Swiss "Half" Chronometers

Discussion in 'Chronometers' started by Dr. Jon, Mar 25, 2020 at 10:34 PM.

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  1. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
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    I am starting this thread to collect examples beyond my collection of Swiss "Half" Chronometers. I theorize that these came from two processes:

    1) The maker either rated the timepiece themselves or had an unofficial service measure the rates

    2) They went to the Chronometer service and failed.

    As per the thread on lovely ladies on the European watch area, Henry Capt sold both types. Of the one I have seen the half versions do not have numbers engraved on their movements. Until I looked up the rules as published in journals at the time, I believed the serial number had to be engraved on the dial plate. I found that this is NOT a requirement at Geneva from 1872 through 1885 and probably not until the 1890's. Instead, the watch had to be submitted with a letter essentially identifying its features, a serial number, the maker and adjuster as well as attesting to where it was finished and adjusted and who adjusted it.

    Henry Capt was an active participant and won several prizes. The firm submitted a lot of timepieces for testing and now I believe they put the serial numbers on these to identify which was which. I have a few of these but not enough for much certainty in this.

    I have seen some example at on-line auctions sold with original seller rating papers and called half chronometers and I suspect Henry Capt half chronometers were sold this way. Other makers sold this way because they wre not close enough to Geneva or Neichatel to be eligible to participate in official testing.

    Some, I believe, were labeled half chronometers because that failed to meet the requirements. Records show that they had about he same proportion of failures in all three classes of trial. My guess is that if the timepiece did not fail by much was marked as a half chronometer and sold without being re adjusted and tried again.

    One reason I suspect this is that I have seen several with the words "Chronometre" and "Demi" in differing styles suggesting the watch was cased and marked "Chronometre" but failed and need a change ib marking.

    I invite discussion, argument ,and submission of examples. I will put up some of mine in the coming days. I am especially interested in examples with differing scripts for "Demi" and "Chronometre" and rating cards for half chronometers.
     
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  2. Ethan Lipsig

    Ethan Lipsig Registered User
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    The only thing I know about half chronometers is this passage from Joseph Conrad's Nostromo:

    “Captain Mitchell, helpless as a swathed infant, looked anxiously at the sixty-guinea gold half-chronometer, presented to him years ago by a Committee of Underwriters for saving a ship from total loss by fire. Sotillo, too, seemed to perceive its valuable appearance. He became silent suddenly, stepped aside to the table, and began a careful examination in the light of the candles. He had never seen anything so fine. His officers closed in and craned their necks behind his back.”

    Excerpt From
    Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard
    Joseph Conrad
    This material may be protected by copyright.
     
  3. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
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    #3 Dr. Jon, Mar 26, 2020 at 10:25 AM
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2020 at 10:39 AM
    Thanks for the reply.

    I believe English half chronometers were a different thing. There is a good argument that the English half chronometer was the idea behind the Swiss demi chronometer.

    The English had a strong view that only a timepiece with a detent escapement should be called a chronometer but one view was that a chronometer timepiece had both a detent escapement and a free balance spring. Lund of Barraud and Lund's obit of 1869 credited him with inventing the "Half chronometer". This would have been well before the Swiss began certifying chronometers which began at Neuchatel in 1868.

    The English makers never wrote "Half chronometer" on a watch cuvette or other part of a case but did list better watches as "Half chronometers in catalogs. Most were free sprung levers but Barraud and Lund also listed regulator equipped watches as half chronometers.

    These higher grade English watches were almost always the ones insurance underwriters gave to ship captains who prevented major losses. I wrote about this in a bulletin article on Underwriters Presentation Watches. Joseph Conrad also mentioned one of these presentation watches in Lord Jim.
     
  4. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
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    Here is a Swiss Demi Chronometer. It has a good history of ownership so I am confident the original owner bought this watch in Paris in about 1875, shortly after the Swiss began selling Demi Chronometers

    Here is the front of the watch which is approximately a 16 size.


    outerfront.png

    A little of the original barley corn guillouche remains near five o'clock. The vents around the owner and bulbous pendant date the watch to mid 1870's at the latest, but it could have been bought earlier as new old stock. It was certainly worn. O wrote about this watch in a article on using the internet to research provenance so I'll leave that out of this thread.

    The moement is a good one.

    mvtasrecd2.png

    At teh time of publication there was some argument over whether this was made by Louis Audemars. I still belevie so because the center shaft has a bar and the lever has a shepard's crook affix. There is no visible signature or serial number on the movement. This does not preclude the watch going to the Observatory, but if most of the manufacture and finish is by Louis Audemars, it would not have been accepted for test.

    Here is the marking in its cuvette.

    1015captpw5.png

    The watch may have been sold with a rating card with test results, compiled by either Henry Capt of Louis Audemars of perhaps someone else.
     
