Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The Brockbanks

Currently on offer at Pieces of Time is this beautiful multiple dial verge by Brockbank.  The subsidiary dials provide Hours, Seconds, Moon-age and Day of Month.  This degree of complexity and the case decoration are typical of a watch made in the late eighteenth century for export to the Far East.  From the movement number it is safe to attribute a making date of 1786-90.

 Courtesy of Pieces of Time

The Brockbank business was started by John in 1769 in Old Jewry, London.  He took on his younger brother, Miles as his apprentice that same year.

The lives and work of the Brockbanks – including notable productivity, involvement in the Arnold/Earnshaw dispute, bankruptcy, sons and a nephew aspiring to maintain the name in watchmaking, etc. – are covered in an excellent article by A. D. Stewart, published in Antiquarian Horology, December 2015.

Courtesy of Pieces of Time

Access to this sort of in-depth (19 pages and many illustrations) article underpins the very good value for money provided by membership of the Antiquarian Horological Society.  This is further enhanced by the addition to the resources available to members of the digitised archive of the Horological Journal from its first issue in 1858 to 2000.  It’s well worth a visit to here for details of membership.

Friday, 19 January 2018

In Print

In response to an e-mail enquiry - thanks for your interest in my work Johann - here's a list of my recent print-published horology articles:

Issue Date
Grant of Fleet Street
John Grant and his son
Clocks Magazine
February 2016
Alexander Watkins 1
Watkins and his family
Clocks Magazine
April 2016
Alexander Watkins 2
Watkins and his family
Clocks Magazine
May 2016
Man or Brand?
Ralph and David Gout
Antiquarian Horology
June 2016
John Poole
John Poole
Clocks Magazine
August 2016
Ahead of its Time
George Sanderson
Clocks Magazine
March 2017
Impoverished Innovator
Joseph Berrollas
Antiquarian Horology
June 2017
The Circumvoluting Brand
Sigismund Rentzsch
Clocks Magazine
September 2017
George Margetts
Clocks Magazine
December 2017

Monday, 13 November 2017

The Luftwaffe B-Uhr

My aesthetic tastes remain greatly influenced by my boyhood experiences of the 1950s.  There was a cosiness to illustrators’ imagination of space travel, and the ‘look’ of rocket ships, spacesuits/helmets in the Eagle’s Dan Dare strip is still one I enjoy.  Science fiction themes were frequently encountered, very impressively so in the styling of American –and eventually, if in a rather diluted form – English cars.  Such things also began to feature as subject matter in the new Pop Art that emerged as the next decade was approached.  But while these things looked to the future, something from the recent past also loomed very large: World War II.  Our comics were full of depictions of the conflict and aerial warfare was a particular favourite.  Naturally, as the victors, the Brits were the good guys, the Jerries bad, and the Spitfire was the king of the skies.  The Airfix kit which was to blame for me accidentally squirting polystyrene cement all over a brand new school blazer was of the good old Lancaster – I was very conventional in revering the look and exploits of that great lumbering bomber.

But I was also a bit odd:  secretly, I studied everything I could about the German Luftwaffe.  Although at that stage not contesting the right and wrongs of the war, I was finding nearly all aspects of the Luftwaffe much more charismatic than the RAF versions – the planes, the insignia and badges, the uniforms, etc.  And that is still my take.  I like the menacing look and specification of such machines as the Ju87, the Do17 and the Me262.

And in the realms of horology, the watches issued to German flying personnel are prized collectibles today.  Foremost of the models was that primarily intended for the use of an aircraft’s Observer – usually the mission’s navigator.  Known as the Beobachtungsuhr – often abbreviated to B-Uhr – and specified by the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Air Ministry), five makers supplied the watches to the Luftwaffe: A Lange & Sohne, IWC, Laco (Lacher & Co), Stowa and Wempe.  Their brief was to build instruments with a case diameter of 55mm, chronometer-quality movement with a Breguet type balance spring, a hackable seconds hand, a crown with enough protrusion to allow a glove hand to wind it, and a strap allowing wear over the sleeve of flight clothing.  The makers met the basic functional requirements by using modified variants of their pocket watch movements.

