At the court of King George III


Anne, Queen of Great Britain, who died in 1714, left no Protestant heir apparent to the throne, as stipulated in the English Act of Settlement of 1701. As a result, advisers resorted to the Queen's family tree and George, prince-elector of Hanover, succeeded her as monarch.

George I and his wife spoke only German. Their son, George Augustus, who became George II of Great Britain in 1727, was raised and married in Germany. In other words, when he died in 1760 and his grandson, George III, ascended the throne, German was the chief language spoken at the English court.

George III, no doubt aware that a monarch should respect the customs of his country, began to learn English. Nevertheless, in 1761 he married Duchess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who had been born and spent her life in Germany.

Fortunately, John Arnold spoke German, a skill acquired when he moved to the Netherlands for two years at the age of 19. It would certainly have helped him in 1764, when he was summoned to meet the king and present him with an exceptional timepiece. The meeting was a great success, as documented by this account:

"Arnold is also celebrated for the manufacture of the smallest repeating-watch ever known; it was made for his majesty George III, to whom it was presented on his birth-day, the 4th of June 1764. Although less than six-tenths of an inch in diameter, it was perfect in all its parts, repeated the hours, quarters and half-quarters, and contained the first ruby cylinder ever made. [...] The king was so much pleased with this rare specimen of mechanical skill, that he presented Mr. Arnold with 500 guineas; and the emperor of Russia afterwards offered Mr. Arnold 1000 guineas for a duplicate of it, which he declined." 1

The ruby cylinder found in this repeating watch was so remarkable that the King - himself a connoisseur of horology - asked Arnold to make him a second so that he could admire it.

After this favourable reception, John Arnold's career took off. He was renowned for his complicated watches, including minute repeaters and calendar watches, and a clientele of rich European aristocrats thronged to his workshop on St. James's Street in London. He employed the city's best craftspeople: James and Mary Reasey of Soho supplied sumptuously decorated watch cases of enamel and gold guilloché, and James Drury of Islington made him gongs in the best alloys for his repeating watches.

Despite this success, John Arnold was not content to manufacture beautiful watches alone. Encouraged by George III himself, he set about solving the problem of calculating longitude using a chronometer and, from 1770 onwards, dedicated himself to this task entirely.


1 Religious Tract Society (Great Britain), The Visitor, or Monthly Instructor (London 1847)

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