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  5. tick talk

    tick talk Registered User

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    #5 tick talk, Mar 26, 2020 at 2:01 PM
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2020 at 2:29 PM
    Great topic Jon, the use of "Demi-Chronometre" by V&C has caused much confusion with collectors and been exploited by sellers. FWIW, I agree completely that, with V&C at least, it was applied to watches that were submitted for Observatory trials and failed to obtain a Bulletin de Marche, but nevertheless were of high quality and available for sale. This was inferred by comments posted on the late and lamented official VC watch forum, The Hour Lounge, as follows:

    The name "Demi-Chronomètre" is used by Vacheron Constantin to indicate that the movement was sent to the Observatory for chronometric control, but that for commercial reasons, it did not remain long enough to complete the entire course of testing."

    BTW, the same comments were provided to Antiquorum in 2005 for The Quarter Millennium of Vacheron Constantin sale, lot 119. The auction house also added that, to their knowledge, the only other Genevan firm to use the term was Henry Capt.

    As you've noted, historically the Swiss diverged from the English on their use of the term chronometer/chronometre. For the Swiss, it came to mean a movement that successfully passed an independent test of timekeeping accuracy regardless of its construction. The English viewed a chronometer as a movement that was constructed with certain features accepted as producing timekeeping accuracy, in particular the spring or pivoted-detent escapement.

    The US Army Corps of Engineers 1918 order to V&C for 2,000 time-only silver-cased pocket watches used the English term "half-chronometer" which implied a movement with lever escapement and compensation balance. These features were considered by English watchmakers as inferior to their ideal of a true chronometer. I still chuckle recalling a letter published in the June 1882 issue of the English Mechanic and World of Science which addressed half-chronometers: "the term is shopkeepers' clap trap to hoodwink customers, and nothing more".

    In 2017 I asked the question of Bernard Pernier, Director of the Observatoire de Geneve, and here was his reply, translated from the original French. Please note his last comments. Neither demi or half-chronometer appear in the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry's Illustrated Professional Dictionary of Horology.

    Pernier 1.png Pernier 2.png Pernier 3.png
     
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  6. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
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    If I read Pernier's last sentence correctly it says he really does not know.

    Your comment on V&C suggest another possibility. Perhaps watches sent for regulation were clearly not going to make the performance for the intended rating class, or were very close. If very close, there was a high chance they would fail. Rather than send them, they could mark them Demi and sell them as rated, possible with the rates from the regleur. They were much better than typical watches.
     
  7. tick talk

    tick talk Registered User

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    The main thing I took away from my few emails with Pernier on the subject was that the Observatoire de Geneve has never issued test documents for what they considered a non-existant classification of demi-chronometre. I've tried to reconcile this position with the rather vague statements of VC. One scenario that works is that the régleur was made aware by observatory staff that particular watches were on track to fail their tests and, so warned, retrieved those watches to avoid having their sales potential tainted by a negative official result. As you've noted in the past, manufacturing the alloys for compensating balances was a hit-and-miss affair. Even with all due care in construction and adjustment, a very well-made timepiece could still fail at observatory trials due to this or other factors. Manufacturers couldn't afford to just scrap them, but the label of demi-chronometre was a convenient strategy which acknowledged the chronometric quality of the watch without having to provide a bulletin.

    Demi-chronomètre's with complications are an interesting sub-genre. Crott listed this 1880s chronograph as a demi-chronometre, unfortunately they didn't provide a photo of the cuvette to confirm:

    116158 ca1880 demi Crott.png 116158 ca1880.png

    These two are unattributed:

    QP demi B.jpg QP demi.jpg

    179126 ca1894.jpg 179126 ca1894 demi.jpg
     
  8. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
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    Your theory makes a lot of sense if it was less expensive to test second and third class chronometers at the observatory than to have their own regleurs do the rating.

    Since no paper was issued for failures, there was no stigma on a watch for failure. The observatory seems only to have kept paperwork on first class chronometers.

    IOt seems clear that the terms "Demi Chronometer" and "Semi Chronometers" were never official recognized terms so there were no specific criteria.
     
  9. tick talk

    tick talk Registered User

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    This demi-chronometre from Genevan maker Reynaud & Bussi. The cuvette also advertises an outlet in Nice, France. Must be some version of the Renaud dynasty.

    Reynaud demi-chronometer mvmt copy.jpg Reynaud demi-chronometer cuvette copy.jpg
     
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  10. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
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    I suspect the Demi chronometers were intended for certification at second or third class rather than first class.
    This long post is my argument.

    If a timepiece failed at First (Category A in the 1880's) class it could very likley pass at second or third and be sold as a chronometer.

    What follows is extracted from my translation from French of the 1894 report from the Geneva Chronometer Service

    Here are the requirements circa 1880

    Bulletin

    No mention Very Satisfactory



    For mean daily rate deviation[1] 1.5 sec 0.75

    For daily rate deviation due to position change[2] 5.0 2.50

    For compensation error (sec/day/°C[3] 0.5 0.20


    [1] is calculated for each of the eight the average deviations of 8 sets of rates the daily rate for each five-day period with the average. It is the arithmetic (absolute)sum of the numerical values of these 40 differences divided by 40

    [2] Average rate deviation for all six 1,2,3,5, 7 and 8 periods It calculates
    during which the chronometer remained in the same conditions of temperature,
    but was placed in five different positions, the position being the same
    in 1st and the 8th period, five weeks apart. The average variation taken
    the averaged rates for all six periods and is , the arithmetic average of these variations corresponding to a change of position.



