Cleaving Waves And Cutting Waves The Legendary History Of The Marine Astronomical Clock

Without accurate timing equipment, the ocean may still be a vast unexplored water area. So how do watchmaking and navigation meet? ‘Free man, you will always love the sea!’-This line of verses from Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Man and the Sea’ is of special significance to horology. Without a precise method of measuring time, navigators will never be able to open up new routes away from pirate gatherings and dangerous coastlines. From the mid-18th century, Marine Chronometers and Deck Watches promoted the discovery of ‘new’ continents and Pacific island civilizations, enabling scientists to add the final land to the world map.
   In 1707, a British fleet suffered a shipwreck in the Isles of Scilly, four ships sank and nearly 2,000 crew members were killed. In 1714, the British Parliament passed the Longitude Act and set up a prize of 20,000 pounds (equivalent to 17 million pounds today), seeking a practical method of maritime positioning of ships (within 30 miles). Subsequent claims came out endlessly, but one was more luxurious than the other, so that the most outstanding minds began to doubt whether there were other forms of implementation besides astronomical instruments.

Athens Nautical Astronomical Clock, 1939
Long live British
   Astronomy is a well-respected science. Watchmakers, including George Graham (1673-1751), believed that the answer to the question of ‘longitude’ must be found from the sky and stars, and necessary with the help of complex tables and abacus Calculation. Unexpectedly, John Harrison (1693-1776), a carpenter without formal watchmaking education, overturned existing theories. In the early 1730s, John Harrison created the H1 navigation clock, proving that accurate timekeeping is an effective way to locate at sea.
   The nautical clock (especially H4) made by John Harrison proved its worth, but also reflected the lack of manufacturing of other clocks, that is, it can only be built by hand, one at a time. In 1769, another watchmaker, Lakham Kendall, imitated the H4 to produce the K1; in 1772, the latter sailed with Captain Cook for the second time. However, replicating John Harrison’s nautical clock is complex and time-consuming. Want to equip all ocean-going ships with accurate timepieces. Only hope that visionary watchmakers can develop a more replicable mechanism and more suitable for Mass-production escapement, and its travel time accuracy cannot be lower than the observatory’s specification clock.

Arnold Frodsham pocket watch
Start slowly
   John Arnold (1736-1799) and Thomas Enshaw (1749-1829) in the UK, Julien (1686-1759) and Pierre (1717-1785) of the Leroy brothers in Paris, and Ferdinand Burr in Switzerland Tehud is dedicated to the development of accurate and reliable timing instruments. Encouraged by the Longitude Commission and Royal Astronomer Neville Muskillin (1732-1811 proposed the method of measuring the longitude by observing the moon), the production of British timepieces began to move towards small scale. Even so, by the beginning of the 20th century, many ships sailing along the coastline and even distant the high seas were not equipped with reliable timing instruments. Most of them still used the nautical calendar and monthly distance to rely on daily observations to reasonably estimate the position at sea.
   Some officials on military and merchant ships carry timepieces with them, making comparative measurements with the help of sextants and mathematical calculations. In the second half of the 19th century, the rise and development of the Industrial Revolution drove the demand for raw materials and ocean-going ships. This prompted shipowners to equip ships with reliable timing equipment so that the captain could accurately locate at sea and add extra protection for the valuable cargo being transported.

Hamilton Nautical Astronomical Clock Limited Edition
Industrial Age
   Prior to the advent of long-range weather forecasts and satellite navigation, captains often traveled with the tried-and-tested marine astronomical clock. From the mid-19th century, more and more ships drifted across the sea, bringing tea, cotton, precious metals and spices to new markets. The market demand for marine astronomical clocks exceeded the actual supply. Shipowners are willing to contribute generously to precise timepieces to ensure that the investment is safely landed, and many watchmakers are happy to meet this demand. Swiss watchmaker Ulysse Nardin (1823-1876) was one of them, and soon he challenged his British counterparts at a lower price. In the 1850s, Thomas Moser’s creations were famous for their quality among dozens of British nautical astronomical clock watchmakers.
   Although still regarded as a model for the industry, not all creations come from individuals (such as Ulysse Nardin or Thomas Moser); industrial companies also have a say. During World War II, American manufacturer Hamilton supplied a large number of marine astronomical clocks to the military (8,902 seats in the US Navy; 1,500 seats in the Maritime Commission; 500 seats in the US Air Force). Wempe, Viking, Gub and Cordes from Glashütte supply the German Navy; L. Leroy, Breguet, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Dodane and Auricoste supply the French Navy; Dent, Thomas Mercer and Arnold & Frodsham supply the British Navy. Brands such as Zenith and Omega also provided precision timing equipment to the Allies. The classic design of the Athenian watch was cleverly copied by Soviet watchmakers. It is said that only experts can distinguish the Swiss movement (the balance diamond is a diamond) from the former Soviet Union. The difference between the movement (the balance diamond is red synthetic sapphire).

Leroy Observatoire Chronometer
Perpetual tradition
   The cost is more affordable, the timing is more accurate, and it is more in line with Navy specifications. The electromechanical equipment (including L. Leroy) that appeared in the 1950s marked the beginning of the end of the traditional marine astronomical clock, although there are still many high-quality products on the market. Subsequently, the advent of radio direction finding gave a fatal blow to traditional marine timing and positioning instruments. Nevertheless, the sailors still carried the marine astronomical clock and sextant to the sea. These instruments were carefully preserved and have remained in value for decades.
   In fact, real seafarers know that once the ship’s inertial navigation system, the marine astronomical clock and sextant can be used to mark any place in the ocean. Unfortunately, no professional manufacturer has yet launched a marine astronomical clock with a sesame chain system and a pawl escapement (the most efficient freestyle escapement). If sailing enthusiasts are eager to relive the experience of their predecessors, they must switch to the products of the former Soviet Union, which are relatively easy to obtain and in good maintenance; or search for military instruments from the 1850s to the early 1960s, but these are out of repair for many years and are no longer suitable Nautical applications. Finally, in the face of global conflicts, naval forces that do not have their own positioning systems still call for the instruments of the past, which is back to the problem of oversupply. Fortunately or unfortunately, any quartz watch is capable today!

Updated: 17. June 2021 — 11:56
Watches Elements