The best of the makers is A Lange & Sohne, then and now considered supreme amongst the manufacturing houses located in the German town of Glashutte.  The firm utilised its 48/1 movement for timepieces made between September 1940 and April 1945 for the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine.  The Luft B-Uhr had two iterations – initially with a very simple dial (Type A), and, from 1942, with a more distinctive layout featuring a small, inner, concentric hours track (Type B):

Left: Lange & Sohne B-Uhr type A; Right: Lange & Sohne B-Uhr type B.  Courtesy of @TimeTitans

Left: Lange & Sohne B-Uhr Movement; Right: Lange & Sohne B-Uhr Inside Rear Cover.
 © The Swiss Watch Co. (UK) Ltd 1996-2017

The earlier, Type A, is today the less easy to find.  For both versions it is possible that data on the rear cover (inner face) reflects the fact that L&S sometimes lacked the capacity to assemble the complete timepiece.  As a result one of the following list of makers may appear in the Hersteller field: Huber (Munich), Felsing (Berlin), (Schieron) Stuttgart, Sch√§tzle & Tschudin (Pforzheim), Wempe (Hamburg).

Whilst there is general similarity of appearance between the watches produced by the five manufacturers, some subtle differences are to be seen in terms of the crowns, hands and dial numerals – comparison of the Type A versions made by IWC and Stowa, as below, (left, and right, respectively), illustrate this – especially notable is the style in which the numbers 6 and 9 are rendered on the IWC:

Left: IWC Type A. Courtesy www.dieselpunks.org; Right: Stowa Type A.
 Courtesy Lockdale Coins Ltd

The later, Type B, versions show similar small detail variances.  Here, below, left to right, are those by Laco, Stowa and Wempe:

Of these the most rare is the Stowa – on the company’s contemporary web-site it is stated that total production may have been as little as 42 pieces!

And here are the four movements not already shown, left to right: IWC; Laco; Wempe; Stowa

The stainless steel cases were often finished in grey paint/lacquer and the Reichsluftfahrtministerium reference number, FL 23883 was commonly stamped into the side of the case at the 9 o’clock position.  The serial number (Werk nr.) was stamped into the outer face of the rear cover.

These watches did not remain in the possession of the Luftwaffe flyers – they were issued to them, mission by mission, to be returned on safe arrival back at base. 

An impressive watch by virtue of the clarity of the dial layouts and the case size. In recent times there has been enough interest for all the original manufacturing houses/brand names, excepting A Lange & Sohne, to be offering ‘re-interpretations’ (of both the A and B Types) some of which look very much like the originals, but which are somewhat smaller in overall dimensions.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Christiaan van der Klaauw

Prompted by my research and writing on George Margetts – see here - I have been looking at the Astronomical Watches of Christiaan van der Klaauw.

Van der Klaauw produced his first astronomical clock in 1974.  Watch manufacture followed twenty years later with the Satellite du Monde model.  This featured time, day, date, moon-phase and noon-location indicator.  Just in time for the new millennium, the Planetarium model followed, claimed as embodying, “the smallest mechanical planetarium in the world.”

Planetarium models remain in production along with other current model families based on either moon phase or the stars.

Much as I admire the skills of the ‘old’ makers of pocket watch-scale astronomical pieces, I think I am even more impressed by what CVDK achieves with these relatively small wristwatches.

You may well find yourself spending quite a lot of time on this website: http://www.klaauw.com/eng

Thursday, 20 July 2017

George Margetts (1748-1804)

I wrote an extensive article last year on George Margetts. His life and work are intriguing – with technical/craft skills contradictions, biographical uncertainties, business vicissitudes, possible deceptions, but, nevertheless, endeavour across a range of horological and scientific disciplines.

Margetts’s output includes decorative, multi-function watches, Marine Chronometers, clocks and watches with astronomical functions, calculating instruments and published writing based on complex arithmetical calculations.

