Monday, 30 September 2019

Thank You Omega

A couple of years ago Raynald Aeschlimann, CEO of Omega, kindly invited my eldest son and I to Bienne to visit the new Omega Museum and the production line. My health prevented me from taking up the invitation at that time, but more recently, plans were put together for the trip from England to be made on 27 September.  In the event, medical advice was against my going after all, but Omega generously arranged for my second son to be accommodated in my place.

My boys had a great time and came away even more Omega brand-enthusiastic. I’m attaching a few of their photographs, but am mainly posting to record my appreciation of the exceptional generosity, friendliness and efficiency of Reynald and his PA, Alexandra Buraglio.  They represent a watch brand which manages to be very charismatic, yet accessible.  The company’s history is a highly interesting one, and the role of the Speedmaster in the NASA moon programmes has been a considerable feature in all the Apollo coverage in this year of the 50th anniversary of the live broadcast of this goose bumps-inducing dialogue:

“Engine arm is off. Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

“Roger, Tranquillity. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

Monday, 12 August 2019

The Wild West . . . in South East London

If you ever have reason to start looking into the Frodsham horological dynasty you may, as I did, become excited to happen upon Edward, of that ilk.  Whilst most of the family, from William James (b.1778) through to Parkinson & Frodsham, (surviving to 1947), remained London-based, establishing and developing watchmaking businesses of great repute, this Edward was to be found in the 1870s in Wyoming, U.S.  Described as a jeweller by trade, he apparently had a fearsome temper and was good with a gun.  A succinct pen portrait goes like this: Imprisoned for having shot dead a man who had been having an affair with his wife.  On release was soon in a gunfight at Laramie, killed another man, was arrested, then bailed, moved to Leadville, killed again, for which he was arrested and put into jail, from which he was seized by vigilantes . . . and lynched by them!

Meanwhile, back in England, George Frodsham was in 1876, if a little less extravagantly, also flouting the Law: he was summoned for travelling 2nd Class on the Great Eastern Railway with a 3rd Class ticket.

But if George’ delinquency was mild in comparison with Edward’s, one of his fellow London watchmakers, Nathaniel Wegg, would have been quite at home in the gun-toting Wild West.  In 1885 Nat shot a man attempting to break into his watch/jewellery shop in Deptford.  A little reminiscent of Dirty Harry’s line, ‘you've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?,’ Nat shouted to the wounded burglar, ‘How did you like it? . . . I have another ready for you.’  And while at the movies, Nat’s approach reminds me of Paul Kersey in Michael Winner’s Death Wish, not only for his liking to be tooled-up, but also as a one man judicial operation, as illustrated by this report in the Kentish Mercury, 14 May 1881:

Wegg is certainly proving to be an interesting subject and my article on his life and business is nearing completion.  However, examples of his work are very hard to find.  So, if you have a Wegg watch – or a photograph/description of one – I’d be very grateful to hear from you.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Another missed

Further to previous posts - 2019 and 2015 - another Alexander Hare Pocket Watch was included in the Jones & Horan sale, 2nd June, described:

The watch sold for $1,800. It's another that I feel I've 'missed,' (because I was overly-focused on the Alexander Watkins Chronometer in the same sale.) But I'm intent on acquiring a timepiece by Hare and will keep looking.  Meanwhile - courtesy of Jones & Horan - here are some photographs of #406:

Monday, 3 June 2019

Mr Watkins would not have been amused

Following up my March 2019 post, I was very surprised to find that the beautiful little Pocket Chronometer by Alexander Watkins made only $8,600 at auction on 2nd June.  Bearing in mind that it featured in the 1851 Great Exhibition and is a 'one-off'' piece of horological history, the £51,000 it sold for fifteen years ago seemed fairly modest, and how it can have achieved such a very much smaller hammer price now is a real mystery to me.  Someone has acquired for themselves a wonderful bargain!

