The AHS Blog

Journal Volume 35 Issue 1

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New lease of life for a distinguished old gent

This post was written by James Nye

Featured in James Bond’s Skyfall in 2012, the former Port of London Authority building near London’s Tower Hill is undergoing significant change, to become luxury apartments and a hotel, badged 10 Trinity Square.

The building was opened in 1922 by Lloyd George, and its boardroom hosted a reception on 30 January 1946 in honour of the first session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, which had commenced earlier in the month ( The Times , 31 January 1946, p. 7).

10 Trinity Square, former Port of London Authority HQ
10 Trinity Square, former Port of London Authority HQ

The boardroom was recently the focus for dramatic renovation works, with original surfaces being repaired and refinished.

One relic from an earlier incarnation of the building to which the new owners turned their attention was the Gent Fig. C423 insertion feature clock, mounted in a panel above the balcony doorway.

Gent insertion movement (1950s), in original 1920s surround
Gent insertion movement (1950s), in original 1920s surround
Gent Fig. C423 insertion clock
Gent Fig. C423 insertion clock
Gent impulse dial movement
Gent impulse dial movement

This model was designed for the Festival of Britain in 1951. It is therefore clearly a later replacement of the movement first installed in 1922, but Colin Reynold’s excellent Conspectus of Clocks and Time Related Products Produced by Gent & Co Leicester (Leicester, 2011) illustrates the original pattern.

The current orphaned dial has lost the rest of its network of C7 master clock, and perhaps a hundred dials that might once have populated the building’s many rooms.

A view of the boardroom, undergoing renovation
A view of the boardroom, undergoing renovation
Original pattern dial, from Reynolds' Prospectus
Original pattern dial, from Reynolds’ Prospectus

Johan ten Hoeve of The Clockworks was asked to attend to see what could be done to make it work.

Apart from the required servicing of the movement, the obvious solution was to provide a small self-contained master clock mechanism, quartz-controlled and battery-driven, to be hidden inside the panelling.

This parsimonious and relatively inexpensive solution has ensured the retention of a historic clock, in its original setting, and without the replacement of any parts. The old Gent lives to fight another day.

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There’s never been a better time for reform!

This post was written by James Nye

A gauntlet has been laid down. Across Europe, thoughtful people are busy working up ingenious ideas for a competition devised over an extraordinary April weekend in southern Germany.

Each year, several dozen of the electro-horo-cognoscenti gather in Mannheim-Seckenheim for an event organised by Till Lottermann and Dr Thomas Schraven.

The fifteenth of these gatherings—a combination of market, lectures and much eating, drinking and good conversation—saw a new visitor who brought many interesting items, not least several hundred new-old-stock Reform movements, tissue-wrapped and boxed.

Reform catalogue, c.1950
Reform catalogue, c.1950
Lottermann, Schraven and Nye, Mannheim workshops (April 2014)
Lottermann, Schraven and Nye, Mannheim workshops (April 2014)

Alert readers will recall an Antiquarian Horology cover featuring a classic example of the Reform calibre 5000 movement, and a fascinating accompanying article.

As David Read comments, these Schild movements are ‘without doubt the best known and most commercially successful of all the many varieties of electrically-rewound clock movements’ from the 1920s onwards. The calibre 5000 is a lovely object, jewelled, with damascened plates, and micrometer regulation.

Antiquarian Horology, vol. 33, Dec 2011 (cover)
Antiquarian Horology, vol. 33, Dec 2011 (cover)
Movement detail, catalogue, c.1950
Movement detail, catalogue, c.1950

Nye’s theorem proposes that hi=as*bc/ebw where hi stands for horological inventiveness, as represents afternoon hours of sunshine, bc denotes beers consumed and ebw stands for evening bottles of wine.

With a lively group, talk over two sunny days and late evenings turned to possible creative uses for virgin Reform movements.

Given their looks, the mechanism must remain visible, but the motion work is to the (unremarkable) reverse. This led to discussions of projection clocks, or elaborate gearing to present time in the same plane as the movement, but to one side.

There was even intriguing talk of a large scale tourbillon. More detail than this presently remains closely held, but a competition to determine the best use was announced, to be decided in Mannheim in April 2015.

Reform is the order of the day.

Typical uses, Reform catalogue, c.1950
Typical uses, Reform catalogue, c.1950

Look no hands!

This post was written by Oliver Cooke

On the one hand we have looked at single-handed dials, on the other hand we have looked at some more unusual forms of indicator. Here we will look at indicators with no hands at all.

Wittnauer “Polara” quartz wrist watch with LED digital display by Hughes Aircraft Corporation, USA, 1974.  The power draw of LEDs necessitates that the time only be displayed on demand, by pressing the button - quite a backwards step from the constant display of a mechanical watch - but that did not hinder their popularity. (British Museum Reg. No. 1998,0603.1)
Wittnauer “Polara” quartz wrist watch with LED digital display by Hughes Aircraft Corporation, USA, 1974. The power draw of LEDs necessitates that the time only be displayed on demand, by pressing the button – quite a backwards step from the constant display of a mechanical watch – but that did not hinder their popularity. (British Museum Reg. No. 1998,0603.1)

This watch has a display with digits formed of light emitting diode (LED) segments, seven for each numeral.

LED watches were first introduced in 1970 by the Hamilton Watch Company and were soon followed by liquid crystal display (LCD) watches. LED and LCD were by no means the first technology to enable digital displays however.

