder escapement as all later versions and has the balance spring on the underside of the watch instead of being underneath the dial (No. 324: Breguet Museum, Paris, No. 267/2267: British Museum, 1927,0513.2; No. 258: sold the 11.08.1799 to Monsieur Maleszewki, sold at Antiquorum, Geneva, 14.04.1991). The watch is wound through the front, the winding square being inside the attachment for the hand. Placing the balance on the underside of the movement makes it easier to overhaul. Because this movement type does still not show the three bridge aspect, it is also considered an experimental version. The back plate is normally signed and numbered. The production numbers for this version are approximately from 250 up to 350 (third series).

Abraham – Louis Breguet, Paris No. 258, 1796

souscription antiquorum_black

Picture taken and modified from: Auction catalogue: Antiquorum, The Art of Breguet, Geneva, 1991.

souscription development33. The first intermediate version starts to show the three armed aspect. The central barrel is visible and held by a straight bridge. The back plate is gone. The other bridges are curved. This version has been copied by contemporary watchmakers in order to share the market with Breguet. Of course the quality of the concurrence is not as good. The watch is wound through the front, the winding square being inside the attachment for the hand. No signature, or signature and numbering are placed on the plate between the bridges, the additional bridge (optional and maybe not by Breguet) stabilizing the barrel partially covers the number. The production numbers for these versions are about from 200 to about 420 (third series).

Abraham – Louis Breguet, Paris, No. 220, 1796


Picture taken and modified from watchwiki.com. Picture credit: Pieces of Time, London

souscription development44. In the second intermediate version the lateral bridges are more straight, just the bridge holding the balance keeps a curved aspect. The bridge holding the barrel is more stable. The third and fourth wheels are still held by one bridge, which is now straight as well. The watch is wound through the front, the winding square being inside the attachment for the hand. The signature and numbering on the plate between the bridges gets more symmetrical, but the orientation of signature and numbering is not the same. The production numbers for these versions are about from 400 to 500 (third series).

Abraham – Louis Breguet, Paris, No. 447, 1799


Gilt brass, front wound, souscription movement of the second intermediate type, three armed balance with old type temperature compensation, no parachute. Ruby cylinder escapement, with escape underneath the dial. Plate engraved with signature and number oriented opposite of each other, which is rather typical of this version. Enamelled copper dial with small Arabic numbers outside of the chapter ring, NO actual signature on the dial, but secret signature engraved below 12 ‘Souscription, No. 447, Breguet’. Original blued steel hand with smooth bump at the edge. Later silver case with gold hinges (mid 19th century, probably of American manufacture) with guilloched back.

This movement retains some earlier attributes like the lack of parachute, the slightly curved balance bridge and the single, straight bridge holding the third and fourth wheel. Other particularities point towards the final version of the souscription watch like the secret signature, the ruby cylinder escapement and the general arrangement of the movement.

Museum deaccession: southern France

Ex private collection California (USA)

There are very few watches with no visible signature on the dial. About the reasons for this we can only speculate, either it has been forgotten or the owner didn’t want to show publicly that he owned a Breguet. A thought which is not to discard remembering that Napoleon Bonaparte was not really fond of Breguet after returning from his Egypt campaign in 1801.

souscription development55. The final version is the most common one. All bridges are straight, the third and fourth wheels are held by two symmetrically positioned bridges, later both wheels are held by one central bridge. Overall the movement has attained the most harmonious and symmetrical aspect of all versions. The signature and the numbering are placed on the plate between the bridges and are highly symmetrical. The watch can be wound from the front and the back to the contrary of all other versions. The orientation of signature and numbering is the same. The production numbers for these versions are about from 500 to 4300 (third series) and are sold way past the death of Abraham – Louis Breguet in 1823. This version was also the base for the development of the ‘montre à tact’ and the design for the ‘montre simple, nouveau calibre’.

Abraham – Louis Breguet, Paris, No. 1498, 1806


Taken and modified from: http://watch-wiki.org

This is the usual version of the souscription watch. Some small differences can be seen in the arrangement of the bridges holding the third and fourth wheel, as well as in the positioning of the parachute system. The balance can be of different materials (brass or steel). The dials are mostly enamelled copper with some exceptions. The signatures can vary. Most of these versions have gold cases.

Montre Tact

Left picture, Breguet No. 2627 taken from: tjn@thepurists.com. Right picture from Antiquorum.

