Anyone looking for a straightforward late-nineteenth century English pocket watch will inevitably, sooner or later, encounter one bearing the maker’s name of John Forrest. Most will be found to have nothing to do with the man himself and many will be of mediocre quality. But that is not to say, despite Mr Forrest’s own, spurious claim to be, “Chronometer maker to the Admiralty,” that they are necessarily any less well made than those he did make. And, after Forrest’s death, ironically, some made by the man – arguably the only one - who had a right to use the name, were actually purchased by the Admiralty because of their very high quality.
After Forrest’s death (in 1871) the brand was sold to Richard Thorneloe for £20 in 1891. However, in the meantime another Coventry maker, Charles John Hill (Russel House, Chapel Fields), had taken to marketing watches inscribed with the Forrest name.
Thorneloe was determined to affirm and secure the rights he believed his outlay should have brought him. Accordingly, in 1893, he instigated an action in the High Court. This, however, failed and ‘John Forrest’ watches continued to be made by Hill and others.
Prior to his difficulties with the John Forrest brand Thorneloe had established and developed a successful business within the Coventry watchmaking community; it was of sufficient size in 1871 to be employing 6 men and 7 boys.
Whilst the ‘original’ Forrest established a marketability based on a perception of quality and a false claim, Thorneloe achieved a reputation founded on actual quality which was verifiably endorsed by Admiralty purchase. This is evidenced by a deck watch sold by Sotheby’s in 2016:
Courtesy of Sotheby’s
It was entered in the 1904-05 trial at Greenwich Observatory, and its accuracy was not bettered by any of the other instruments tested at the same time. This was attributable to its well-made movement which featured a spring detent chronometer escapement and compensated balance. Thorneloe had however gone one step further with this instrument by incorporating a karrusel, as developed and patented by the Danish maker, Bahne Bonniksen.