Ever Ready “ticket clock” by American Electrical and Novelty & Manufacturing Company, New York, 1930 (British Museum Reg. No. 1987,1012.62)
Ever Ready “ticket clock” by the American Electrical and Novelty & Manufacturing Company, New York, 1930 (British Museum Reg. No. 1987,1012.62)
Gold and niello cased cylinder watch by Jean François Bautte & Cie (attributed), Switzerland c.1830.  The watch has moving discs for hours and minutes (British Museum Reg. No. 1958,1201.1283)
Gold and niello cased cylinder watch by Jean François Bautte & Cie (attributed), Switzerland c.1830. The watch has moving discs for hours and minutes (British Museum Reg. No. 1958,1201.1283)
Side view of the watch, showing its notable thickness
Side view of the watch, showing its notable thickness

Before these examples existed the 'wandering hour' dial, something of a mash-up of digital and analogue time indication.

The hour numeral wanders, from the left-hand position (as viewed), up-and-over the semicircular aperture during the course of an hour. As the current hour ends and disappears behind the dial plate, the next hour numeral appears on the left.

We see 12:14 indicated on the illustrated example.

The system was invented in the 1650s by the brothers Tomasso and Matteo Campani from San Felice in Umbria, as a means to enable the time to be read at night (the numerals are pierced, allowing the light of an oil lamp to pass through from behind). This was very useful in the days before instant electrical lighting.

The wandering hour dial was also, occasionally, used on watches in the late 17th century, (but an oil lamp was not fitted in these!)

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Close-up of the dial, here showing 12:14
Eight day longcase night clock by Edward East, London, c.1675 (British Museum Reg. No. 1980,1002.1)
Eight day longcase night clock by Edward East, London, c.1675 (British Museum Reg. No. 1980,1002.1)

Finally, this watch also blurs the distinction between analogue and digital.

It has an LCD but, instead of digits, it has radial segments representing hands. This, however, requires 120 segments instead of the 42 needed to make up a standard six-digit digital display.

Together with the corresponding electronics needed to drive each segment, this means that these “LCA” watches cannot be made as cheaply as their digital counterparts. Perhaps for this reason they have never been popular, but they must have an adequate, if small, number of fans as they seem to have always (just) remained in continous production by one manufacturer or another since the 1970s.

I wonder how many of their fans, like I, appreciate them mostly for the futility of over-engineering, to achieve a result with LCD that is much more easily and better obtained with physical hands!

Close-up of the dial.  The time shown here is .  Despite the seconds and minute hands appearing identical in this still, the seconds are readily visible when reading the time
Close-up of the dial. The time shown here is 6:18:48. Despite the seconds and minute hands appearing identical in this still, in use the advancing seconds allows them to be easily distinguished
Wristwatch with liquid crystal “analogue” display and walkie-talkie function, anonymous, Chinese, c. 2010
Wristwatch with liquid crystal “analogue” display and walkie-talkie function, anonymous, Chinese, c.2010

Clock world full of cranks?

This post was written by James Nye

Things turn up. Back in 2006, when David Rooney and I were researching the Standard Time Company (STC), we planned a lecture at the Guildhall library.

The only surviving early clock we knew of had spent its life at the Royal Observatory—but out of the blue, days before the event, a Lund-synchronised dial clock turned up.

In the following eight years, that was it—nothing else—and then suddenly, through the kind agency of Keith Scobie-Youngs, The Clockworks acquired a wonderful addition a few weeks ago, in the form of an outsized fusée gallery movement, fitted with a massive Lund synchroniser.

The movement is by Thwaites, from the early nineteenth century, and signed elaborately by Metcalfe of 122 Newgate Street, London.

metcalfe
Clock movement by Thwaites, elaborately signed “Metcalfe of 122 Newgate Street, London”
London stock exchange
“The Stock Exchange”

When STC went public in 1886, it listed its clients in the prospectus, and the very institution on which it was being floated appeared second in the list.

The accurate timing of bargains made by the jobbers on the London Stock Exchange was an important matter, and ‘the House’ was an early adopter of the new technology that provided hourly synchronisation of its clocks.

Remarkably, our new addition was one of probably several STC-synchronised clocks that populated ’Change, where it seems to have served for some time.

Each hour, a signal would travel from STC’s offices on Queen Victoria Street around a series of looped networks, energising the coils of the synchronisers. These were the ‘set-top boxes’ of their day, added perhaps many decades after a clock was first made—as was clearly the case with this clock.

The Stock Exchange synchroniser is particularly large, operating two small fingers that project through the dial, to correct the minute hand each hour. The long use of the device is evidenced by the deeply indented witness marks in the tab on the back of the hand, caught by the synchroniser.

synchroniser
The synchroniser
dial
Apertures in the dial for the synchronising fingers
The back of the hand showing wear marks from the synchronising finger
The back of the hand, showing witness mark from the synchronising finger

.

The fusee
The fusee

Overall the movement seems rather outsized for the scale of the dial it ended up supporting—the large counterweight is much more than a match for the 15-inch minute hand.

Sometimes, it’s very hard for us to trace the environs in which our clocks spent their time—and to deduce whose lives they counted out. Thankfully in the case of this remarkable STC clock, there’s an old crank that can tell us a story or two.

crank
The crank
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