Mysterious Chronometer Pocket Watch<

Ethan Lipsig

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On an incautious whim, I recently bought a somewhat mysterious KW detent chronometer at a German auction for a relatively modest, if large, amount (detent chronometers prices generally are quite high). The watch may not have been a bargain except in its high mystery-to-dollar ratio. I would appreciate your views on the many questions I have about it.

The watch is in open-face swing-out case that appears to be made of silver. The case isn't hallmarked. Rather, it is stamped CFK, Dresden. It is 56mm in diameter and weighs 135 grams.

The dial says Frodsham, Gracechurch Street, Chronometer. This is not a Charles Frodsham dial. It is either a John or George Edward (G.E.) Frodsham dial. They were well-respected watchmaker-relatives of Charles Frodsham.

According to the auction house, the watch was made around 1820, but I have no confidence that this date is accurate. The watch might be 30-40 years newer.

The movement is freesprung. It appears to have an Earnshaw spring detent escapement and a Pennington balance wheel. It has either a helical or tria-in-uno hairspring. The movement is completely unsigned. My very knowledgeable New Hampshire watchmaker said the movement was "beautiful" and in good shape though needing servicing.

The auction house touted the watch as having an especially interesting set of original "moon" hands, unusual in that the "moon" on the hour hand is quite a bit larger than than the "moon" on the minute hand. I am skeptical that the hands are an original matching set. I do not have a good photo of both hands, just the hour hand. It broke at one time and has been soldered back together. The minute hand is in much better shape and appears to have been made out of gold.

I had the auction house ship the watch to my watchmaker. He sent me many pictures. I have attached the best of them plus the movement photo on the auction house's site. For all of my watchmakers photos, including films of the movement in action, see
Dropbox - 6848 Lipsig Ethan - Frosham Gracechurch St chronometer silver pw - Simplify your life

Here are my questions:
  1. Do you agree that the movement is English?
  2. Was John or G.E. Frodsham really the source of this chronometer and, if so, which one?
  3. Is it an original combination of case, dial, and movement, a recased original movement/dial, or a completed mishmash of case, movement, and dial?
  4. Did English chronometer makers export uncased movements?
  5. Why would John or G.E. Frodsham (or whoever made the movement) have sold it completely unsigned?
  6. How common was it for the maker, finisher, or retailer of a fine chronometer movement to have sold it completely unsigned?
  7. Have you seen English watches with original sets of moon hands with moons of very different sizes?
  8. Is this watch's hairspring a tria-in-uno or just a helical hairspring?
  9. Do you agree that it has a Pennington balance wheel and an Earnshaw detent escapement?
  10. When do you think it was made?
  11. Do you have any other comments?
1.jpg PkrZQjE4.jpeg _TdgJoH8.jpeg 9z5tAHzI.jpeg gBHawEoQ.jpeg M5QMYlyw.jpeg Mt8ys6Jj.jpeg tKraae3g.jpeg VBHVi-ws.jpeg vwDzyrNY.jpeg
 

Dr. Jon

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The movement looks English but well after 1820. In 1820’s balance springs were studded to separate cocks, not the balance cock.

Dial may not be original to watch but GE Frodsham was a retailer and did not make watches. Possible that spring and stud are later as stud is very unusual.

One possibility is that work was done by students at Glasshutte school on damaged movement after scrapping gold case.
 
