Clockpera at the British Museum

 

The pairing of clocks and opera has been a recurring theme in this blog (1, 2, 3) and I am now happy to report on another such coincidence.  Over recent years, members of an opera production company, Brolly Productions, have made several visits to horological study room at the British Museum (where I work).  They came to look at different kinds of clocks and understand how they work, in order to provide a solid foundation for the design of their latest production, “CLOCKS 1888: The greener”.

 

Keisha Atwell as Greener, the leading character, accompanied by Yshani Perrinpanayagam, Musical Director.

Keisha Atwell as Greener accompanied by Yshani Perrinpanayagam, Musical Director.

 

The lead character is a “greener”, i.e. “an immigrant who has only recently arrived“, who were common to East London in the 19th century in which the opera is set.  She is responsible for maintaining the clock that controls the workforce of the East End but she comes under pressure from her overseer to alter its running to increase production.  Also, “of course it is an opera, so there has to be a love story” says Dominic Hingorani, Librettist & Director of Brolly Productions.

Last Friday lunchtime, in the horological gallery of the BM, an event was held to celebrate the collaboration. The highlight of this were two songs from the production, performed by Keisha Atwell, who plays Greener. Freddie Matthews, Head of Adult Programmes of the BM, introduced the event.  Dominic then spoke about the evolution of the production.  Rachana Jadav, Designer & Illustrator of Brolly Productions, spoke of the creation of the design, including the influence of the BM clocks.

From left to right: Freddie Matthews, Head of Adult Programmes at the BM; Paul Buck, Curator of Horology introducing access to the collection; Rachana Jadhav, Designer and Dominic Hingornai, Librettist.

From left to right. For the British Museum: Freddie Matthews, Head of Adult Programmes and Paul Buck, Curator of Horology. For Brolly Productions: Rachana Jadhav, Designer & Illustrator and Dominic Hingorani, Librettist & Director.

 

Also speaking was Paul Buck, Curator of Horology of the BM, who told how the horological team embraces access to the collection and will consider even the most diverse requests. Indeed, access to the collection is available to all students, not only horologists.  Members of the AHS have the opportunity to visit the horological study room for talks from the curators and close-up viewing of objects.  These group visits are organized by the AHS’s regional sections.

 

CLOCKS 1888: The greener is playing at CAST Doncaster, Fri 15th April to Sat 16th April 2016 and at the Hackney Empire, Wed 20th April to Fri 22nd April 2016.

 

 

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Wristwatch Group meeting 14th January – Conservation and restoration

This post was written by Mat Craddock of the Wristwatch Group

 

The splendid venue:  Watchclub at the Royal Arcade, London (Image: The Watch Club/Michal Solarski)

The splendid venue: The Watch Club at the Royal Arcade, London (Image: The Watch Club/Michal Solarski)

 

In the gas-fired warmth of the Royal Arcade, WWG members heard Justin Koullapis (our gracious host, The Watch Club), Adam Phillips (casemaker and restorer), Greg Dowling (WWG member and watch collector) and Oliver Cooke (Curator, Horological Collections at the British Museum) discuss originality in watches. Oli’s curatorial view of conservation was, perhaps, the most extreme: once an item enters a collection, the aim is to put it into stasis, free from the damaging effects of winding or lubrication. From a collector’s point of view, Greg said that the possibility of wearing and using a watch might lead him to seek out to the most appropriate way to restore the piece to working order.

The Panellists (left to right); Adam Phillips, Oliver Cooke, Greg Dowling and Justin Koullapis with WWG Chair Rebecca Struthers (Image: The Watch Club/Michal Solarski)

The panel (left to right); Adam Phillips, Oliver Cooke, Greg Dowling and Justin Koullapis with WWG Chair Rebecca Struthers (Image: The Watch Club/Michal Solarski)

 

Adam agreed, and seemed largely happy to undertake work under the direction of his customers, taking the view that sensitive restoration and repair can extend the useful life of a watch. While Justin’s thoughts on the subject were from two, contrasting, points of view: as a non-practising watchmaker and as a watch dealer. He said that great value is placed on entirely original objects, many of which have been hidden away for many year. However, his fascination with how objects were made often caused him to place more value on the skills of the watchmaker, rather than the watch itself.

Questions were taken from the audience, and covered topics such as dealer versus collector (the panel was split on the definition of a collection); the dangers of old radium (the British Museum has their luminous watches stored in steel-lined rooms that are externally force vented); and even the purpose of collecting watches. In response to the last question, Mr Dowling quoted from the late Dr George Daniels: there’s nothing more attractive than a good watch. It’s historic, intellectual, technical, aesthetic, amusing, useful.