In cataloging the Chronometer Jones & Horan made available some new images, including several of the cases, and courtesy of J&H, here is a selection:

And, surely, the presence of these accoutrements, should have supported a higher resale value?  I'm certain that Alexander, a notably proud man, would have expected so.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Rags to Riches to Rags

In researching nineteenth century watchmakers  I often find I'm looking at a family business characterised by a diligent, hard-working founder who built up reputation, turnover and capital value, and by sons/grandsons who seem to have taken things for granted and presided over commercial demise, sometimes to the point of bankruptcy.  One such 'story' concerns David Keys (born 1816), and his son, William (born 1856). My account of David's initial success and of William's failure is published in the April 2019 issue of Clocks Magazine

Today, discussion of business models is no longer something that takes place only in a high-powered management consultancy or financial institution.  With the recent attainment of the potential facilitation/cost effectiveness of marketing through digital channels, the working principles of all sorts of commercial enterprises, and the need for these principles to change, has become a frequently examined subject in media coverage of current affairs.  Notably, most people - whatever their own occupation/profession - are familiar with the travails of the retail sector, witnessing in our own high streets and malls the disappearance of stores whose names had been familiar (and loved/respected) throughout our lifetimes.

In the current volatile milieu it isn't just old, traditional businesses that have had to reconsider their business model - Apple, for instance, underpinned by vast revenues over recent decades and said to be the global number one brand, has just announced its strategic shift from relying on producing physical goods to an enterprise generating subscription income from a television platform which will integrate with other service provisions and transactional activities.

The commercial environment in the later years of the nineteenth century was similarly volatile. Industrialisation, transfer of the populace from rural to urban locations and improved communication/transportation resources were major factors in a time of great change.  The concept of readily available 'consumer goods' required that shops/stores should become proactive marketers and to survive they needed to find competitive edge.  That William Keys recognised this in the 1880s is to his credit, but that his resulting actions were so ineffective is sad - everything that David had built-up over forty years was dissipated by William within ten.

Marine Chronometer, 1892
Courtesy of Konrad Knirim

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Three Follow-ups

I posted about Alexander Watkins and his very fine 1851 Pocket Chronometer in April 2016. As noted in my Clocks Magazine article about Watkins, this watch changed hands in a Sotheby's sale in 2004 for £51,000 - this has always seemed to me a meagre amount for such an attractive and historically-significant timepiece.  So I shall be very interested to see what it makes when it comes up again this summer.  This will be Jones & Horan's sale on Sunday 2nd June - for further details see here. In my experience this is an auction house which really knows its stuff, and their team has in the past been very friendly and helpful to me in my horological researches.

More recently, Isaac Court's 'Patent Time Repeater' featured here.  Rich Newman kindly got in touch from Chicago to let me know about other applications of this fascinating invention - covered in his article:

I've done it again!  Back in November 2015 I was bemoaning missing out on an Alexander Hare pocket watch.  Even more regrettable this time, in the recent sale at Canterbury Auction Galleries.  This was a good example of how much value can be obtained in terms of character and complication if precious metal case material is not so important to a collector:

Courtesy of Canterbury Auction Galleries

To my eye this is a very attractive verge (#386), and not expensive at a hammer price of  £1,900; ah well.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Henry Delolme

Born in Braunschweig (Brunswick), Lower Saxony, in 1799, Henry Delolme was the youngest son of horologist Antoine Nicolas Delolme. The name Delolme is associated primarily with that part of south west France abutting the Swiss watchmaking region centred on Geneva.  It is logical to conclude that the Delolme family was of French origin but relocated progressively for reasons of trade during the seventeenth/eighteenth centuries to Switzerland and subsequently to the central German state.

Antoine gained a reputation for high quality work and was appointed Clockmaker to the Braunschweig Court in the 1780s.  The City experienced considerable turmoil during the early decades of the nineteenth century, being occupied by the French as a Napoleonic conquest in 1806.  Subsequently, the Congress of Vienna established a Duchy of Braunschweig, with the City as its capital.  The regime was notably illiberal, (resulting in 1830 in an uprising and the Duke’s (Charles) replacement by his brother William,) and this was no doubt the main reason why the Delolme family (and others of their like) emigrated around 1810.  Antoine’s later clocks are signed Delolme, Paris, whilst by circa 1827 Henry had set up business in London.  It is likely that Henry formed a partiality for the French in deference to his family’s origins and his own experience during his brief period as a teenager residing in Paris, perhaps as their capital offered a welcoming milieu much in contrast with the repressions and conflicts he had observed in the city of his birth.   The earliest documentary evidence for Henry’s residence in England has been found in the archive (Volume 515) of the insurers, Sun Life, with the entry:

23 January 1827, 1054306, Henry Delolme, 23 Rathbone St., Watchmaker.  On his household goods wearing apparel printed books and plate in his now dwelling house only situate as aforesaid brick, £80 £80. Stock utensils therein only £220, £220, £300.