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gmorse

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Hi Ethan,

Here are my questions:
  1. Do you agree that the movement is English?
  2. Was John or G.E. Frodsham really the source of this chronometer and, if so, which one?
  3. Is it an original combination of case, dial, and movement, a recased original movement/dial, or a completed mishmash of case, movement, and dial?
  4. Did English chronometer makers export uncased movements?
  5. Why would John or G.E. Frodsham (or whoever made the movement) have sold it completely unsigned?
  6. How common was it for the maker, finisher, or retailer of a fine chronometer movement to have sold it completely unsigned?
  7. Have you seen English watches with original sets of moon hands with moons of very different sizes?
  8. Is this watch's hairspring a tria-in-uno or just a helical hairspring?
  9. Do you agree that it has a Pennington balance wheel and an Earnshaw detent escapement?
  10. When do you think it was made?
  11. Do you have any other comments?
  1. Yes, I believe it is.
  2. Pass.
  3. It isn't an original combination, and without seeing the dial off and the pillar plate visible, very hard to tell, but it certainly isn't an English case.
  4. Not that I'm aware of, but we should never say 'never', should we?
  5. The retailer may not have specified a signature on the movement from the maker, this isn't unknown. The frame maker may well have stamped their mark on the pillar plate.
  6. Ditto
  7. No, the hour hand isn't original and doesn't fit the dial, and these watches commonly have blue steel spade pattern hands.
  8. It looks to me like a normal helical spring with Arnold's terminal curves, but the pictures aren't terribly clear I'm afraid.
  9. Yes, that's a Pennington 'double T' type and as far as I can see, the detent also has a Pennington 'dovetail foot', both of which suggest that it was at least finished by one of the Penningtons.
  10. The Penningtons were making the double T balances long before the 1810s, and this is believed to be an earlier form than the double L, which is known from case hallmarks to have been fitted as early as 1808. The location of the balance spring stud, although unusually long, is quite acceptable in helical free-sprung movements of this period, so I don't believe it's as late as the 1860s by any means.
  11. If you search David Penney's archive for 'Pennington', you'll find several examples of these balances.
Regards,

Graham
 

gmorse

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Hi Ethan,

After some more digging, I think this is more likely to be by John Frodsham, as Dr. Jon suggests.

Regards,

Graham
 
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MartyR

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Does anyone have a view on the balance wheel? It's obviously a "chronometer balance" but it seems unusual to me.
 

gmorse

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Hi Martin,

It's obviously a "chronometer balance" but it seems unusual to me.
Please see my post #3 above, and also AH Vol. 12 No. 5, 'The Penningtons and their Balances', an article by Vaudrey Mercer. The affixes on the early Pennington balances were intended purely to protect the delicate balance arms during adjustment and were nothing to do with correcting middle temperature error.

Regards,

Graham
 

John Matthews

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Martin - to add to Graham's reference - this particular style of double 'T' is often seen on the John Cross signed movements, who was one of the early adopters of Pennington balances - see John CROSS, London single roller fusee movement #32130 with Pennington 'T' balance and John Cross movement with a type of Penningtom Balance Wheel.. I have a recollection that it has been suggested that Pennington made the balances for Cross (I may have that from Graham?). This example and those signed by Cross share the same positioning of the affix, rather than the way it is shown in the Mercer diagrams ...

Mercer
upload_2019-5-29_22-30-59.png

My Cross

upload_2019-5-29_22-32-5.png

However, there are couple of features which I don't understand on this example ...

upload_2019-5-29_22-36-3.png

Graham - can you explain the significance of the slot in the plate (green arrow) and what looks like a 'broken drill' projecting from the balance (red) ?

John
 
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gmorse

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Hi John,

The slot in the plate is to allow inspection of the detent and its engagement with the escape wheel, a very useful feature in a full plate movement. I'm not sure what the red arrow is pointing at; the picture isn't clear enough to see whether the object is attached to the wheel or just a part of the detent showing through the slot, which I suspect is more likely.

Regards,

Graham
 

John Matthews

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Graham - thanks for the explanation regarding the slot. It makes perfect sense - I should have worked it out as it is obviously directly above the detent.

Your suggestion that the red arrow is pointing to a part of the detent seen through the slot, also is sensible, although it does appear to be protruding from the balance. We will have to wait until someone can inspect it in hand, photographs often can deceive.

John
 
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Ethan Lipsig

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Thanks all for the insights so far. If you click on the Dropbox link in my initial posting and look at photos/films 18, 33, and 35, I think it is clear that the red arrow is pointing to the detent, not something protruding from the balance wheel.
 

Keith R...

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Nice find Ethan!!

There's a possibility the case is a shop case. My Fairey verge I found in it's perfect
fitting silver shop case, marked like yours, but with only John Fairy's initials. I know it
as 1802- - marked AD1802 on dust cap and movement.

Keith R...
 

John Matthews

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I think it is clear that the red arrow is pointing to the detent
Ethan - yes, I agree. I'm afraid I hadn't looked at the contents of the link you provided, my apology.

