Without horologists there would be no next generation of time pieces, a lack of knowledge on influential milestones and no experts on hand to make and repair time pieces of all shapes and sizes, be it clocks, watches or chronometers.
Requiring a great deal of patience and skill, this line of work is demanding and only for those who are committed to becoming an expert in the field. After all, what would man do without the ability to record time?
Some have managed to push the boundaries to become pioneers in their field, being truly influential in how most timepieces operate today. We take a look at the leading horologists who can be described as the biggest and best in history.
Starting as an apprentice to a watchmaker at Versailles, Breguet was destined for big things in the watch making world. Having taken refuge in Switzerland during the French Revolution, he returned as the principal watchmaker of the empire. Breguet was a keen inventor and those of great note were the over coil which aimed to improve the balance spring that was incorporated into precision watches and most famously, the tourbillion- compensating for the errors and fluctuations which occurred due to the inevitable changes in position experienced by watches.
The tourbillion worked by mounting the escapement on a mobile carriage which revolved on itself in a given period. This meant that errors were reproduced regularly and therefore cancelled one another out.
His creations made him top choice for the esteemed influential and wealthy, making watches for important historical figures such as Louis XVI and Marie- Antoinette, George IV and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Yorkshire man John Harrison solved a substantial problem through his love of horology, inventing the marine chronometer- a device which solved the problem of establishing the East- West position of a ship at sea. This meant that sea travel could be extended to longer journeys, vitally important during the in Age of Sail. During this era, the clocks were dependent upon the earth’s gravity for their operation meaning that they were inaccurate at sea. In fact, they weren’t portable whatsoever and needed resetting even if they were moved across a room.
Inspired by a £20,000 reward by the English Admirality, Harrison completed his first chronometer in 1735 which he submitted for the prize and continued to build three more instruments each smaller and more accurate in succession. His fourth proved to be the most successful- travelling on a nine week voyage from England to Jamaica, the device only had an error of five seconds. His fifth model took the form of a compact timepiece similar to the pocket watch today.
George Daniels is often hailed as the most important horologist of recent time and is remarkably self-taught having sparked his interest in watches at the age of five. Having made nearly 40 watches independently, he collaborated with his protégée Roger W Smith to build a further 50, each encompassing his signature look with clean and clear dials. His exquisite pocket watches were each hand made and took up to a year to produce, reaching prices in excess of £100,000.
Daniels’ main achievement was to overcome a design flaw in the traditional lever escapement- the need for lubrication. His solution resulted in the creation of the coaxial escapement, a deceptively simple looking arrangement of cogs and levers, which virtually eliminated the need for lubrication by significantly reducing sliding friction. This allowed greater accuracy over time and reduced the need for servicing.
The invention was later endorsed by Nicholas Hayek (Swatch Group’s Chairman) to be adopted by the Omega brand. The first mechanical watch featuring the coaxial design was revealed in 1999 at the Basel Watch and Jewellery fair, and has been used in high end Omega models ever since.
These horologists hold great importance in how time is recorded today. Do you think there will be a new breed of watch experts in years to come?