John Arnold watches

John Arnold watches history

John Arnold watches
John Arnold watches

John Arnold is an English watchmakers who born in 1736 and died in 1799.  His reputation established as a fine watchmaker when he set up a chronometer factory at Chigwell In 1756 and this give him the credit to be the first watch maker to design a watch that was both practical and accurate.

Here is about him from Arnold and son website

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

John Arnold watches
John Arnold watches

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.


John Arnold is born in Cornwall. At the age of 19, after completing an apprenticeship as a watchmaker with his father, he leaves for the Netherlands, where he learns German.


John Arnold opens his first workshop, in London’s Strand, and gains immediate recognition when he repairs a repeating watch owned by William McGuire, a renowned watch connoisseur.


John Arnold makes a ring containing a half-quarter repeater, which he presents to King George III, and instantly creates a wealthy clientele.


John Arnold presents his first marine chronometer to the Board of Longitude. Impressed by the watch’s quality, the Board promptly awards him a grant of £ 200, the first of many he is to receive.


Admiral Harland uses the first Arnold chronometer on his voyage to Madagascar.

John Arnold watches
John Arnold watches


Arnold’s No. 3 chronometer is aboard when Captain Cook sets out on his second voyage to the Pacific.


Following the invention of a detent escapement and other significant design improvements, John Arnold builds his first pocket chronometer (No. 8).


Captain Phipps chooses an Arnold chronometer for his voyage towards the North Pole.


John Arnold is awarded patents for the helical spring and an improvement to the bimetallic balance.


John Arnold creates a minor storm in precision timekeeping with the Arnold No. 36. The timepiece reviewed at Greenwich is applauded for its precision. Following this success, Arnold advertises his achievement with a document in which he calls the timekeeper a “chronometer”, a term used to this day to denote a supremely accurate timepiece.


An Arnold astronomical pendulum clock is installed at the Observatory of Mannheim, Germany.

John Arnold watches
John Arnold watches


The Board of Longitude presents Arnold’s chronometer No. 2, declaring it superior to all those produced previously.


John Arnold is granted patents for helical spring terminal curves, a spring detent and epicycloidal teeth.


An Arnold chronometer is used by George Robertson to chart the China Sea.


His son, John Roger Arnold, studies in Paris for two years under his father’s friend, Abraham-Louis Breguet.


Arnold’s No. 4 chronometer is the instrument of choice for Captain George Vancouver’s voyage to America’s west coast.


Arnold’s No. 64 chronometer accompanies Captain Thomas Butler on his voyage to China.


John Roger Arnold joins his father’s firm. Arnold & Son quickly becomes the leading supplier of timepieces to the Royal Navy.

John Arnold watches
John Arnold watches


John Arnold dies.


Napoléon Bonaparte offers an Arnold astronomical clock to Milan Observatory.


Baron Von Krusenstern takes two Arnold chronometers (Nos. 128 and 1856) with him for his circumnavigation of the world.


In reverent memory of John Arnold, Abraham-Louis Breguet presents his son, John Roger, with his first tourbillon escapement, mounted in one of Arnold’s first pocket chronometers. Today, this exceptional watch is a highlight of the British Museum’s collection in London, and bears a personal inscription.


Two Arnold chronometers (Nos. 25 and 369) accompany Captain John Ross on his voyage to Baffin Bay.


John Roger Arnold is awarded a patent for his keyless winding system.


Arnold’s No. 2109 chronometer goes with Captain Edward Perry on his voyage toward the North Pole.


John Roger Arnold receives a patent for the “U”-type balance.


John Roger Arnold and Edward John Dent (another London clockmaker) finalize a 10-year partnership contract.

John Arnold watches
John Arnold watches


John Roger Arnold dies and ‘Arnold & Son’ is repurchased by Charles Frodsham.


Sir John Franklin sets out with a crew of 130 to chart the infamous Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. On board is an Arnold chronometer (No. 294). The expedition is a disaster and no one survives. Rediscovered over 150 years later, the chronometer is found to be so extensively modified that it is virtually unrecognizable. How it found its way back to the UK remains one of the greatest mysteries of watchmaking.


Arnold & Dent’s No. 4575 chronometer accompanies Dr David Livingstone on his expedition to South Africa.

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