A fitting end to an interesting evening.

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The annual winding of the Mostyn Tompion

 

The Mostyn Tompion

The Mostyn Tompion

 

28 January 2016. To the British Museum, at the delightful invitation of the horology curators to take part in a little-known and wonderful ceremony – the just-once-a-year winding of the glorious Mostyn Tompion. The Deputy Director, Jonathan Williams, offered a warm welcome, amply elaborated by Paul Buck, senior horological curator, who walked us around the origins and detail of this extraordinary object. It runs for a whole year on one wind, striking every hour of that year (56,940 blows). The clock case, a confection of ebony veneer, silver and gilded brass, is rich in symbolism, covered in the heraldry and armorial paraphernalia of England and Scotland, richly intertwined – an interesting hint to the politicians who only wind each other up on such matters.

The winding key in place ready for winding.  Note the light catching fabulous engraving on the movement front plate.

The winding key in place ready for winding. Note the light catching fabulous engraving on the movement front plate.

 

Made for King William III by perhaps our most celebrated maker – Thomas Tompion (Westminster Abbey-buried, no less) – the clock descended on the royal death through various titled families before settling with the family of the early Lords Mostyn, finally landing in Great Russell Street in 1982. From c.1793, the Lords Mostyn held a small party to mark the annual winding of the clock, with each winder entering their name in a book. This tradition has been kept firmly alive at the British Museum.

British Museum Curators Oliver Cooke and Laura Turner, standing vigilant by the clock.

British Museum Curators Oliver Cooke and Laura Turner, standing vigilant by the clock.

 

The old family record was open for us to see, turned to the page for 26 December 1961, when Lord Mostyn recorded being on his own for Christmas, and winding the clock, which had ‘gone successfully during the year’. Amusingly his idea of being on his own did not allow for the presence of the butler, who helped replace the dome over the clock. These were memorable times – Mostyn, much troubled by rheumatism, also recorded ‘The heat in the drawing room was well kept up, and it was a very good thing that I had electric fire as the winter was of the coldest we had had for years’. Winter, spring, summer and fall continue to unfold, watched over from Gallery 39 by a remarkable clock, which draws breath just once in each cycle of seasons.

The Mostyn winding book open at for 1961 and 1962

The Mostyn winding book open at 1961 and 1962

 

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The Wittnauer ‘2000’ Time Machine: perpetual calendar or not?

I am fascinated by gimmicks used by past watch manufacturers to make their products stand out in a crowded marketplace and this post is the first in a short series on some attention seeking watches that have piqued my interest. This post takes looks at a look the Wittnauer ‘2000’, a quirky automatic wrist watch from the 1970s. It is a snazzy-looking chunk of a watch and is impressively big at 46mm across the case and crown; the dial does not disappoint with its day, date and complex-looking calendar information around two apertures at twelve and six o’clock. It was advertised in the early 1970s as a time machine with perpetual calendar, which is technically correct but arguably a little misleading.

wit1The Wittnauer ‘2000’ with an advert (inset) from 1971

The perpetual calendar is a celebrated complication prized by collectors of high-end wrist and pocket watches. The intricate mechanism required to keep the calendar in step with the short months and leap years demands multiple precisely made components, is only found on the best watches and, unsurprisingly, its presence in a watch hikes the value substantially.

Stephen McDonnell’s recent innovative perpetual calendar design. Uploaded to Youtube by Quill and Pad.

The Wittnauer ‘2000’ has a perpetual calendar, which does conform to the same definition.The date display is a standard type, which must be manually advanced at the end of a short month. It is more normal for the calendar to be set using the crown, but why do that when you can have an extra button on the outside of the case? Instead of keeping the date in sync, it uses tables and a revolving scale to reckon the day of the week for a given date. The mechanics of the design are very simple, the revolving disc has a contrate gear on its reverse, which is driven by a pinion attached to a second crown. The years and days of the week are printed on the revolving disc and, as can be seen in the image, aligning the year with the month on the lower table (at six o’clock), places each day of the week above one of seven columns (at twelve o’clock) that contain the relevant days of the month.

300 Year Almanac

A Victorian perpetual calendar. Image kindly supplied by Chris McKay.

The Wittnauer ‘2000’ perpetual calendar employed an old and simple technology to allude to luxury. For a modest price it had bags of 70s style and, as with any self-respecting time machine, had buttons aplenty!

