Our new subscriber (K) from Hong King is an exponent of horology: he collects watches and has done so for many years. I spent some time at the weekend interviewing him to gain a better insight into why he sees something that measures time as a personal work of art.
And time is the key word. K is a time traveller in his occupation; he loves the evolution of devices over periods of time and he admires anything that stands the test of time in terms of craftsmanship. To have such a device close to him, sharing and assisting in his life and, he stresses, in the expression of his emotions, is an integral part of his personality. In his opinion, a watch is one of the few accessories a man can wear to express his character and style. K particularly likes vintage watches, because their age give them provenance but he also likes it when they are worn giving them character implying it has stood the test of time.
First we will look briefly into the history of mechanical time pieces starting with the invention of Water Clocks (clepsydrae) which can be traced back to the C6th in China. Here is an illustration of a mechanical water clock invented by the polymath Su Song (1020–1101) in 1088 to power his astronomical clock tower. It would have been wonderful to see as it was 9.1m tall and had an automatically rotating celestial globe and five front panels with doors that permitted the viewing of changing mannequins which rang bells or gongs, and held tablets indicating the hour or other special times of the day.(Wikipedia)
Who invented the first portable clock is up for debate. However, the German clockmaker Peter Henlein (1479-1542) was credited with this achievement in a book published in 1512 (Johannes Cochläus: Brevis Germaniae Descriptio) stating that Henlein made a cylindrical portable clock in 1510 and the clock operated for 40 hours. I don't know if this is the original but is thought to be a Henlein clock.
It would seem that one of the first wristwatches was made by Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe in 1868 and was originally intended as a piece of jewellery. It was bought by Countess Koscowicz of Hungary. It is exquisite!
But it is possible that Elizabeth 1 received the the first wristwatch
from Robert Dudley as shown in an advertisement from 1926, made for the Gruen Guild (watchmakers).
Back to what we do know. The first wristwatches to be produced in large quantities were those manufactured specifically for the German military in the 1880s by the Swiss watchmaker company Girard-Perregaux. In the 1880s a successful man used the pocket watch as a status symbol. However, Constant Girand saw the wristwatch as a far more practical device for the German naval officers producing 2000 for the German Kaiser Wilhelm I. This production represented the first mass production and sale of wristwatches recorded.
Unfortunately K doesn't not have one of these watches though I'm sure he would love one. But he does have a Cyma British Military Watch (MOD Specification) of 50+ years' vintage arising from WW11 when military watches came into their own. K is attracted to military watches as they are purposeful, clean and have a legible design. K's watch does have a military issue number on the back and does show signs of wear. Unfortunately we don't know the events it has witnessed. The first wristwatches specifically commissioned for the British Army are referred to as the Dirty Dozen and this article is an excellent read for any horologist out there.
I will show you the movement for each watch because to me this is the work of art.
Rolex Daytona is seen as the Holy Grail in terms of Vintage watch collecting and not only because Paul Newman (no relationship- I wish!!) wore one. As I understand it is all about function. Here are two Rolex Daytona owned by K.and both are chronographs - they not only give the time, they can be used to measure elapsed time as they were originally meant to be used by racing car drivers and with this watch they could time their laps. The first is a Rolex Daytona 6265 (4 digit) and is more than 20 years old.
Here is its movement.
The second Rolex on show today is a Rolex Daytona 16520 (1997) Again it is a chronograph but is automatic and therefore a successor to the manually wound Rolex chonographs. It has a unique movement, called the 4030 which is based on a movement from another company called Zenith and Rolex modified it for their needs.
And now we move onto another chronograph but this one is a Omega Speedmaster (1992)
NASA tested several watches that could survive space travel and Speedmaster was chosen to become the official watch for the Apollo Missions and NASA space flights. Several Speedmasters have been to the moon. They were originally designed as a sports car driver's watch but weren't popular until NASA missions made them famous. They are still being made and are basically the same watch. Here is the movement.
One of K's watches is a new Seagull Chinese Military Reissue. It is also a chronograph.
K. loves this one because it's not Swiss made but from another part of the world, namely China, and therefore helps to illustrate the spread of watchmaking history. Also the Reissues are very affordable and despite being a new watch, feel very good on the wrist.
Finally we come to a couple of watches that might be considered to be K's favourites. They are watches made for diving. Apart from the fact that this young man likes being in the water and going diving, these watches are built to be tough and durable so make for an excellent day to day time piece.
The Rolex Seadweller (2008) diving watch. K expressed his attachment in this way: I love this particular model because to me it is the quintessential Rolex Sports Watch. Rolex are famous for their dive watches and the most famous of their dive watches is the Submariner. The Seadweller is the Submariner's tougher brother.
And finally we have another dive watch, the Tudor Submariner. This one is about 50 years old.
The founder of Rolex Hans Wilsdorf created the Tudor brand as a cheaper alternative using some Rolex parts. The main difference was that the movement was not made by Rolex. K loves this particular watch because of its design especially the unique hands. He also loves the fact that the bezel has a fading to it from use. The bezel is now grey but originally would have been deep black. This adds to the character and provenance.
For your information a Vintage watch is one with a plexi glass crystal which is the cover.
In K's opinion, having a watch, knowing the time, is a powerful thing for anyone. Not only do watches help keep some control over your daily life, they often represent the celebration of a special occasion or mile stone, a special gift from someone special, a symbol of a loved one.
I asked K if he could keep only one of his watches which would it be?
Response: Its like asking me to choose a favourite child. Today the favourite child was the Seadweller but he assured me tomorrow could be a different answer.
The Hero Image for today is one of the first balance springs made by Christiaan Huygens, 1875.
I hope you have enjoyed this swerve away from what we consider to be conventional art works. Tomorrow will be a day off as I prepare to move us further into Modern Art.