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Adrien Philippe

From Horology magazine, June 1938

Adrien Philippe, 1815 - 1894
By Major Paul M. Chamberlain

In the little French town of Bazoche-Gouet, some fifty miles southwest of Paris, was born in 1815, the subject of this sketch, the son of a watchmaker who constructed at odd moments several complicated timepieces involving calendars, repeaters, phases of the moon and so forth. The son imbibed a love for fine work and at the age of eighteen set forth to add to what skill his father had taught him. At Havre, he was with a chronometer maker, where he had opportunity for progress and by 1836 had made some fine timepieces. He removed to London where he gained not only better skill and standards but was able to lay aside some money. With a young man he had become acquainted with in London he removed to Paris to set up a shop, having the high aim of bringing back to that city standards which save for a few great masters had degenerated. With considerable initiative they were successful in getting governmental assistance and made movements complete and worked up to an output of about one hundred and fifty a year.

Philippe became interested in the problem of making a satisfactory watch which would not require a key. It was not a new idea as it had been acted on by Caron Beaumarchais, Breguet, Prest of the John R. Arnold shop in London and doubtless many others. But Philippe devised a mechanism which, with a few changes through the years, has been used to the present day bv the firm perpetuating his name. In 1842 he had perfected a model but did not get much encouragement from those to whom he showed it in Paris.  However, he exhibited it at the Exposition of 1844 and received a medal which gave him great enthusiasm and encouragement.

In Geneva there was a watch merchandising partnership of two Polish gentlemen, a Mr. Czapek and Mr. A. N. de Patek, who catered to a high class clientele and employed good movements and artistic cases. Mr. de Patek met Philippe at the Exposition and became so interested in his work that he proposed a partnership with him as soon as his contract with Czapek should expire.

The business was started in 1845 as Patek & Philippe and prospered from the start. Mr. Patek died in 1877. In 1901 the firm name was changed to Patek Philippe & Co. and among the officials of the company will be remembered A. Cingra, A. Genassy, Emil Philippe, A. Conty, J. M. Rouge and the following generation Francois Conty, Hubert Rouge, Adrien Philippe, Jules Perrier, Ed. Gaillard, A. Chambez, E. Benassy, J. D. LeCoultre and the American partner, the late Albert G. Stein, who was known to every watch store handling the product in this country.  Within the past few years many of the old stock holders have retired and there has come in the Stern family, known for their unsurpassed dials.

Mr. Philippe, in devising tools for increased production was at the beginning his own machinist, later to be assisted by Ch. Schehaye and Ferd Adler. Before the flyback chronograph superseded it, the independent train sweep seconds was the popular timer and in 1847 Mr. Philippe applied his stem wind to it, winding both barrels at the same time. To overcome the difficulty caused by one spring being used more than the other he arranged one to slip from the barrel fastening, but at best it was a makeshift, and ten years later he devised what he called the free mainspring. In 1878 he described, in the Journal Suisse d'Horlogerie, a form of compensation balance devised by him. In 1863 he published "Montres san clef" giving a history of attempts at stem winding. He was a champion of flat hairsprings for many uses and gave out the results of experiments made with them. He was a member of the horological jury at the Paris Exposition of 1875 and of that of Zurich in 1883 and of Antwerp in 1885. In 1890 he was decorated by the French Government with the Cross of the Legion of Honor. One of the most thoughtful and understanding discussions of horological education I have ever read was from his pen and I presume in one of his jury reports but at the moment I am unable to cite the reference. For many of the facts embodied herewith I am under obligations to an obituary notice in the "Journal Suisse D'Horologerie" of February, 1894. 

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