 

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Winding the Caledonian Park turret clock

 

The clock tower in Caledonian Park, Islington, London

The clock tower in Caledonian Park, Islington, London

 

In Caledonian Park, in the London Borough of Islington, stands a distinctive 45 meter clock tower with four dials that can be seen from far away. It was erected in the 1850s to serve as the command centre of the newly laid out Metropolitan Cattle Market, which had been created to replace the old more centrally located Smithfield Market. The tower is a Grade II listed building.

 

The clock tower served as the command centre of the cattle market. The buildings around the tower were bank and telegraph offices

The clock tower served as the command centre of the cattle market. The buildings around the tower were bank and telegraph offices

 

You can see the clock movement in this short videoclip. Turret clock expert Chris McKay has recently published a facsimile reproduction of A List of Church, Turret and Musical Clocks. Manufactured by John Moore & Sons. 38 & 39, Clerkenwell Close, London, dated 1877. For the year 1854 we find: ‘Islington, London Four 10-ft. 6-in. dials, chiming, for the Cattle Market.’ The chimes are no longer in operation, from what I understand at the insistence of nearby residents. But the clock is still running and showing the correct time.

The movement, made in 1854 by John Moore & Sons, Clerkenwell

The movement, made in 1854 by John Moore & Sons, Clerkenwell

 

During an open day last summer I had a chance to get into the tower, and to see the clock and enjoy the view from the balcony. The organizers were looking to extend their group of volunteers for the weekly winding of the clock. I signed up and am on the rota now, so I regularly climb first a cast iron spiral staircase and then a series of steep ladders to get to the movement and pull up the heavy weight. It’s a good physical exercise and a welcome hands-on experience for someone whose involvement with horology is normally limited to sitting at a desk putting together the quarterly journal of the AHS.

Winding the clock – good exercise

Winding the clock – good exercise

 

The Caledonian Park Friends Group have published a booklet with much information on the history of the market, which for a while also functioned as a flea market. The cover shows the market in full swing, but the artist has made a bad job of representing the tower. If the dials were really as low as where he painted them, climbing up to wind the clock would be a lot easier!

The image on the cover of the booklet...

The image on the cover of the booklet…

... the artist has misrepresented the clock tower

… the artist has misrepresented the clock tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Donation to the British Museum

 

I write with a foot in two allied camps; as a member of the AHS and a Curator of Horology at the British Museum.  In October last year the AHS Council generously donated sixteen interesting clocks, watches and horological tools to the BM collections.  The items had in fact been at the BM since 1973, having been deposited on long-term loan when the AHS left its former London HQ.  This conversion to a donation consolidates that loan and upholds one of the core objectives of the AHS which is the support of public collections.   Let us look at three of the items.

 

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Firstly, a lantern clock with centre verge pendulum by Johannes Kent of Congleton, Cheshire, late 17th century.  Lantern clocks with centre pendulum sometimes had “angel wing” extensions to the side doors to accommodate the arc of pendulum.  This clock does not have these, but the side doors (which seem to be later) do not interfere with the action of the pendulum.  Unusually for this time, the clock does not have Huygens’s endless winding system, but has a separate drive for each train.

 

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Next, an interesting year-going movement.  This was probably housed in a slate or marble case, perhaps something like this.  The inscription on the dial is somewhat rubbed and not wholly legible, but it seems to be signed for Edward Watson of King Street, Cheapside, London (working 1815-63) who would have been the retailer for the clock.  The movement is stamped to show that it was made by Achille Brocot of Paris.  Brocot invented this type of long duration movement in the mid-19th century, employing multiple mainsprings in going barrels to drive the clock.  The system has great advantages over using a single large mainspring to achieve a long duration.  Smaller springs are easier to make and much easier to remove for maintenance.  Also, if one of the five springs were to break it would cause far less damage to the clock than a recently-wound single spring with a year’s worth of driving energy being unleashed.

 

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… and finally, an unusual and incredibly useful screwdriver.  It has five slot heads at different orientations enabling access to those awkward screws, such as between the plates of a movement.  Right, I’m off to attend to a newly-installed longcase clock which has stopped – an in-situ adjustment of the back cock should do it..!

 

As with all items in the collections of the British Museum, these items are kept to be made accessible to all members of the public.  An appointment to study them can be made by contacting the horological team at horological@britishmuseum.org or by telephone (020 7323 8395). 

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How did Arnold get to the Clockmakers’ Museum?

 

On 23 October, the Clockmakers’ Museum opened at the Science Museum. The new gallery is a treasure-trove of horological history, home to so many wonderful items it’s hard to know where to look next. Tucked away in one showcase is a modest-looking pocket watch that would be easy to miss, yet tells a story close to my heart—that of Ruth Belville, whose biography I wrote in 2008.