6. The ‘montre à tact’ or ‘tactile watch’ is an ingenious invention by Breguet made in 1799. Without the need of reinventing much of the movement arrangement, just by transferring the wheel work onto an arbor on the back side of the movement he could have the main arbor activate a big hand on the outside of the case and the auxiliary arbor acting on normal hands on a smaller dial. The smaller dial can also lack. The rotation of the big hand can be felt in ones pocket and compared to protruding indicators on the rim of the case, for the most luxurious models made of big diamonds or pearls. This way it is possible to estimate the time quite precisely without the need of getting the watch out of the pocket or to rely on potentially disturbing chimes of a repeating watch.


Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 14.55.03juraScreen Shot 2015-05-29 at 14.48.29Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 14.53.14During the ‘Siècle des Lumières’ the watch trade in Geneva and other Swiss locations such as La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle focused on the production of high quality mostly enamelled watch cases and ébauches for French ateliers. The overall good quality production of the beginning of the 18th century declined towards the end of the 18th century. By then, locally used movements were mostly of low quality and not signed. To enhance the international sales, many movements were signed with well known names such as Tompion, Graham, later also Lépine and Breguet. These signed movements can be easily spotted as contemporary fakes, as the low quality of the work and of the engraving is mostly obvious at first sight.

One exception was the production of highest quality watches in spectacular enamelled gold cases for the ever rising Ottoman (Turkish), Chinese and also Indian market. Another highlight towards the end of the 18th century, was the development or refinement of escapements, the invention of the ‘Pouzait-escapement’ being the most spectacular.

As an exception to the rule, a few Swiss watchmakers were able to produce incredibly high quality pieces. Among the most regarded is Jacques – Frédéric Houriet, who learned the trade from the best continental watchmakers of that time. His work influenced the quality of many watchmakers in the region of Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds. He is also considered by some as the father of Swiss Chronometry.

The next big Swiss contribution to horology will be during the 19th century with the integration of the automated production of watch parts.

Alexandre Deonna, Geneva, No. 579, 1720

Deonna geneve

Gilt brass, full plate, front wound, verge fusee movement. Small Egyptian pillars. Retaining main pinion, and verge escapement. Would have had a big eared, highly decorated cock and a silver regulator dial of almost the same size as the cock.

The Deonna family was quite reputed in Geneva for high quality watches in highly decorated cases especially towards the middle of the 18th century.

The manufacturing style is exactly as the one during the French Regency Period. Swiss watchmakers started at the beginning of the 18th century to provide raw movements (ébauches) for French watchmakers. Towards the end of the century more an more French raw movement providers emerged such as Frédéric Japy. Latter started towards 1775 and by 1780 he had a steam engine speeding up production. From the initially 40’000 ébauches in 1777 his workshop produced 300’000 units in 1813 and 640’000 in 1861, more than the whole ébauche production (515’000) in Switzerland in 1861. For the production of watch parts and movements French and Swiss workshops worked together very closely.  Some French ébauche providers bought them in Switzerland and acted solely as middlemen and distributors.

Johann Conrad Pfenninger, Zurich, No. 657, 1740

Pfenninger Zurich_1

Pfenninger ZH_3

Gilt brass, front wound movement with unique experimental escapement (dial plate 35.5mm diameter) in later silver case. Small cock with big ‘ears’, typical of the French Regency period. Steel cockerel. Brass balance and flat blued steel balance spring. silver regulator dial. The two plate movement is separated by short, square baluster pillars. Back plate engraved ‘Pfeñinger’ and numbered ‘No. 657’. Lacking dial.

Pfeninger’s unique horizontal double wheel escapement:

Pfennninger ZH_2

The unique experimental escapement of this movement derives and is simplyfied from a development of Pierre Le Roy (fils). It is a horizontal escapement with two wheels, the upper wheel acts on a pallet as in verge escapements, the lower wheel with no vertical pins acts on a cylinder. Hence, it combines the cylinder and duplex escapements. The watch No. 3449 by Pierre Le Roy from 1759, has the same system, just with inverted actions, the upper wheel with vertical pins acts on a cylinder, the lower one on a pallet. It is unlikely that this escapement has been invented in parallel by one of the most inventive French watchmakers and by a rather unknown Swiss craftsman. Maybe Pfenninger knew the French master. Another possibility would be, that Pfenninger was apprentice to Pierre Le Roy. Unfortunately there are no records to confirm this hypothesis.

