- Museum number
GOLD AND NIELLO CASED CYLINDER WATCH WITH CHAIN AND KEY.
Very thin movement.
Gold niello dial with moving discs for hours and minutes.
Hands not intended.
Gold niello hunting case with chain and key; floral/foliage design.
- Production date
Diameter: 44.60 millimetres (case)
Length: 199 millimetres (overall with chain and key)
- Curator's comments
- Text from 'Watches', by David Thompson, London, 2008, p. 116-117.
(perhaps Jean F. Bautte & Cie)
GOLD AND NIELLO CASED CYLINDER WATCH WITH DIGITAL DIAL AND EN-SUITE CHAIN AND KEY
GENEVA, c. 1830
As well as improving accuracy, the introduction by George Graham of the cylinder escapement for watches in 1725 enabled them to be made thinner than their counterparts with a verge escapement. The relative thinness of these watches was not, however, significant until the development of the Lépine calibre, which allowed the watch to become much thinner (see registration no. 1958,1201.289). Here the arrangement of bars for the train wheel bearings, the use of a hanging going barrel and the sinking of the balance into the body of the movement all allowed for this thinner construction. In addition, the watch was wound with a square key, which fitted into a square hole in the barrel arbor, rather than having the usual winding square on the barrel and a hollow key that fitted over it.
Such spectacularly thin watches were being made in Switzerland in the late 1830s and this is a fine example, with a case measuring just 5.5 mm thick. With the case being so thin, the construction of the movement was undoubtedly a serious challenge and whoever made the cylinder for the escapement - a hollow tube of steel with half the side cut away - had to be highly skilled in the art.
There is an old saying that 'there is nothing new in horology', and it is often true. It might be thought that the idea of digital time indication arose with the quartz revolution in the 1970s. But here, in a watch made around 1830, is an example of a digital time display and it is by no means the earliest. In this instance, the time is shown in hours and minutes through a tiny shaped aperture in the dial, which reveals the numerals on two revolving discs mounted on the front of the movement below. The minute dial rotates constantly, mounted on the extended arbor of the second gear train wheel, but the hours are jumping. The hour disc is mounted on a star wheel, which is indexed once an hour by a stud on the arbor carrying the minute disc. The time is set by inserting the winding square into the hollow square in the centre of the minute disc and rotating the discs.
Although unsigned, the watch appears to have been made in Switzerland, possibly by the firm Jean F. Bautte & Cie of Geneva; a similar example is illustrated in Reinhard Meis's IWC-Uhren. The making of these ultra-thin watches was very much a Swiss art and it is no surprise to find such exquisite pieces exported to retailers in Paris where there was a ready market for high fashion pieces such as this. The existence of an import mark along with the Paris gold quality marks in the case confirm it to be a foreign-made piece.
- On display (G39/dc14/no61)
- Latest: 3 (2016)
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Previous owner/ex-collection number: CAI.1283 (Ilbert Collection)
Previous owner/ex-collection number: H2 (Ilbert Ledger)