The real inventors of timekeeping

The real inventors of timekeeping (november 2015)


Most watchmakers like to highlight their pioneering side and claim to have developed one complication or another. While it is true that a single new design feature or the addition of an original element, however simple, can often change the face of timekeeping, there are some truly great inventors that should be given the credit they deserve…

“Nothing is created; everything is transformed,” said the French chemist Lavoisier in the 18th century. However, every mechanical device was necessarily the subject of an invention. In the field of watchmaking, every informed enthusiast knows that Abraham-Louis Breguet developed the tourbillon in 1801. But what about the other complications and great technological advances that caused the mathematician and philosopher d’Alembert to say: “It has taken many centuries for the watch to reach its current state of perfection.” Given that he made that declaration in 1751, many innovations must date back a very long way. For example, the spiral spring that provides the energy for a watch movement was created by the Dutch physicist and astronomer Huygens. That was in 1675…

Five years later, the Englishman Daniel Quare developed the first minute-repeater pocket watch. In 1686, he led the way again by positioning the hour and minute hands on the same axis, in the middle of the face.

In 1759, another Briton, John Harrison, produced the first marine chronometer precise enough to calculate longitude at sea. Eleven years later, in 1770, it was the turn of the Swiss horologist Perrelet to make his name by designing a pocket watch that is considered to be the forerunner of automatic movements. With an oscillating weight, his creation was initially called montre à secousses, meaning pedometer watch.

1821 was a crucial year in the history of watchmaking, with the invention by the Frenchman Nicolas Rieussec of an instrument for measuring short periods of time. This device foreshadowed the chronograph function…

Another Frenchman, Antide Janvier, who was born in 1751 and died in 1835, is also among the geniuses of watchmaking. He made his name designing clocks that showed the movement of the planets, the phases of the moon, tides, lunar and solar eclipses, the equation of time and other fantastic complications. And it was in homage to him that Vianney Halter, one of the watchmakers represented by my gallery, named the workshops where he now creates his spectacular watches “Manufacture Janvier” (Janvier workshop).

Since those days, the world of creative watchmaking has continued to flourish and patents are regularly filed when new watches are unveiled. The “Tourbillon of Tourbillons” model by Antoine and Florian Preziuso, for example, which was recognized at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève on October 29, was the subject of three international patents. Similarly, the unusual hour displays of the Upside Down and Half Time watches invented by Ludovic Ballouard have also been patented.

Lavoisier wasn’t entirely right, then: lots of things are created…

Ekaterina Sotnikova

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