Collection online

travelling clock / spring-driven clock / quarter-repeating clock / hour-striking clock / grande-sonnerie clock / eight-day clock / clock-case / alarm clock

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Escapement

  • Description

    Travelling clock; eight-day; going-train with fusee, originally with dual control verge escapement (now with platform lever escapement); 'grande-sonnerie' striking mechanism and pull-quarter repeat, both functioning from single train powered by standing barrel within the hour bell; alarm mechanism, powered by its own pull wound standing barrel, also sounds on the hour bell; silver dial with alarm setting disc at centre; mock pendulum aperture and regulation dials for balance and pendulum in upper corners; lower corners have dials for selecting escapement control and manner of striking; silver and gilded-brass case; decorative features designed by Marot(?).


  • Producer name

  • Date

    • 1695-1705 (clock)
    • 19thC (escapement)
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 20 centimetres
    • Width: 11.5 centimetres
    • Depth: 8.5 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Comment

        ribbon cartouche
  • Curator's comments

    Text from 'Clocks', by David Thompson, London, 2004, p. 88.
    Thomas Tompion
    Silver-gilt travelling clock
    London, c. 1700
    Height 20 cm, width 11.5 cm, depth 8.5 cm
    This clock by Thomas Tompion (1639-1713) is one of his most complicated. It has a pull-quarter repeat, an alarm and a grande-sonnerie striking mechanism. All this is squeezed into a very small space. Such was Tompion's ingenuity that he even housed the mainspring barrel for the striking mechanism inside the bell so that no available space was left unoccupied.
    Originally the clock provided a complicated and rarely attempted refinement in the form of dual escapement control. This allowed the clock's owner to engage the pendulum whilst the clock was stationary and switch over to balance control when travelling. It is, however, a great pity that this mechanism was removed and replaced with a platform lever escapement, in the nineteenth century. Perhaps Tompion's original concepts were becoming troublesome and beyond the ability of its then repairer and its owner thought it better to butcher this rare clock in the name of reliable time-keeping rather than to preserve it for posterity.
    The beautifully decorated silver champlevé dial has the usual hour numerals I-XII with lozenge half-hour marks within an outer circle for the minutes, with every fifth division numbered in Arabic. In the middle is an alarm-setting disc, which is rotated so that the required alarm time is beneath the pointed tail of the hour hand. In the corners are four key-operated subsidiary dials. The top two were used for regulation and are calibrated 0-60 and inscribed 'POVR REGLER LA PENDULE' to the left and 'POVR REGLER LE BALANCIER' to the right. The lower left dial is inscribed 'BALANCIER' and 'PENDVLE' and effects the change from one controller to the other, the lower right dial is inscribed 'SONNE SIL aux quart SILENCE' offering different striking options from complete grande-sonnerie to hours only or silence. The French inscriptions might suggest either a French patron or an English Huguenot customer, but certainly, he or she would have been a very wealthy person, for this clock would undoubtedly have been very expensive. The dial is signed on a scrolled label THO TOMPION LONDON. Unfortunately most of the under-dial mechanism is now missing.
    It comes as no surprise that such an exquisite movement and dial is housed in a case of the finest quality. The frame of the case is of fire-gilded silver with inserted panels at the sides and back, cast and chased with foliage, grotesque figures, masks and cherubs. Even the carrying handle at the top is in the form of two addorsed caryatid figures. The designs used as the basis for the decoration of the clock are related to those of the Huguenot engraver and designer Daniel Marot, brought to London by William III.
    Purchased in 1986.


  • Bibliography

    • Lippincott 1999 p.143, cat.155 bibliographic details
    • Thompson 2004 p.88 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G39/dc9

  • Exhibition history

    Exhibited: 1999-2000 01 Dec-24 Sep, London, Greenwich, National Maritime Museum, The Story of Time

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


COMPASS Title: Miniature travelling clock by Thomas Tompion


COMPASS Title: Miniature travelling clock by Thomas Tompion

Image description



If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: 

View open data for this object with SPARQL endpoint

Object reference number: MCC3102

British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.

View this object

Support the Museum:
donate online

The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.

About the database

The British Museum collection database is a work in progress. New records, updates and images are added every week.

More about the database 


Work on this database is supported by a range of sponsors, donors and volunteers.

More about supporters and how you
can help