History

John Arnold:
A finger on the pulse of his time

John Arnold was born in Cornwall in 1736. His father was a watchmaker and his uncle a gunsmith, which probably explains his early interest in precision engineering and metalwork. A talented craftsman and scholar, he left England for the Netherlands at the age of 19 after completing his apprenticeship to hone his watchmaking skills. He returned two years later speaking excellent German, which stood him in good stead later at the court of George III, and had established himself as a watchmaker of repute in London's Strand by his mid-twenties.

After Arnold presented the smallest repeating watch ever made to King George III and to the court, he rapidly acquired a wealthy clientele. He was one of the most inventive watchmakers of his day and held patents for a detent escapement, bimetallic balance and helical balance spring . Arnold's "No. 36" was the first timepiece to be called a chronometer, a term reserved for unusually precise watches to this day.

Arnold also played a central role in the events of his day. Along with other watchmakers, he addressed the problem of determining longitude, and won several grants and awards offered by the British Parliament. He enjoyed such respect in his profession that he became a close friend of Abraham-Louis Breguet. They exchanged ideas and even entrusted their sons to each other for their apprenticeships.

This is a story worth telling. Starting with this catalogue, we shall look at some of the achievements that assured John Arnold and his son of their place in watchmaking history. Following with the stories, we shall read how his timepieces accompanied famous explorers on their voyages of discovery, helped the East India Company establish its empire and how Napoleon Bonaparte himself presented an Arnold clock to the Observatory of Milan in 1802.

© 2014 Arnold & Son