Antique watches and clocks have a long and interesting history, which makes them very appealing to collectors.
Background to antique watches and clocks
Starting centuries before the mechanical tower clocks of medieval times, the regulation and synchronisation of human communities took place to some degree. Galileo designed a clock incorporating a pendulum in 1640, but never made one. Christian Huygens did in 1656, however, and discovered that it kept time very accurately. Grandfather clocks evolved from early pendulum clocks and were given wooden cases for hiding the weights they used. It was English clock makers who were the best in Europe until the early 19th century.
- As for antique watches, the first was made in the 1500s, and the first ones were worn around the neck.
- Only in the17th century did pocket watches appear, and these remained luxury items until nearly the 19th century.
- The first leading watchmakers in Europe were the French, followed by the English, who dominated the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Today the Swiss are generally acknowledged as being the master watchmakers of the world.
Antique Clocks for Sale
Up until around 1820, many clocks were produced with only hour hands, though matching hour and minute hands were used starting around 1775. Longcase clock dials started having second hands around 1780. Around 1785 minute rings of brass dials started incorporating dots, and paper clock dials, affixed to wood or metal, were first introduced around 1792.
In the 19th century, distributors and retailers often put their own names on clocks that were manufactured elsewhere, representing an early version of private branding. Until this time clock cases were usually made separately from the clock movement and the cases were rarely signed. There have been occasions of fraudulent signatures being added in attempts to increase an antique clock's perceived value.
English carriage clocks were made starting around 1820, with Art Nouveau styles arriving around 1890. American clocks with china or porcelain cases were being made in 1890, and Art Deco styles arrived around 1925.
Antique Watches for Sale
Antique watches prior to the 1720s had movements based on those of large, medieval public clocks. These movements produced much friction and there was no jewelling to protect the contact surfaces, resulting in watches that were not very accurate. Cylinder escapements began being used soon after, however, and the lever escapement came along by the mid-18th century, improving accuracy to within one minute per day. Lever escapements are still used in most mechanical watches.
In the mid-1800s, Swiss watchmakers of Schaffhausen began streamlining watch production, and new American watchmakers created machinery to further streamline production, allowing the American Watch Company (Waltham) to produce over 50,000 watches a year. While the Americans began to dominate the cheaper watch market, the Swiss chose another tack, raising the quality of their products and establishing themselves as the world's leading watchmakers in terms of precision and accuracy.
Antique watches and clocks are works of art in terms of their mechanical parts. Many of them were made with embellishments that turned them almost into forms of entertainment.
The human race has attempted to record the passing of time throughout history. From early farmers sectioning time into periods for planting and harvesting to Egyptians using obelisks to measure time through shadows, to hourglasses, indexed candles, water clocks, and today's quartz and atomic clocks, the history of timekeeping parallels the general rise in technology, and some would say heavily influenced the design of many of those technologies. It's no wonder that antique watches and clocks are so popular with collectors.
Find out more about antique clocks and antique watches for sale at Boningtons' auctions.