The Carriage Clock
The development of the carriage clock in the early 18th century was designed to meet the need for a portable timepiece. This was possible following the invention of the spring-driven clock – of which, its origins are not exactly known. The earliest existing spring-driven clock is a chamber clock given to Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, around 1430. However, driving a clock using a spring presented clockmakers with a new problem – how to keep the clock movement running at a constant rate as the spring ran down. Perhaps the earliest documented mention of a fusee (to even-out the torque in the main-spring thus driving the clock at a constant rate) is from northern Italy in 1482 – however, it was about 100 years later before the earliest travelling clocks were developed.
Travelling clocks of this period were generally of a cylindrical form or were small mantle clocks with a top carrying handle. The alternative was a coach watch – essentially a very large and elaborate pocket watch, usually with alarms and striking the hours like clocks. Prior to this the use of a pendulum mechanism meant that clocks would need to be re-regulated each time they were re-situated - and definitely could not be kept going whilst travelling. The bracket and mantel clocks of the time also tended to be larger and heavier - restricting where they could be placed.
The first carriage clock was made very early in the 19th Century by Abraham Louis Breguet. By 1810, the basic design of the carriage clock was much as we know it today. Breguet's carriage clock cases were either wooden in the empire style, metal in the empire style or hump-backed silver cases. These continued to be made individually by skilled clockmakers, remaining an item only for the very wealthy. It was not until around 1830 that carriage clocks started to be produced in significant numbers – coinciding with the organisation of French craftsmen in the manufacture of components which were then finished assembled by clockmakers. In 1807, Pierre-Honoré-César Pons (1773 – 1851) was assigned by the State to revive the clockmaking industry of Saint-Nicolas-d'Aliermont, an important horology centre, near Dieppe. Pons introduced machinery and production line methods for his Paris-style movements, which enabled the considerable increase in production required to supply the new industrial bourgeoisie’s strong demand for clocks. Other centres developed, near Paris and eastern France (close to the Swiss border). With this increase in production, France became the primary producer of mantle and carriage clocks in the 19th century.
The next development was the “pendule d’officier” which first appeared in the late 18th century – named as such because it was made for use by military officers on campaign. Solidly constructed in ormolu, usually striking the hours, these were a little larger than modern day carriage clocks but much smaller than mantle clocks of the time. Produced by many leading French clockmakers but to a surprisingly standard design.
Earlier “production” carriage clocks were housed in one-piece cases – the earliest standard type of brass and glass case. The one-piece case was more costly to produce and did not lend itself to variations in design. It was gradually superseded by the more easily manufactured multi-piece case, pioneered in the 1830s by Paul Garnier, among others. Earlier multipiece cases did not have hinged doors commonly associated with carriage clocks today – but had glasses that were made to slide in and out of the case vertically. The later multipiece case evolved into numerous styles, including gorge, corniche, cannelee, obis, etc – with decorative variations on each style. These cases could be engraved, enamelled, or left plain or gilded. Panels were glass or porcelain or perhaps decorated with filigree detail – and dials had an equally large number of variations.
It was the development of the platform escapement in France that enabled the carriage clock to be truly portable. Popular with French makers, the advantages of the platform escapement meant that the system soon spread to German and English clock makers (although the platforms themselves often came from Switzerland). The lever escapement (first invented in the mid-18th century although not in common use until the 19th century) gave greater accuracy together with it being a self-starting escapement (so if shaken so that the balance wheel stops, it will automatically start again) made it a popular choice for carriage clock makers and quickly superseded the cylinder escapement.
The golden age of the classic carriage clock was between 1860 and 1900 coinciding with the increased ability to travel comfortably on roads and rail. The majority were produced near Belfort in France and mainly exported to England.