Johann Conrad Pfenninger (1725 – 1795) was a watchmaker and engraver, politically active in Wollishofen (Zurich) from 1777 – 1782. He was one of the last watchmakers in Zurich making his own watches. Many unique technical features are encountered in his work. His work is usually signed ‘Pfenninger Zürich’, ‘Pfeñinger’, ‘Pfeñinger Zürich’ or ‘Pfeñinger à Zürich’. He had one apprentice in 1760, Johan Sebastian Clais from Winterthur. Several clocks and few watches are known by him. Johann Conrad had a cousin named Johann Caspar Pfenninger, also a watchmaker in Zurich, latter signed his output ‘Caspar Pfenninger Zürich’, ‘Caspar Pfeñinger à Zürich’ or ‘J. C. Pfenninger à Zürich’

Unknown Manufacturer, Switzerland for Chinese market, 1770

Swiss Chinese Market 1770

Gold cased, full plate, front wound, gilt brass verge movement. Movement of simple French style construction, but very small. White enamelled brass dial with Arabic numerals. Brass ‘Breguet’ hands. Bezel opens by depressing a small button on the stem. Case bezel and stem enamelled in shades of blue with a white collar imitating pearls. The back of the case is chased representing three phoenixes imbedded in a scene showing a pine tree and low vegetation.

The phoenixes (t: 鳳凰, s: 凤凰; fènghuánɡ) represent virtue, duty, correct behaviour, humanity, reliability (the Five Human Qualities), strength, resilience, good fortune, opportunity, luck, it is considered to be the most important of the winged animals. The pine tree is strong symbol of longevity in China.

c_billodes-ottoman-empire2Already during the early 16th century some European watchmakers specialised in building watches for the ever growing Ottoman Empire. The numbering on the dials and regulator dials are in Turkish script. Many watchmakers from Blois and Geneva moved to Constantinople to make up for the demand for watches. Starting from the end of the 18th century also the wealthy Chinese showed interest in European watches, ordering ever more pieces which had to be decorated in Chinese style. Often depictions of Chinese mythology or important symbolic decoration were requested to be represented on the watch cases. Especially bright enamelling on the cases was in high demand in China, during the 19th century the dials got inscribed with Chinese script instead of the usual Roman or Arabic numerals.

Etienne Gille, Geneva, ca 1788


Gilt brass, front wound, movement with very rare Pouzait escapement (dial plate 47.2mm, ca. 14.2mm depth including center arbor). The two plate movement is separated by short, round pillars. Featuring a dead center second and de-centralized hour-minute subdial and a date subdial. The enameled copper dial with subdials is signed ‘Etienne Gille’.

Ex private collection Maryland (USA)

Pouzait Escapement:

Named after Jean Moïse Pouzait (1743 – 1793), watchmaker in Geneva. During the last quarter of the 18th century, several watchmakers tried to produce watches with dead center-seconds hands, much in favor among the scientific community and on the Chinese market. The attempt made by Moïse Pouzait featured a lever escapement associated with a large seconds-beating balance. Due to its spectacular aspect, and in spite if its inertia sensitivity, Pouzait’s escapement was much appreciated by the Chinese, before the invention by Jacot of the so-called ‘Chinese duplex’ escapement, enabling the production of dead center-seconds watches. In 1786 Pouzait made a model of his escapement which he presented to the Geneva Société des Arts, and which can still be seen in their collection. The idea seems to derive from the pin-wheel escapement in clocks and as in the pin-wheel there was no safety action (later ones, have the safety action). There are some differences, however: Pouzait’s pallets are not just pins, they are small pin-like rectangular teeth, so in fact it is an escapement with divided lift. Pouzait, who eleven years earlier had invented the independent seconds mechanism, possibly wanting to make a simpler mechanism for dead seconds. Whatever were his motives, he was one of the first to introduce the lever escapement to the Continent.

Jacques – Frédéric Houriet  25.02.1743 – 12.01.1830

HourietJacques – Frédéric Houriet was born in La Chaux d’Abel, which is located near La Ferriere in Switzerland. 1759 he apprenticed from Abraham Louis Perret-Jeanneret (not Perrelet as erroneously stated in most references), then between 1759 and 1768 he apprenticed and worked in Paris for Pierre le Roy, son of Julien Le Roy (who died shortly after Houriet’s arrival), and worked for Ferdinand Berthoud. While working for Berthoud he collaborated with Ferdinand’s nephew, (Pierre) Louis Berthoud. During his time in Paris he formed friendships with Abraham – Louis Breguet, Jean Romilly, Antide Janvier and Louis Recordon. After his years of study in the capital of France he returned to Switzerland in 1768 to establish himself in Le Locle. At first he worked together with his brother and his two sisters. A short while after he became business partner with David Courvoisier, who at the time was the head of the firm ‘Courvoisier & Fils’ renaming it ‘Courvoisier & Houriet’. During the French Revolution business ran low, he worked together with the exiled Abraham – Louis Breguet, apparently also on what will become Breguet’s ‘souscription’ watch. In 1797 the Danish Urban Jürgensen became his employee and apprentice who then would move on to work for Abraham – Louis Breguet in Paris and John Arnold in London. A few years later Jürgensen married Houriets daughter, Sophie-Henriette. The napoleonic wars again put pressure on Houriet’s business and getting his son into the firm was of no help. In 1818, at the age of 75, Houriet decided to continue working alone.