Gallery view of the Clockmakers' Museum.  The world’s oldest clock and watch collection includes more than 600 watches, 30 clocks and 15 marine timekeepers, which map the history of innovation in watch and clock making in London from 1600 to the present day.

The Clockmakers’ Museum at the Science Museum

 

The watch was originally the property of John Belville, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, who used it between 1836 and his death twenty years later to carry accurate Greenwich Time round a network of subscribers across London.

The Belville family’s pocket watch, ‘Arnold’, at the Clockmakers’ Museum

The Belville family’s pocket watch, ‘Arnold’, at the Clockmakers’ Museum

The movement of Arnold

The movement of Arnold

When John died in 1856, the watch was passed to Maria, his wife, who continued carrying it round London until 1892, when she retired. She then passed it to her daughter, Ruth, who named it ‘Arnold’ after its maker, John Arnold. Ruth carried the time to town with Arnold until 1940, when she retired, aged 86.

But it was not the end of the line for Arnold. Ruth had always wanted it to have a good home. ‘When it retires from business … I think the dear old thing ought to be put in the British Museum’, she told the Evening News in 1908. In 1921, Ruth changed her mind, stating that she ‘should wish the Royal Observatory to have the first offer of purchasing my chronometer’. Yet neither received Arnold.

Ruth Belville in the Evening News, 1929

Ruth Belville in the Evening News, 1929

 

In 1941, the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers granted Ruth a pension which gave her crucial financial security in her retirement. Ruth repaid its generosity in January 1943, when she wrote to the Company offering her watch for its museum when the time came. The Company accepted, noting that ‘by doing so her name would be perpetuated for all time’. Eight months later, Ruth died with Arnold by her bedside. The watch was duly transferred to the Company’s collection and ended up on display at Guildhall.

Now I needn’t go to Guildhall to see Arnold—delightful though my visits there always were—but instead I can pop into the magnificent new gallery at the Science Museum during my lunch break. I hope you’ll have a chance to see it too.

 

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Inaugural meeting of the AHS Wristwatch Group

This post was written by Mat Craddock of the Wristwatch Group

 

A Breguet watchmaker preparing for a busy evening of demonstrations (Photo Yarek Baranik)

A Breguet watchmaker preparing for a busy evening of demonstrations (Photo Yarek Baranik)

 

On Thursday 29th October, the AHS’s first new Group in over forty years held its inaugural event. The Wristwatch Group, whose aim is to further research into, and to increase the understanding of, wristwatches, has been working with one of the oldest and prestigious names in watches, Montres Breguet SA, to host the event.

Breguet’s newly-opened three storey boutique on Old Bond Street was the perfect venue, with vintage pieces on display alongside current models, many clearly showing a direct lineage from Abraham Louis’ extraordinary and often revolutionary designs. One of Breguet’s in-house watchmakers guided guests through the often bewildering complications and materials on these modern watches, which are now just as likely to be using titanium and silicon, as brass or gold, such as the Breguet Tradition 7077. This fascinating new piece is a bifurcated model with two movements working independently at different frequencies: a relatively traditional time-only mechanism (3Hz); and a 20-minute chronograph operating at 5Hz.

 

AHS Council member Jonathan Betts opening the evenings' talks (Photo Yarek Baranik)

AHS Council member Jonathan Betts opening the evenings’ talks (Photo Yarek Baranik)

 

The evening was introduced by Jonathan Betts MBE on behalf of the Chairman of the Council, and was followed by two talks by two of this country’s most knowledgeable Breguet experts, Andrew Crisford and Stuart Kerr. Jonathan’s introduction also paid respect to AHS President Lisa Jardine, a firm supporter of the Group, who had sadly passed away a few days before.

Andrew Crisford entertains a packed room, on the marketing flair of Abraham Louis Breguet (photo Yarek Baranik)

Andrew Crisford entertains a packed room, on the marketing flair of Abraham Louis Breguet (Photo Yarek Baranik)

 

Andrew drew parallels between modern wristwatch marketing practices, such as product placement, the use of brand ambassadors and accessorising, and the pioneering efforts by Abraham Louis. It seems that even in the early 19th century, Breguet was ahead of the game. Stuart began his talk by describing the circumstances that lead to the Longitude Act, via the alleged murder of Sir Cloudesley Shovell on the sands of Porthellick Cove. Shovell’s pocket watch, an English verge had recently been brought into the boutique and was, along with some of Andrew’s Breguet-related paraphernalia, available for guests to view.

