Experimental Marine Timekeeper

This early experimental timekeeper conjures up romantic stories of adventures at sea and the quest to determine longitude.


Details

Medium:
Brass, wood and glass
Dimensions:
Movement and dial: 22 × 22 × 12cm. Longcase: 181 × 29 × 15cm
Art Fund grant:
£15,000 ( Total: £100,000)
Acquired in:
2015
Vendor:
M E Gosnell; A O Gosnell Trust

The movement dates from about 1660, just a few years after the Dutch mathematician and astronomer Christiaan Huygens invented the first practical pendulum clock. Encouraged by his success, Huygens turned his attention to the creation of an accurate sea-clock for the determination of longitude. He began collaborating with Alexander Bruce, 2nd Earl of Kincardine, who had his triangular sea-clocks made by the Dutch clockmaker, Severijn Oosterwijck. Sea trials were carried out on the clocks, and great claims made for them, but eventually they were found not to be the solution for which the designers had hoped. Only two of Bruce’s triangular movements are known to survive, this being one of them. The movement is unsigned and has been altered to be weight-driven. Around 1680 the device was adapted for domestic use with the addition of an elegant dial signed by the famous English clockmaker Thomas Tompion. The timekeeper now fills an important place in the story of pioneering chronometers at the Royal Observatory (part of the Royal Museums Greenwich) and is the first example of the work of Oosterwijck to enter the collection.

Provenance

Private collection c. 1974 - 2014. An Art Loss Register certificate has been supplied.