Spherical balance spring

Spherical balance spring

He only manufactured pocket chronometers and custom-made movements for other manufacturers such as Abraham – Louis Breguet, Louis Berthoud, Louis Recordon and Robert Roskell. Despite his old age he carried on with research and experiments on the foundation of isochronism, temperature compensation and the effects of magnetism of chronometers. This is how he developed spheric balance springs for chronometers around 1814. Frédéric Houriet is considered the founder of Swiss chronometry. He was a member of the Paris Academy of Sciences and honorary member of the Genevan Society of Arts.

Jacques – Frédéric Houriet, Le Locle, No. 12, 1790

Houriet 1

Houriet 2

Gilt brass, multi cocked thermometer mechanism with early bi-metallic curb, rack and pinion transmission with spiral coil return spring, white enamelled copper dial, Arabic Réaumur temperature degree scale, signed in cursive ‘Fred:(eric) Houriet’ and numbered below his signature ‘No. 12’, very thin blued steel hand, polished silver case with star design engraved on the back. Total diameter: 63mm

Houriet was as Abraham – Louis Breguet an experimental horologist. The common interest and quest for ultimate precision and scientific approach to horology ensured a deep friendship for many years. More so, as Houriet worked together with Breguet during his exile in Switzerland between 1793 and 1795. Houriet’s manuscripts from 1777 state the idea for a single handed watch having as few pieces as possible. This will be the inspiration for Breguet’s ‘souscription’ watches. If one also looks at the shown pocket thermometer closely, which precedes Breguet’s ‘souscription’ watches by a few years, one can see great parallels in the construction and material of the case (the earliest ‘souscription’ cases were all silver), the arrangement of the dial, the overall size and the single hand. Of course there is no direct connection to Breguet’s ‘souscription’ watches, but the style and aesthetics are very similar.

The pocket thermometer shown above is the only one known to us which is numbered and which retains the early type of double bent bimetallic curb, a rack with central stabilizing strut and recess in the plate for the rack. Later versions lack latter features and show a more simplified construction. Reference literature states that the bimetallic thermometer has been invented by Urban Jürgensen. We do not agree with this, as the reference literature does not provide proof for this statement and we believe that Frédéric Houriet had worked on the physical properties of bimetallic strips long before Urban Jürgensen, and one can find notes about this research in Houriet’s manuscripts. The bimetallic strip intended for temperature compensating balances in chronometers, was introduced, we believe by Houriet, as the central feature towards 1790 (dating confirmed by a similar pocket thermometer by Houriet to the one above sold at Sotheby’s in 2010). The temperature dependent deformation of the intricately formed bimetallic strip is transmitted by a quite simple arrangement of rack and wheels onto a single hand, pointing to the temperature in degrees Réaumur. Houriet stated, that the cases of such thermometers shall be made of silver for a better temperature transmission to the bimetallic curb and the hand shall be as light as possible and well balanced. Around 1801 Urban Jürgensen modified the system simplifying the shape of the bimetallic strip and thus made pocket thermometers on his own (signing them as ‘invenit et fecit’ from then on) following Houriet’s design. Breguet first adopted, then further developed the system by adding a second rack for more precise transmission from the bimetallic curb. This system (the simplified version by Urban Jürgensen) has also been miniaturised by Houriet and then included into high end pocket watches of his own and of other manufacturers such as Breguet’s No. 160, the ‘Marie – Antoinette’.

Réaumur scale:

Rene_reaumur(°Ré, °Re, °R), also known as the ‘octogesimal division’, is a temperature  scale in which the freezing and boiling points of water are set to 0 and 80 degrees respectively. The scale is named after René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, who first proposed it in 1731. The Réaumur scale saw widespread use in Europe, particularly in France and Germany as well as Russia. By the 1790s, France officially chose the Celsius scale for the metric system over the Réaumur measurements, but it was used in some parts of Europe until at least the mid-19th century. Its only modern application is in the measuring of milk temperature in cheese production. It is used in some Italian dairies making ‘Parmigiano Reggano’ and ‘Grana Padano’ and in Swiss Alp cheeses. In the Netherlands the Réaumur scale is used when cooking sugar syrup for desserts and sweets.