 

Stuart Kerr, the Boutique Manager, tempting an audience of three with a new Breguet watch (Photo Yarek Baranik)

Stuart Kerr, the Boutique Manager, tempting an audience of three with a new Breguet watch (Photo Yarek Baranik)

 

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Watching over us

 

Victoria and Albert Museum, view from southwest (© V&A Images)

Victoria and Albert Museum, view from southwest (© V&A Images)

 

Walking up Exhibition Road in London on the way to the Science Museum, you just have to look to your right and up a bit, and there stands one of our great horological giants. On the façade of the Victoria & Albert Museum stand a cohort of celebrated figures in Britain’s manufacturing heritage. Thomas Tompion is there amongst some illustrious company. On his left and right are St. Dunstan, the Patron Saint of craftsmen, sculptor William Torell, printer, William Caxton, goldsmith George Heriot, blacksmith, Huntingdon Shaw, cabinet maker Thomas Chippendale, potter, Josiah Wedgwood, bookbinder, Roger Payne and designer, William Morris. These figures, finely sculpted in Portland stone, make up part of the museum’s façade designed by Aston Webb and begun in 1899 when Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone. However, it was not to be until 1909 that King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra officially opened the new building.

 

Thomas Tompion by Abraham Broadbent (Photograph by Robert Freidus)

Thomas Tompion by Abraham Broadbent (Photograph by Robert Freidus)

Tho: Tompion Automatopaeus, print by John Smith after Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1697 (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

Tho: Tompion Automatopaeus, print by John Smith after Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1697 (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

The figure of Tompion was sculpted by Abraham Broadbent (1868-1919). He was born in Shipley, the son of a stonemason. He studied in London at the South London Technical School of Art and went on to become one of the more celebrated sculptors of his time, particularly in works in the baroque style.

 

Looking at Broadbent’s image of Tompion, however, it would seem that he had no access to the well-known mezzotint portrait of Tompion by John Smith after a portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Tompion is depicted holding a watch in his left hand, and what appears to be a magnifying glass in his right hand. It would seem that Broadbent did not discuss his proposed figure with a watchmaker, even in the late 19th century, such a visual aid was not the preferred instrument. Nevertheless, it is great to see that one of the clock and watchmaking giants is there amongst a pantheon of recognized celebrities.

Thomas Tompion by Abraham Broadbent (crop)

Close-up of Broadbent’s Tompion

Close-up of the mezzotint print

Close-up of the mezzotint print

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a detailed account of all the Victoria & Albert Museum sculptures around the building façade, see http://www.victorianweb.org/sculpture/misc/va/facade.html

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Sushi, Saké and a Send-Off

 

The finished article

The finished article

 

December 2014’s Antiquarian Horology featured a clock made in 1573 by De Troestenbergh in Brussels, rebadged and given as a gift (by Spanish survivors of a 1609 shipwreck off Japan) to the great Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

In May 2014, Johan ten Hoeve of The Clockworks worked on conserving the clock in a Japanese shrine, its home since the early 17th century, measuring and photographing everything. The authorities wanted more than just conservation – they wanted a replica of the movement, sitting alongside, so that visitors could understand the magic of this striking and alarm clock, four centuries old and plaything of their most revered Shogun. In August 2015, Johan and David Thompson (the project’s ambassadorial godfather) travelled to Japan to witness the significant honour accorded to the replica on its arrival and installation.

 

This was no ordinary project. Johan could only rely on details taken over a week. From mid-2014 to mid-2015, he devoted hours ultimately uncountable to producing a working copy of the movement. Pillars were turned with a hand graver, fusees roughly filed out by hand, flies cut and filed from the solid, shaped plates pierced out of steel plate, and so on.

Filing a fusee

Filing a fusee

Filing up the one-piece fly

Filing up the one-piece fly

Piercing out a plate

Piercing out a plate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depthing arrangements

Depthing arrangements

Crossing out

Crossing out

Wheel teeth were formed using modern cutters, and modern machinery played a large role, but it was a year spent file-in-hand, forming, shaping and finishing.

 

 

 

 

The art of the hand engraver

The art of the hand engraver

Others contributed – notably the Whitechapel Bell Foundry for the bell, while the solid silver dial and hour hand were decorated by members of the Hand Engravers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

The original sits in a shrine, while Johan entered near monastic isolation for a year. In August 2015, to mark his own long journey, to thank the many who had helped, and also to enlighten friends who had not seen him for months, The Clockworks hosted an evening of sushi, saké and Asahi. This was a chance to see the working replica before its long journey to Shizuoka, joining De Troestenbergh’s original. It was a great evening, celebrating the traditional internationalism of horology in which a Dutchman in London worked to an ancient Flemish design to produce a clock for a Japanese shrine. Campai!

Party o'clock

Party o’clock

 

 

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