    [3] The compensation error is derived from the comparison of the average rates
    in the ambient temperature to periods 4,5 and 6 ( cool, ambient and warm) with the
    average rates and average temperatures of each of these periods. 'If we
    compute variations , between the rates in each averaged period and verified
    average of all of same and the corresponding deviations in the temperature
    then we take the sums of these two sets of differences, and if we divide the sum of the rate differences by the sum of temperature differences,
    the error is obtained for compensation per degree centigrade


    Here are the number of entries passes and fails.

    Entrants.png

    No surprisingly most entries are on category C and there are a significant number of failures. I suspect the watches went to Cat b and C without a lot of testing before submission. A B or C test cost 5 francs and only 1 if it failed.

    Here is the a class performance summary.

    Performance.png

    These are superb watches By comparison a Hamilton 950 was allowed 15 seconds per day in position variation almost ten times the allowance of a Grade A Geneva Chronometer.

    Here is class B
    Cat B.png

    Again very good position performance but only two positions so comparison against railroad watches is not possible.

    Here is category C.

    Cat c.png

    The are not so great but they were salable as "Chronometers" with Rate Bulletins.

    The difference between first and other classes is very large. Most first class candidate were adjusted by Regleurs who were highly paid and knew precisely how the watches would perform. I suspect that watches that would not make in class A went to B or C and almost always passed.

    The report also states that makers did not have to identify themselves as the maker on submission and if an entrant was a an early clear failure they were informed and allowed to withdraw it without penalty, and get most of their entry fee back. If they had not stopped, I suspect they were sold as half chronometers.
     
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  11. tick talk

    tick talk Registered User

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    #11 tick talk, Mar 30, 2020 at 1:07 PM
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2020 at 1:16 PM
    Thanks for so clearly demonstrating the excellence of 1st class chronometers.

    Sorry if I missed this, but are you saying that half-chronometers passed or failed at 2nd or 3rd class certification? The scenario I imagine, at least for V&C pocket chronometers, is they wanted to avoid any category but 1st class and those watches that weren't on track (or had failed) in this were withdrawn to be marketed as demi-chronometres.

    I don't believe the Observatoire de Geneve published results for classes other than the competition until 1935, and I've not yet discovered a 2nd or 3rd class bulletin for a V&C pocket watch. If you have something like this to share, I'd be most grateful.
     
  12. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
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    I believe that unless a chronometer was marked "First Class" it was a lower class.

    What I was trying to state is that many marked Demi Chronometers are unlikely to have been adjusted for first class certification. The rates of these watches were well known. Only those close to meeting the limits were likely to fail and these would very likely pass at second or third class.

    Those intended for second or third class tests are better candidates for demi chronometer marking.

    1) Testing especially for second and third class was cheap, probably less expensive than testing in house, these were probably watches that either did not go the regleurs or were quickly rejected by them;

    2) First class submissions that failed were unusual since performance would have been fairly well known by regleurs who worked on them and submitted despite being close to limits. These would very likely pass at the lower levels on re-submission. These were expensive watches and sold slowly enough that there was usually enough time available for a shorter test.

    3) Lesser watches intended for second or third class testing, or regleur rejected candidates are much more likely to have been sold as demi-chronometers

    4) If they failed, they would need a lot of work to get them to pass, easier and cheaper to mark then "Demi Chronometer" and sell them. They were probably spotted fairly early in the process and returned along with 4 of the 5 francs charged for testing.

    5) If they failed at second or third level, no Bulletin would have been issued.

    I have seen a few demi chronometers with bulletins but they were from the maker and probably never went to either Geneva or Neuchatel. I doubt rating bulletins from failed second or third class existed.

    Here is an example of a chronometer marked for first class.

    face.png

    movement.png

    Note the blue end stone over the balance. Watches intended for first class often had a blue stone over the balance or a diamond. I have not checked but it would be interesting to me to see if any demi-chronometers have special balance cap jewels. It also has a Guillaume balance.

    DSC00008.png

    This watch was certified in 1922. Its mean variation was 0.24 sec per day and its average position error as 1.07 seconds per day.. It was well out of competition.

    I believe the the observatories only saved data on first class chronometers. The Hidding site has the test data for this watch, which was forst class but not at prize level.

    One example is hardly proof, but it supports the idea that the seller of a watch which passed at first class would write that on the watch.
     
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  13. tick talk

    tick talk Registered User

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    OK its much clearer for me, thanks.
     
  14. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
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    Thanks for pointing out that I was unclear, I often get too involved to be as clear as would like to be.

    BTW that blurb on V&C

    "The name "Demi-Chronomètre" is used by Vacheron Constantin to indicate that the movement was sent to the Observatory for chronometric control, but that for commercial reasons, it did not remain long enough to complete the entire course of testing."

    Is from a famous but now diminished auction house and it has been an annoyance to me for years. I hope I have made a good argument that it is marketing nonsense. I argue that the real reason a watch was pulled is that it had failed very early in testing.
     

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