Marine Chronometer #1765, by J R Losada
The January 2020 issue of Clocks Magazine features my article on the watch and clockmaking businesses founded in the eighteen thirties in London by Spaniard, Jose Rodriguez Losada. It is a convoluted saga, with many aspects of interest, and one that continued through to the century’s closing decade.
Losada and his nephews had a modern approach to marketing and exploited a range of means by which their products would be seen as being of high quality – for example by trading from prestige location premises, (Regent Street), illustrated press advertising, participation in international exhibitions and endorsement by government/military authorities.
This latter consideration was sought by many makers throughout the nineteenth century by entering their chronometers into annual trials conducted at Greenwich Observatory. These trials tested the accuracy of submitted timepieces over a period of seven or eight months and in varying ambient temperatures. Originally instituted in 1822, after a break in the mid-eighteen thirties, the trials were held each year through to the outbreak of the First World War. The results formed the basis on which the Admiralty made purchasing decisions for the marine chronometer requirements of the Navy’s ships. When a chronometer was thus selected, its maker greatly valued the consequence that they could then inscribe, ‘Maker to the Admiralty’ on the plates of their movements and use the accolade in their advertising.
The number of makers/instruments submitted to the trials varied considerably over the years. As few as 17 chronometers were tested in 1852, while the count was up to 58 in 1861. The low number may well reflect makers’ alternative focus on preparing for their participation in the Great Exhibition of 1851, and it is perhaps relevant to note that the number dipped from the 1861 high to 36 in 1862 – the year of the International Exhibition. Most makers submitted two chronometers and in many instances, year after year. The average number tested in the 1840s was 38, in the 1850s, 23, and in the 1860s, 51.
Losada was atypical in his approach to the Greenwich Trials. He submitted his #1417 in 1849, and it was placed 20th of 31 in terms of accuracy. I think he viewed this result as potentially counter-productive – that if he couldn’t achieve a top-ten result by participating he was risking having his products seen as inferior to those of several of his competitors. So he did not submit again. If this left him missing a potential product feature he could advertise – ‘Maker to the Admiralty’ – his later deal with the Spanish Government to supply 38 chronometers, will have compensated.
Losada’s nephew, Jose del Riego, entered his chronometer, #3890, to the trials in 1882. Unfortunately, his result was much worse than Losada’s – 46th of 46. Not surprising therefore that no further Riego chronometers found their way to Greenwich in subsequent years!