The next extant record results from his marriage in 1829 to Amelia Lebarthe.  A newspaper report of the theft of watches from Delolme refers to the Business’s location at Rathbone Place but does not clarify the apparent anomaly regarding the building’s number – no.23 in the insurance record, but always no.48 elsewhere.

Fig.1 Cylinder pocket watch
by Antoine Delolme c1820.
Courtesy of Dr Crott Auktionen

Henry and Amelia had six children: John Lewis Anthony, born 18-10-1829, Henry, born 4-01-1833, (died aged 11 months), Jules Charles, born 4-01-1836, Charles John, born 11-09-1837 (d. 1915); Henrietta Charlotte, born 15-03-1839 (married Walter Gorges (Brunswick) 10-10-1867); Louise Gustave, born 08-07-1841.  Charles John initially trained to become a civil engineer, but by 1871 he was assisting in his Father’s business and is referred to as a watchmaker in the 1881 Census return.  The family home and business premises were, as above, at 48 Rathbone Place, which is a turning off the north side of Oxford Street, close to the major junction with Tottenham Court Road.

The 1842 edition of Robson’s London Directory features the listing: 48 Rathbone Place – Henry Delolme, watchmaker and importer of Parisian clocks and Musical Boxes and Importers of Geneva Watch Tools and Materials.  Throughout that decade Delolme developed the quality and range of his products.  Notably, he began to offer Marine Chronometers, for which at that time there was ready and increasing demand in accordance with the navigational needs of an expanding shipping industry driven by global trading.  Thus, by 1851, Delolme’s exhibits in the Great Exhibition included, in addition to seven gold Pocket Watches, two Marine Chronometers.  The latter were based on rough movements sourced from the Prescot (Lancashire) manufactories.  Probably informed by his Continental heritage, he was differentiating his Pocket Watches from those of his more traditional English competitors by seeking to make them as unbulky as possible.  In reviewing his exhibits, a newspaper report observed:

Mr. Delom (sic), of 48 Rathbone-place, exhibits a handsome collection of watches, containing many improvements in construction, the result of his long scientific experience.  By dispensing with the fusee he obtains more room for the other works, and is thus enabled to comply with the present taste for flat watches without any sacrifice of strength or durability.  The duty of the fusee in regulating the inequality of the mainspring is performed by an ingenious contrivance which he very learnedly calls an ‘isochrone pendulum spring’ – this sonorous epithet being the only part of his work which is not entirely of English manufacture.

(Note:  There’s some ‘marketing-speak at play here in order to suggest novelty and a unique feature: after all, as long ago as 1782, John Arnold’s patent, #1328, was summarised as being applicable to, ‘Escapement and balance, to compensate the effects of heat and cold in pocket-chronometers or watches, also for incurvating the two ends of the helical spring, to render the expansion and contraction of the spring concentric with the centre of the balance.’)

Regarding his Chronometers, Delolme was bracketed with some of the most renowned English makers:

In marine and pocket chronometers we have a very creditable display of first-rate workmanship . . . we may mention the well known names of Arnold, Frodsham, Barraud, Dent, Delolme, Gowland. (Morning Chronicle, 9 May 1851)

Around this date Delolme adopted an image of a Marine Chronometer for his advertisement:


This is earliest extant Delolme Marine Chronometer currently found:

Courtesy eBay member ‘martawatch’

It has a 2-day movement with Earnshaw-type spring detent escapement.  Numbered 501, it is probable that this is an example of Delolme’s output considerably prior to his participation in the Great Exhibition.  The highest number extant is 1002.  In Chronometer Makers of the World, Tony Mercer indicates a known movement number of 2248 with date attribution of 1899, (9 years after Henry’s death).  He also records examples in a movement number range of 96 to 1355.  Mercer also wrote of Delolme, intriguingly, ‘Honest and straightforward but lost all his money; also, ‘George Oram, chronometer maker, collected funds to his modest requirements.’  There is, however, no record of a formal business partnership involving Delolme and Oram, his contemporary and proprietor of a commercially successful horological business based at Wilmington Square, Clerkenwell.  But whether or not Delolme made the most financially of his talents, the Business was substantial enough to support the employment of four watchmakers.

