(Top): Silver clock watch by Edward East of London, c. 1650.
(Bottom): Sun and moon watch by Bennett of London, c. 1700.
(Below Left): Gold centre seconds watch by Mudge and Dutton of London, c. 1772.
(Below Right): Silver pocket chronometer by John Arnold and Son, c. 1785.
(Below): Gold and enamel watch and chatelaine by Ellicott of London, c. 1787.
(Below): 'John Bull' watch by The Lancashire Watch Company, c. 1910.
(Below): Gold split seconds chronograph and minute repeating watch by Frodsham of London, c. 1878.
Watchmaking developed late in England. The coiled spring, which had given
portability to clocks as early as 1450, had been followed by progressive
miniaturization so that by the beginning of the sixteenth century, the first
watches were appearing in princely pockets.
The early industry was dominated by Germany and France, but the
persecution of industrious Huguenot craftsmen following the Reformation, led
to a large influx of continental skills into England, watchmaking among them.
The first era of the craft in England, led by such men as Vallin and Nawe, was
brief, snuffed out by plague in 1592 and 1598, but the foundations had been
laid and English craftsmen began to emerge.
Gilt watch by Francis Nawe of London, c. 1590.
This was the age of mechanical jewellery, and
the results were erratic in the extreme. Much care
was lavished on decoration of the cases, dials and
movements, but mechanically complex items like
the clockwatch alarm by East were also made.
The year 1670 saw the transformation of the
watch, pioneered by English makers, with the
invention of the balance spring. Improved accuracy
allowed the minute hand to be added, although the
single tulip hour hand lingered on as in the
Higginson watch, and variations such as the sun
and moon dial also appeared. Decoratively, watches
continued to be luxury items, with leather and
pique work, tortoiseshell and silver inlay, and at
the turn of the century the most luxurious repoussé
gold cases first appeared. The watch by George
Graham c. 1735, is a perfect example and by
this date the champlevé dial was giving way to
white enamel. Superb enamel cases appeared later
in the century.
(Above left pit, from the top): Gold repeating watch by Thomas Tompion of London, c. 1709.
(Middle and bottom): Gold triple-cased repeating watch by George Graham of London, c. 1735..
Improved escapement design such as the cylinder in the early eighteenth
century led to greater accuracy, and the magnificent gentleman's centre
seconds watches by such makers as Mudge & Dutton and Hawkins. However,
the end of the century was dominated by the spring detent escapement of
Arnold & Earnshaw with bimetallic compensate balance. Originally designed
for marine timekeepers, this escapement was not wholly suitable for the more
demanding requirements of a pocket watch, but English makers were seduced
by its success in chronometers and most failed to concentrate on the more
practical lever escapement invented many years earlier by Mudge. It was not
until around 1810 that makers such as Savage & Massey recognised its
potential and it came into general use.
Under-painted horn watches, early I 9th century.
As the nineteenth century progressed English watchmakers responded
inadequately to competition from America and Switzerland. Superb examples
of complex mechanisms like the minute repeater and perpetual calendar by
Barraud & Lund, and the split seconds chronograph by Frodsham continued to
be made, but the standard pocket watch was increasingly imported. The 'John
Bull' watch was a late attempt to capture the 'dollar' watch market which
failed. During the two World Wars, English watch factories largely switched
to war production and attempts to revive the industry subsequently failed in