John
 

MartyR

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Thanks, Graham and John, for the information about the Pennington balance :) I know that there is an amount of debate about exactly what constitutes a "chronometer" ... and I guess I'm used to seeing Arnold style balance wheels with trapezoidal weights and similar devices .... and that makes me wonder whether at the time this watch was made it would have been classified as a full chronometer? Why would the maker have declined to use what I assume were the "industry standard" style of chronometer balance wheel? And soes the use of the Pennington wheel give us any clues as to the identioty of the maker?

Incidentally, referring back to DrJon's comment, I'm not sure that we know whether or not George Edward Frodsham was actually a watchmaker. According to Vaudrey Mercer, whilst Henry John (George Edward's older brother) was actually apprenticed to his father John, George Edward was not. Henry John became his father's partner in the firm at a young age, but he died in 1848 at which point he was replaced as a partner by George Edward. John died a year later, and George Edward took over the firm.

G.E ran the firm for six years, and apparently maintained its reputation for fine timepieces. If G.E was not a watchmaker, then he must have inherited a foreman and other workers whose expertise ensured the ongoing quality of their products. In 1855 G.E took on a Mr Baker as a partner, and that may indeed suggest that he was brought in to add some technical expertise; but that partnership lasted only a year. Yet in the 1880's the firm of G E Frodsham was granted a warrant by the Queen, the Admiralty and the Royal Observatory as Clockmaker, and they also won medals at international exhibitions. I find it difficult to believe that such achievemtns were possible without significant technical capability at the head of the firm!
 

gmorse

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Hi Martin,

I know that there is an amount of debate about exactly what constitutes a "chronometer" ... and I guess I'm used to seeing Arnold style balance wheels with trapezoidal weights and similar devices .... and that makes me wonder whether at the time this watch was made it would have been classified as a full chronometer? Why would the maker have declined to use what I assume were the "industry standard" style of chronometer balance wheel? And does the use of the Pennington wheel give us any clues as to the identity of the maker?
In my mind the essential feature of a chronometer lies not so much in the design of the balance wheel but far more in the nature of the escapement; a detent of some species being the defining factor. As I mentioned before, the way the detent is fitted to its foot with a dovetail and screw, (which makes adjustment much easier), as well as the details of the balance wheel, is reinforcing the probability that it came from the Penningtons.

The early Arnold balances didn't have trapezoidal weights but circular nuts which screwed onto the threaded ends of the arms; Earnshaw's weights were typically trapezoidal and this later became the commoner shape in many box chronometers as well as pocket instruments, although as you say, there were many 'similar devices' fitted as well.

Regards,

Graham
 
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John Matthews

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Martin - if you search for Pennington on David Penney's archive you will find examples of what David describes as 'chronometers' with both 'Double T' and 'Double L' compensated balances. There are also examples with Pennington's later 'screwed' compensation balance carrying screws in pre-tapped holes. The majority of the examples are pocket chronometers, but you will also find examples of boxed chronometers, all are with detent escapements. In my opinion one of the finest examples of the pocket variety was Barwise #4286 here with a beautiful 'Double L' balance - unfortunately the archive no longer has a photograph of the mechanism, but if David & you will forgive me here is a snip I captured before it was sold.

John

upload_2019-5-30_12-49-19.png
 
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Keith R...

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Back when movements were shipped around in-house for it's various stages, the shop
case was utilized to transport and maintained the movement until completion. They were
not meant for sale and were not hallmarked in the system for export. Silver or nickel
cases had the watch makers initials in them. They were fit in house by the watch maker
to that movement. The shop cases could be refit for future in-house movements.

Others may want to add. I'm not sure how far back nickel goes, but my two shop cases
are silver.

***The movement and dial would go for export and probably a Gold case made for it
locally.

Now I bought it out of an estate in Australia and John Fairey was London. So I don't know
how it got out of the UK without hallmarks (perhaps on a schooner, in somebodies pocket).

Keith R...

100_4085 (1024x768).jpg 100_4092 (1024x768).jpg 100_4079 (1024x768).jpg 100_4099 (1024x768).jpg
 
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Tom McIntyre

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I have one shop case from Arnold & Dent. The key feature is that it was not assayed and clearly not made to sell but rather to make it easier to show the watch.
Back.jpg BackIn.jpg Dial.jpg Front.jpg Movement.jpg

This watch also has the "L" flavor of the Pennington balance.
 

