The British

The British Masters in Timekeeping:
A Pictorial

Part 1 of 4 – Introduction

by Michael Sandler

The subject of this essay is a set of three watches which, called “The British Masters in Timekeeping”. Each of the three watches is a tribute to one of the great British watchmakers of the past. Those watchmakers are: Thomas Tompion (1639 – 1713), George Graham (1674 – 1751) and John Arnold (1736 – 1799).

The subsequent three parts of this article will profile the three watches that constitute this set:

THOMAS TOMPION (1639 – 1713)

Thomas Tompion was born in London in 1639, and is the man considered by many to be the father of British
watchmaking. He is credited with the construction of some of the first watches with balance springs, and did some of the pioneering work on the spring escapement, introducing several improvements on the design. He invented the cylinder escapement which allowed him to construct flatter, more compact watches. This invention was further evolved by George Graham (see below).

Tompion was chosen, in 1675, to provide the timepieces for the Greenwich Royal Observatory. The timepieces constructed by Tompion were pivotal for the calculations made by the team of astronomers at the observatory.

In 1711, he took George Graham into partnership in 1711, and Graham continued alone upon Tompion’s death in 1713. In honor of his achievements and his contributions to
watchmaking, he was laid to rest at Westminster.

Tompion’s watches were numbered in three series, for plain, repeating, and special watches. Graham continued with the same numbering scheme.

The Tompion Alarm GMT

Tompion Alarm GMT

GEORGE GRAHAM (1674 – 1751)

George Graham was born in Cumbreland in 1674. In 1688, he became an apprentice watchmaker to master Henry
Aske, and in 1695 he entered the service of master watchmaker Thomas Tompion (see above), at which time he was admitted to the the Company of Clockmakers. Graham also trained under masters including Thomas
Mudge, John Bird and John Shelton.

After Tompion’s death in 1713, Graham took over the business. In 1715, he invented the anchor escapement. Some of the other inventions for which Graham is given credit include the the deadbeat escapement, the mercury compensation pendulum, the minute repeater with damper, and the first chronograph! He is also responsible for several improvements made to Tompion’s cylinder escapement. In each case, Graham refused to patent these inventions because he felt rather that they should be used by other watchmakers.

As was the case with his mentor, when Graham died in 1751, Parliament allowed for his burial in Westminster Abbey.

The Graham Foudroyante

Graham Foudroyante

JOHN ARNOLD (1736 – 1799)

John Arnold was born in London in 1736. He initially established his reputation at the age of 20 when he designed a miniature minute repeater
watch. It was mounted on a ring and presented to King George III in 1764.

Beginning in 1767 or 1768, Arnold made several attempts to solve the most significant horological problem of his time: the determination of longitude at sea. These experiments led Arnold to some significant discoveries, which included the the detent escapement, bimetallic spring and the helical balance spring. He also produced the first pocket chronograph.

In 1787, along with his son J. Roger (1760 – 1843), he founded the company Arnold & Son to manufacture horological equipment. Arnold & Son took a rather unique approach to
watchmaking, contracting routine work with several watchmakers, and which allowed the company to focus on the most difficult parts, including fine adjustment. Arnold’s devices were placed on the ships of some of the most famous explorers of his time, including John Franklin and Captain James Cook.

John Arnold died in 1799.

J. Roger Arnold apprenticed under one of the true masters, working with Abraham Louis Breguet in paris before returning to England in 1796. On his return, he became a member of the Company of Clockmakers, and became a master in 1817. On his fathers, death on 1799, J. Roger continued with the family business until 1830. He died in 1843.

The Arnold & Son Marine Timekeeper I

Arnold + Son Marine Timekeeper I


Each of the thumbnails below is linked to a 1280 x 1024 pixel image. Simply click on the thumbnail to open the full-size image.



Click HERE to continue to Part 2

Click HERE to continue to Part 3

Click HERE to continue to Part

Copyright © 2000 Michael Sander

All Rights Reserved