And beyond his own enterprise he had a care and concern for people employed in the Trade.  With the difficulties English watchmakers experienced in the mid-nineteenth century, especially as a result of loss of market share consequent on the popularity of imported products from Switzerland and America, came a desire by the more successful ‘names’ to alleviate hardship in the Trade’s workforce.  In particular there was a need for accommodation for elderly practitioners who could no longer work and/or afford to rent a home or premises.  As a partial solution, a community of alms houses in New Southgate, known as the Clock and Watch Maker’s Asylum was established in 1857.  Henry was a noted, prominent attender at the Asylum’s inaugural dinner held at the Albion Tavern, Aldersgate Street.

That Delolme had a finely developed social conscience is further indicated by his association with the French Protestant Evangelical Church.  Henry was nominated as a trustee in 1867. He subsequently took on the role of Treasurer to safeguard the funds sought by charitable appeals, an example of which being:

Mission of the French Protestant Evangelical Church in Bayswater:  This mission, by means of which large numbers of foreigners are every year in many ways benefitted, irrespective of creed or nationality, stands in deep need of aid at this present time.  The mission supports a deaconess and a Bible-woman to visit among the foreign population, and administer to their bodily as well as their higher wants.  This mission is without any endowment whatever.

The success of the Great Exhibition inspired further similar international fairs elsewhere in mid-nineteenth century America and Europe.  It also left an appetite for a repeat in London and the realisation of this in 1862 was partly funded by profits from the 1851 event.  Delolme’s Establishment status was affirmed by his appointment to the Exhibition’s horological department planning committee along with elite clockmakers Cole, Webster, Bennett and Upjohn, meeting at the organising Society of Arts’ premises in the Adelphi in August 1861.

The Exhibition opened in Kensington in May of the following year with Delolme again contributing an impressive range of watches and clocks, reviewed as follows:

Mr Delolme exhibits many specimens, including marine chronometers, one of them with metallic mechanical thermometer; astronomical regulator, in plate-glass and ormolu case of entirely new design, with gravity escapement; the pendulum is suspended on friction rollers.  There are also transparent eight-day clocks, for night and day, with invisible movements of novel construction, and lighted by the usual night light; a watch, with metallic thermometer; and a first-class English independent seconds watch, with one train only, being on the principle of the remontoir escapement.

(The ‘remontoir’ solution to the problem of varying input force to the balance is succinctly summarized in Hodinkee’s Watch 101, 101 is also instructive in regard to the tourbillon feature seen in the chronometer illustrated below.)

Delolme received a medal in recognition of the excellence of his exhibits.

An example of Delolme’s later production appeared in the Dr Crott 91 Auction sales catalogue, May 2015.  This is attributed with number 8820 and dated to circa1875:

Courtesy of Dr Crott Auktionen

The specification is impressive, summarised in the catalogue:

A heavy hunting case pocket watch with minute tourbillon.  Case: 18k gold. Tiered, engine-turned, a goutte, gold dome with engraving.  Dial: enamel, radial Roman hours, auxiliary seconds, paste-set hands.  Movm,: bridge movement, keywind, signed, nickel-plated, decorated, chain/fusee with Harrison’s maintaining power, finely executed mirror-polished steel tourbillon cage, screwed gold chatons, pivoted detent escapement, gold screw compensation balance, pink gold train, freesprung blued balance spring.

Henry continued at the helm of the Business into his eighties – still recorded as a watchmaker (master), not a retired watchmaker – in the 1881 Census.  As mentioned earlier, son Charles, age 44, is on the same census return and described as a watchmaker.  There is no evidence to suggest that he assumed control of the Business before Henry’s death in 1890.  Equally, with the exception of Mercer’s citing of number 2248/1899, it does not appear that the Delolme name continued to appear on watches made after that date.  So Henry’s brand did not substantially survive him, but during his lifetime it was one which represented technical quality and aesthetic excellence.