Tom McIntyre

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The movement looks English but well after 1820. In 1820’s balance springs were studded to separate cocks, not the balance cock.
Arnold & Son 367/668 has the stud on the balance cock and a fairly classic Arnold balance of the Y-Z form. The hallmark is for 1789/90.
Movement.jpg
 
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Ethan Lipsig

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I like the shop case theory. It also might explain why the movement wasn't signed: Frodsham was waiting for a buyer before engraving a signature on the movement, but the unengraved shop-cased movement happened to be put into use without that being done. I would have thought, however, that the shop case would have been English. The case on my watch is marked "Dresden" with the initials "CFK." The auction house listing says that the case is silver.
 
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gmorse

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Hi Ethan,

Frodsham was waiting for a buyer before engraving a signature on the movement, but the unengraved shop-cased movement happened to be put into use without that being done. I would have thought, however, that the shop case would have been English. The case on my watch is marked "Dresden" with the initials "CFK." The auction house listing says that the case is silver.
Even if Frodshams were waiting for a buyer, it wasn't unknown but not a common practice to engrave a buyer's name on the movement, but it would be to sign the retailer's. Any engraving would be done prior to gilding in any event. Since the normal English trade practice was to make the case to fit the movement, Tom's 'shop case' is a rather rare piece. I believe it's more likely that your Dresden marked case is simply a re-case to protect an orphaned movement.

If the auction house has tested for silver, fair enough, but otherwise how could they be sure?

Regards,

Graham
 
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Tom McIntyre

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The large Prest keyless watch with the Arnold detent is indeed a very odd piece. It should have been made in the 1820's but it has Dent's name also which implies after 1830. The movement has the standard mounting to swing out through the front, but it also has a snap back.

I think snap backs confuse us because we seldom see them on early English watches. However, there is nothing mysterious about them and they were very easy to make compared with a jointed case.There exists another example similar to this one but it is signed Arnold, not Arnold & Dent.

Arnold & Dent made quite a few pieces that were never intended to be sold, but were research projects. This one does not seem all that exotic, but it may have been kept around to show clients what an Arnold detent looked like and also as a very clear example of the Prest mechanism.
 

Keith R...

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Ray and I discussed this one yesterday. It has the hidden key feature and is housed in a 14K gold
52MM glass back.

This pivoted detent pocket chronometer would date to around 1870. I suspect this was shown in
Benson's shop for customers to view the 19J movement.

Keith R...

JWB4 (1325x1600).jpg JWB3 (1600x1200).jpg JWB2 (1600x1200).jpg
 

Ethan Lipsig

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I just got the watch discussed in this thread back from my watchmaker. I am not an expert in early English watches, but the case doesn't look original, and I question whether it is silver. The movement, however, is very nice, the dial is in reasonably good condition, and the hands my watchmaker installed are I believe and improvement on the ones that came with the watch. Here is how the watch now looks.

DSC05456.JPG DSC05459.JPG DSC05455.JPG DSC05460.JPG DSC05462.JPG DSC05491.JPG DSC05497.JPG DSC05493.JPG DSC05492.JPG DSC05494.JPG DSC05495.JPG DSC05496.JPG
 

John Matthews

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Ethan - this watch has a lovely movement and is now looking in fine condition - my complements to your watchmaker.

John
 
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Keith R...

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Gorgeous find Ehan!!

The case looks of nickel origins. So I'm assuming your data has frame maker ID.

Thanks for sharing.

Keith R...
 

Allan C. Purcell

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Ethan, nice watch. I think you are more than right about the case. Looks like a very able case maker in Dresden Germany made a purpose-built case for your watch. I will ask around my German friends here if they know anything about CPH if thats correct. Allan.
 

Ethan Lipsig

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Thanks, Allan. The stamping is "CFK" or possibly "CFH."
 

CZHACK

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Hi Ethan. Nice watch. Reference my post on my Frodsham detent chronometer movement marked " Frodsham Gracechurch Street London No 196" and only "Chronometer" on the dial. Our movements are almost identical and dials very similar. That discussion indicated that these were made by John Frodsham and mine 1820s + - . Mine is in a later nickel case of mid/late 1800s. Mike
 

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