Thursday, 14 April 2016

Small is Beautiful

Clocks’ Magazine in its April 2016 issue has published the first part of my article on Alexander Watkins.  Watkins was making fine chronometers in the mid-nineteenth century, trading from a prestigious London address: 67 Strand. 

For students of horology, Watkins is best known for his ‘miniaturised’ chronometer made for the 1851 Great Exhibition.  With its unusually small movement and gold, delicately ornamented case, it is a very fine aesthetic and technical achievement.  However, as I often find, there’s as much interest in a watchmaker’s personal story and the social/commercial setting in which he worked as in his design and manufacturing activities. 

So my article, whilst detailing some of Watkins’s watches and movements and his ideas for simpler watches to combat the influx of Swiss timepieces, also explores the circumstances of an attempted murder and the very marked divide in Victorian society between an affluent family and an ‘ordinary’ one.
1851 Great Exhibition gold chronometer
Courtesy of Sotheby’s
Watkins left a legacy of innovation and quality of work confirmed by the examples held in the collections of The British Museum and The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers.


  1. Alexander Watkins was my great-grandfather. I have seen his 1851 gold watch in the Clockmakers Museum. I would be so pleased to know the personal details you know, and especially if you know about Sylvester Alexander, my grandfather, who took over the business at 67 Strand, but didn't do very well. Recently I learned he invented a waterproof watch case. But apart from his going to live with Granny Watkins and my father, Stanley Sylvester Alexander Watkins in Rye, NY, where he died, I know little about him. What can you share? Barbara (Watkins) Witemeyer

  2. Barbara: Many thanks for your interest. The results of my research, both horological and genealogical, can be found in the April and May issues of Clocks Magazine -

    I did indeed find that Sylvester did not flourish as a clock/watch maker and that he was living alone in Marylebone in 1891. His brother, William, was more successful and sustained a watchmaking business in The Strand area.
    Please let me have an e-mail address so that I can inform you further. Regards. David.