The basic definition of a carriage clock is a small, spring-driven clock, designed for traveling, developed in the early 19th century in France. The case, usually plain or gilt-brass, is rectangular with a carrying handle and often set with glass or more rarely enamel or porcelain panels. A feature of carriage clocks is the platform escapement, sometimes visible through a glazed aperture on the top of the case.
The first authentic carriage clock was made in Paris at the start of the 19th Century, by Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823).
Carriage clocks are also known in France as "officer's clocks" and the name is based on an historical anecdote. It is said that Napoleon, having almost lost a battle because one of his officers was late, ordered his military chiefs to carry a carriage clock with them at all times. This clock is said to have had calendar functions and to tell the temperature. It was really a breakthrough in clock making, and from that point, the carriage clock's place in the horological world was set.Orders placed with master clockmakers always included the reference "a clock for an officer" and this brought the name into common place.
Abraham Louis Breguet is said to have been the inventor of the carriage clock. Typically, these clocks usually took the form of a metal framed case, glazed on all four sides, and with a carrying handle at the top. For his highest quality carriage clocks, however, Breguet used a case of individual design consisting of a round topped, 'hump-back' case, with silver chains at the top for carrying. The firm of Breguet made these carriage clocks between about 1812 and 1830.
Carriage clocks showcased an interesting time in horology. It was a time that the wealthy were travelling more, and wanting to know the time, but before the appearance of wristwatches. The popularity lasted from 1798 to about 1930.
Travelling clocks were being made as early as the 15th century. The carriage clock is a more refined, sophisticated version of the travelling clock.
Carriage clocks are usually rectangular in shape, with glass sides, although some had enamel or porcelain sides. They are generally easily identified by the handle on top, installed for easy transportation. There were a few deviations from this design, mostly made by Breguet himself. These had a rounded top and a chain for a handle.
Carriage clocks were really a sign of status when they were popular. They were specially made for the upper class, who were the only ones who could afford to travel often, and to take such luxuries with them.
Carriage clocks had to be built to not only a standard of near perfection, to please the patrons, but also to a degree of ruggedness in order to endure the generally rough travel they were put through. These clocks were spring run, and the spring had to have a good amount of autonomy so it could run for an extended length of time without attention.
The spring mechanism in a carriage clock was not that different from other clocks of the time, such as pendant, or
pocket watches. They all had to be wound after a period of time or they would lose the time. The size and dimensions were different, but even though they were going into a larger clock, they were basically the same.
After a few different clock creations, Breguet made a leap forward by eliminating the pull-cord design that would wind the clock to keep it going. He introduced a new design in which the user would push a piston, and the action would wind the clock.
On the outside, carriage clocks were commonly made of brass, or another shiny metal. Not long after their introduction, they started coming equipped with covers over the face of the clock to protect the mechanism. These covers were sometimes metal, and sometimes glass for easy reading during travel.
Also, many carriage clocks came in leather or leather-covered wood carrying cases. These often had open or glass-covered sides so that the clock was protected, but could still be read. Unfortunately, these outer cases are rare now, most of them having decayed with time and use.
Since they were made for wealthy patrons, carriage clocks were sometimes very ornate. They often had adornments on the outside, and the face of the clock was sometimes painted with scenes, or set with precious metals or stones.
After awhile, some carriage clocks took on an intriguing new look. Some of them were made with all the sides made of glass. This gave a person the ability to see into the workings of the clock. The entire face of the clock also began to be used, allowing room for more dials and information to be presented to the holder.
In the 1830's carriage clocks had reached such popularity that they were made for worldwide distribution. These mass-produced models were simple, with practical and sound designs, and non-descript faces. Even so, the world loved them.
Production of Carriage Clocks
The quintessentially French carriage clock were produced in vast numbers and in a vast range of quality and complication- some being among the most complicated clocks ever produced.A large proportion were destined for Britain- we produced nothing to compete with it for cost or function.
They were produced from circa 1830, and although they virtually disappeared from production in the mid 20th century, they have now made a considerable comeback and are one of the few quality mechanical clocks produced today.
Since the horological achievements of the early 19th century, it has always been fashionable to own a Carriage Clock. They were considered an important part of the normal travelling luggage of the upper classes. Their revolutionary lever escapement, together with their sturdy leather travelling case, ensured their safety on the bumpy carriage journey's and erratic train rides – hence their name – carriage clock.
Abraham Louis Breguet (1747-1823) one of France's foremost clockmakers, made his first 'pendule de voyage' around 1810. This had a highly complex mechanism showing not only calendar details, but temperature levels too. His use of size along with portability was the reason for the boom in carriage clocks. Pieces signed by Brequet are extremely sought after today.
Top quality Carriage Clocks with their complicated movements, together with striking and repeating facilities, continued to be made over the next hundred years, as special orders for the very wealthy and for the great exhibitions in Paris and London.
