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How did Craftspeople make such tiny parts? A Handmade Watch from the Early Nineteenth Century

A few years ago a friend of mine showed me a watch made in the late 1700s.  I was fascinated by its construction.  He was able to find a similar watch for me to purchase.  This one is mine, from 1810–about as early as I could afford. 

It is quite interesting to hold a working machine that was hand crafted when the British king who lost the American colonies was still kicking about, and when Napoleon was busy doing his thing in Europe.  Most watches at this time were commissioned, although a watchmaker may have a few that could be bought the day you decided you needed one.  I have not been able to find the prices of these watches compared with the wages typically earned at the time.
 
Mine is rather plain–many were very elaborately decorated, since they were considered jewelry as much as timepieces.
 
The mechanical idiosyncrasies of these early watches draw my attention.  First, notice that they are both wound and set using a key. 
 
 
 
This key may look familiar to anyone who is aware of the keys associated with membership in honorary societies.  These honorary tokens once had a very practical use.  They wound your watch.  You would hang them from the end of your watch fob (chain) advertising your membership to the public.
 
 
Another curiosity of these watches is the second case.  Many watches of this vintage have an over-case which provides additional protection.
 
 
A few thicknesses of paper would be inserted into the outer case to cushion the watch.  Some watchmakers printed an advertisement for their business on watch papers–a 200 year old watch with such an insert is valuable indeed!
 
The real treat is to open the watch and swing out the movement–remember–all this is hand made with rather primitive tools.  The teeth of each gear were cut by hand.  From the movement, we learn that the maker is J. Brofs of London.
 
Note the elaborately detailed cover over the balance wheel.
 
Highlighted below:
This is called the cock, I believe because of the tail that connects it to the movement.  These were painstakingly made.  All the openwork is called piercing.  First, a tiny hand drill was used to make holes.  An equally tiny jeweler’s saw then enlarged and shaped the openings.  Finally, tiny files were used to complete the finish work.  These watch cocks are so special that many were removed from obsolete watches over the years and made into jewelry or collected in their own right.  I have seen necklaces on the internet made from antique watch cocks. 
 
Also note that the movement is gold plated.  Electroplating was many decades in the future when this watch was made.  A far more dangerous method called fire gilding was used.  Gold dust mixed with mercury was painted onto the metal.  The piece was then heated over a charcoal fire until the mercury vaporized away.  Mercury poisoning caused many artisans to go insane over the years.  Mercury was also used around the same time to make hats.  The Mad Hatter was not a character created randomly for Alice in Wonderland but was a well known stereotype.
 
 The ticking timekeeping part of a watch is called the escapement.  This watch uses a very early type called a verge escapement.  These were not overly accurate.  One problem was that the escapement would change speed as the watch spring unwound, exerting less and less torque on the escapement.  Until escapements became more sophisticated this problem was solved by a fascinating technique called the fusee movement.  The fusee uses a chain that winds onto a tapered barrel, something like a train track winding up a mountain.  As the watch unwinds the fusee normalizes the torque from the mainspring.
Now when you reduce the fusee parts to the size of a watch, you end up with an incredibly delicate device.  It is hard to imagine how people without modern machine tools created a fusee chain.  As you can see from the picture below it looks like a tiny bicycle chain. 
 
 
Girls and women with small hands would punch out the links with a die.  A second die was used to punch the two link holes.  The links would be joined with tiny wires.  The completed chain would be wound back and forth on a cylinder until it was limber.  Quite a feat!
 
Finally, how did I know that this watch was made in 1810?  By its hallmark!  The British developed marks to confirm the silver content of a piece, identify the location of the administrative office with authority over that silversmith, and provide a date of manufacture.  The British considered the integrity of this system so valuable that until recent times a person could be put to death for counterfeiting hallmarks.  The hallmarks below indicate that the watch is Sterling silver and was made under the jurisdiction of the London assay office in 1810 (if I read everything correctly).
 
Handmade watches from this era amaze me.  I am not a knowledgeable clock collector.  I would be interested in hearing from a collector how many hours went into producing a watch in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century.  What did they cost relative to average income?  Were the movements typically made by a single craftsman, or were unfinished parts provided by lower tier craftsmen as was done for some more common clocks?  Let me know!

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