REVIEW: Delesque & Lombardi: Armand Couaillet – Horloger et inventeur de génie – 2013

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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Sep 23, 2001
The following bookreview was first published in the
September 2013 Issue of
The Journal of the Antiquarian Horological Society and is reprinted here with their kind permission

Armand Couaillet - A self-taught French horological industrialist of the early 20[SUP]th[/SUP] century

Armand Couaillet – Horloger et inventeur de génie – Catalogue d’exposition (Armand Couaillet – Clockmaker and genius inventor – An exhibit catalogue). By Lolita Delesque and Marianne Lombardi. Published 2013 by Musée d’horlogerie de Saint-Nicolas-d’Aliermont (France). No ISBN. In French (4- page English language synopsis available on demand). 42 pages, saddle stapled. 38 illustrations, many in color. Available for a charge of 6.50 Euros plus postage by e-mailing including your credit card information.

Probably only few English horologists know where to find the horological museum in continental Europe that is closest to their country. It is the Museé d’horlogerie de Saint-Nicolas-d’Aliermont, located in the eponymous? town, less than 6 miles inland from the Channel and less than 60 miles as the crow flies from the cliffs of Dover. The reason that this little town has an excellent and charming horological museum is that the municipality, for a period of about 250 years, has been a major, through relatively unknown center of horological manufacturing: In the early 18[SUP]th[/SUP] century, local clockmakers developed a distinctive style of short pendulum, tall-case clocks with very slim, but elaborately carved cases, which were highly sought after in much of northern France. Through much of the 19[SUP]th[/SUP] century, the local horological industry produced the majority of French made, popularly priced carriage clocks, as well as the lion’s share of the ebauches for the round movements for pendulum clocks, commonly labeled ‘pendule de Paris’, which were then finished and cased by the better known names in Paris. At one stage in the late 19[SUP]th[/SUP] century, they even produced ebauches for French marine chronometers, and in the first half of the 20[SUP]th[/SUP] century, most of the French alarm clocks (and countless kitchen clocks) came from the local Baillard enterprise.

A young team of creative museum professionals under the leadership of Ms. Marianne Lombardi, supported by an active corps of local history enthusiasts, operate one of the most creative and innovative municipal horological museums I have ever encountered. Furthermore, in addition to having produced an original temporary exhibit every year for the last six years, they have regularly published small exhibit catalogues, documenting those exhibits., The current one is the subject of this review. This and previous catalogs can all be ordered at .

Armand Couaillet (1865-1954) had his roots in St. Nicolas. Early in his life he had worked as a shepherd and a servant elsewhere, but at age 20 he returns to his native village to join the workforce in one of the clock factories. Six years later, he establishes his own workshop as a subcontractor, a year later he starts producing whole carriage clocks, and soon his three brothers join the business. By the turn of the century, they employ 100 workers and are producing 4’000 carriage clocks a month. At the eve of WW1, they employ 300 people and their catalog lists 250 models, but during the war, the focus is on precision mechanical components for fuses, parts for aircraft engines and field telegraph systems. In 1919, inspired by a trip to the USA, he designs and starts producing the “Électricar”, a lightweight, three-wheeled, one-person electric automobile. Only 250 units are sold; the market demands an internal combustion engine. At the same time, he relaunches his horological business now producing primarily alarm clocks and timers, but in 1925 that business goes bankrupt.

This exhibit – and its catalog - document a sector and an era of the horological manufacturing history that is barely mentioned in the existing horological literature. Most museums do not collect this kind of material, but therein lays a chance for a local museum. The small catalog booklet tells a charming and interesting story of an inventor/entrepreneur/horologist in the rapidly changing times of the early 20[SUP]th[/SUP] century. There are numerous illustrations, mostly reproductions of unique original documents or photographs. Institutions that not only create such exhibits, but also make the effort to publish their work deserve the praise of the community of horological scholars and enthusiasts. They remind all of us that studying horological history should also cover everyday objects and ordinary workers.

By the time you read this review the exhibit on Armand Couaillet may well be over, but the little museum in St. Nicolas will be producing yet another exhibit on some subject that the big, high prestige museums ignore?. If you are in northern France, the museum is well worth a detour, or even a trip. If not, consider ordering some of their past catalogs; both options will broaden your horological horizon.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ (USA) July 12, 2013



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