Parallel with the production of these aristocratic clocks, an industry of semi-mass produced Carriage Clocks was promoted by Paul Garnier - another Parisian clockmaker. Paul Garnier made quite distinctive clocks, incorporating his standard case, dial and hand designs allied often with the Garnier 'Chaff-cutter' escapement which was supposed to overcome problems in time-keeping and regulation. Others, such as Pinchon, Jules etc were also making semi-standard clocks with many of these makers names appearing on almost identical clocks, especially those with the
helical spring balance and one-piece case.
From the mid 1830's a system was born, making hundreds of Carriage Clocks to be exported all over the world. As was to be expected, the early mass-produced clocks were mostly simple, well constructed and practical, with white enamel dial, black Roman numerals and plain hands - this was considered of great help when telling the time across a large candlelit room!
Three or four decades ago, good examples were easy to find and relatively inexpensive. These are the antiques of the past.
Post 1850’s period
By the 1850's Henry Marc was almost 'mass-producing' carriage clocks although the standard was high. He employed makers of the 'roulant blancs' from St. Nicholas d'Ailermont and finished off the movements in his own workshops. The three most well known makers of the post 1850 period are Drocourt, Jacot and Leroy. Drocourt made fine clocks with most being housed in Gorge cases. The movements are often stamped 'H.L' on the inside plates, being the mark of the maker Henri Lemaille, who was obviously supplying Drocourt with the roulant blancs. A number of pieces have been seen with his stamp and no other mark and all the engraving and stamps are identical to those seen on a Drocourt. These movements are also known with the Leroy mark on them so it is safe to assume that Lemaille supplied a number of the top makers. Henri Jacot is one of the most keenly collected of the carriage clock makers. Always of excellent quality the clocks by Jacot have a number of exclusive features. The white enamel dials generally have a thin 'inner' ring sighted around the inside of the chapter ring whilst the backplate bears the trademark of a parrot (a jacot is a french parrot) on a perch with the initials H.J. either side. Interestingly as both Jacot and Drocourt supplied a number of the top retailers in the England it was often asked of them to leave their trade mark off the backplate and the dial with the dial having the retailers name placed on there instead, and sometimes on the backplate. In these cases both makers put a hidden stamp inside the movement. Jacot's being an oval on the frontplate with the name in the middle and the medal winning years around the edge, whilst Drocourt had an oval inside the plates with the name within.
Cases came in a number of styles but basically there were four main types. The Corniche which is probably the type that most people see and know, being rectangular with corner 'feet' mouldings to the top and base and a fairly plain handle. The one-piece case which has the main body cast from a single piece of brass (or braised together) with no real 'top', clean lines and a large top glass. Sometimes the better of this type had mouldings to the base corners as with gorge cases and 'English' style handles. The Gorge cased clocks, felt by many to be the top design with its moulded base, top and corners and generally with a five ribbed handle. This type was a particular favourite of both Drocourt and Leroy. Later in the 1800's saw the Anglaise case which was produced, as the name suggests, to appeal to the English market with it's straight edges and plain ornamentation. Makers of this type include Margaine who exported thousands of carriage clocks to Britain at this time. Various adaptations included the bamboo type columns, cheaper versions such as the Obis (for the Corniche) and the Cannalee (For the Gorge) as well as the more fancy types which had porcelain dials and panels as well as cases which are fully engraved.
Movements came in a number of variations although almost always of eight day duration and with a platform escapement which was either a lever (for the better models) or a cylinder (for the more run-of-the-mill clocks). The simple timepiece could be had as it was or with an alarm with the bell usually set in the base. Striking clocks sounded the hours and half hours on a bell (generally earlier models) or a gong. Interestingly a number of clocks by Leroy seem to be set out for a bell (the holes showing on the backplate) but fitted with a gong which would suggest either the client could have either or the movements were made in the transitional period and adapted. These striking clocks could have the addition of an alarm and/or repeatwork where the press of a button to the top of the case sounded the last hour. Then the more elaborate movements came either as petite-sonnerie (sounding the quarters on two bells once at quarter past, twice at half past and three times at a quarter to) or grande-sonnerie (the quarter as before with the addition of the last hour sounding every quarter). These grande sonnerie clocks normally have a lever in the base allowing for full strike, just the quarters, or silent. Due to the extra striking on these movements the barrels are much larger than normal and it is important to check this out as a number of quarter strikes have been adapted, and if this is the case the strike will run out half way through the week.
Carriage Clocks today………
Carriage clocks faded from popularity around 1930. Wristwatches became a much more convenient and economical option. Since then, we have continued adding to the myriad of items we have that tell us the time.
Even though carriage clocks are no longer necessary, they are still produced as their popularity has increased over the years. Many of them are still created with the care and craftsmanship of the last centuries. Due to their artistic design and nostalgic style, they have become rather timeless, like many timepieces from the past.
These new carriage clocks can be purchased in a wide variety of styles and materials. They range from simple but elegant, all the way to opulent and set with precious metals and stones. They also range from inexpensive, to many hundreds of pounds.