Here is an example of an extant verge:

© Trustees of the British Museum

Astronomical, gold-consular cased verge.  Diameter – 55.2mm.

The dial shows the positions of the sun and the moon in the zodiac throughout the year, the stars visible each night, the age of the moon and the times of high tide at various ports around Great Britain. The whole dial rotates clockwise once per day, together with the solar and lunar indicators, but over the course of a year both solar and lunar hands regress at different rates to show the position of the sun and moon in the zodiac. Effectively, the dial rotates once in a sidereal day - 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4 seconds - and the solar and lunar hands rotate once in a solar and lunar day.  In the collection of The British Museum 

The article includes a table with details/illustrations of 27 extant horological pieces attributed to Margetts.

Margetts’s story involves innovation contrasting with the more mundane.  His ultimate potential seems to have been unfulfilled and I wonder if his lack of success stemmed from technical shortcomings, lack of commercial focus or a paucity of ability to present himself and his ideas effectively - for example in his dealings with the Board of Longitude.  But, whatever might have been possible, there can be no denying that his Astronomical Watches were very expertly designed, are nicely evocative of his period and remain aesthetically triumphant.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Fathers and Sons - Again

My latest research project has disclosed yet another instance of an enterprising, industrious father who built a business and reputation over several decades, and a son who presided over the rapid decline of that business and the loss of the family’s wealth.  I don’t go looking for such sagas and must conclude that the scenario was not so uncommon in the English horology trades of the nineteenth century.  See also

With this maker – as with Ralph Gout, about whom I wrote in Antiquarian Horology, June 2016 – the son lacked the father’s craft skills as well as business acumen.  As a result it was under the father’s name that the business was carried on after his death.  This assured a maintenance of reputation for a while and demonstrates that the concept of a trusted, quality ‘Brand’ was as commercially important in Victorian times as it is today.

My new subject managed to get through a seven figure (in current value terms) legacy in just 11 years.  There are indications that this came about through overtrading with a reliance on high sales volumes with small profit margins, the carrying of excessive amounts of stock and a move to high-overheads premises.  There is however also a strand which is all too typical of late Victorian urban society – chronic ill health brought about by environmental factors.  The son contracted TB and was forced to relocate to the coast, where he nevertheless died decades short of his three-score-and-ten and no longer a well-known watchmaker/retailer and jeweller, but a humble boarding house keeper.

I am aiming to publish a substantial article on this watchmaking family in the autumn/winter.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Rentzsch and Berrollas

Since my last post here, I have finalised an article on Rentzsch.  This includes some interesting new information which has come to light as a result of contact from Michel Reymond as he researched an article on the Australian watchmaker, John Forrester.  Forrester emigrated from England in 1837 and set-up in business in Sydney the following year.  In an advertisement he includes the boast, “Twelve years Foreman to Sigismund Rentzsch, Watch Maker to the Queen and Royal Family, St. James Square, London.”  My thanks to Michel and I look forward to seeing his piece on Forrester.  My article, entitled, The Novel Technology of Sigismund Rentzsch, features in the September 2017 issue of Clocks Magazine.

Volume 38, Number 2, (June 2017), of Antiquarian Horology, journal of the Antiquarian Horological Society, includes my new article on Joseph Anthony Berrollas.  Possibly born in the same year as Rentzsch and also an immigrant to nineteenth century England, Berrollas was highly innovative though not very successful in commercial terms.

Both Rentzsch and Berrollas worked on distinctive versions of keyless winding and they are associated with some of the most significant watchmaking names of the early nineteenth century: Rentzsch employed a young Peter Ingold and Berrollas worked with the London retailer, Viner, and the leading Liverpool makers, Robert Roskell and Peter Litherland.

Here are examples of Continental craftsmen who were instrumental in providing a dynamic within English watchmaking whilst the Trade’s very future was so intensely threatened by the cheap products being imported from Switzerland and France.

Berrollas Alarm Movement, courtesy of Worthpoint