Meet Some of France’s Greatest Timekeepers

The process of how we have come to recognise and record time has rapidly evolved from the tradition, precision and modernity of skilled French craftsmanship. In fact, France has been hailed as the land of the clock and watch makers for over seven centuries.

Historically, revolutionary and exquisitely designed time pieces were developed for the Kings’ Court, which grew to France becoming the key birthplace of the European watch and clock industry. Interestingly, the word ‘clock’ originally comes from the French word “cloche” meaning bell.

As Michel Herbelin is proud to be founded upon this rich heritage, we look back at some of the greatest names in French timekeeping.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)


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Most famously known for his contribution to mathematics and philosophy, Blaise Pascal was the first reported person to wear a watch on the wrist. Looking to add more practicality to his everyday life, Blaise simply attached his pocket watch to his wrist with a piece of string. Not content with developing one of the first prototypes of a modern day essential, Blaise can also be accredited to a second; an early calculator.

Julien Le Roy (1686- 1759)


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Admitted to the guild of watchmakers in 1713, Julien played his part in regaining the country’s position as a world leader in the field. One of the greatest French watchmakers in history, Julien Le Roy continuously looked for ways to improve and reinvent existing timepieces. The horizontal clock, a revolution in the world of watchmaking proved most important in his legacy. This discovery was highly advantageous at its time; requiring fewer parts, a reduction in friction and allowing simpler maintenance and construction processes.

Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, (1732 – 1799)


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Pierre-Augustin Caron was the son of respected watchmaker Andre-Charles Caron. Pierre quickly benefited from his father’s knowledge and expertise, allowing him to invent a new clock making mechanism, the double virgule escapement at the tender age of 21. Pierre became watchmaker to the King in 1755 and his skills developed further than watchmaking, creating improved pedals for the harp.

Antide Janvier (1751 – 1835)


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Considered to be one of the greatest French clockmakers of all time, Antide Janvier grew up surrounded by craftsmen and mathematicians providing him with the inspiration to create astronomical clocks and celestial spheres. Having presented two astronomical spheres to Louis XVI, Antide was made Royal watchmaker, making many beautiful timepieces. Janvier embraced the ideas of the French Revolution and helped to develop the revolutionary time and calendar.

Napoleon, (1769 – 1821)


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Although not influential in the development of time pieces, Napoleon’s decisions were significant to the future of timekeeping in France, having abolished the Republican Calendar which had been in place for twelve years. The French Republican Calendar was set in place to remove all religious and royalist references, dividing each day into ten hours rather than twelve. Clocks were manufactured to display this decimal time, but it did not catch on.

Leon Foucault, (1819 – 1868)


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World famous for his inventive contributions to the physics sphere, Leon Foucault also left his mark in the watchmaking sector with the Foucault pendulum gaining his greatest recognition. Leon’s famous pendulum experiment explained the rotation of the Earth, earning him a significant number of awards and medals and the nickname of “astronomical watchmaker”.

France has benefited over time from the expertise and innovation of skilled individuals who have crafted out the benchmark for generations to come. Why not take a look at one of Michel Herbelin’s finely fashioned French watches? Discover the combination of watch making traditions allied with the latest technology and skills carefully honed over generations.

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