A world record was set — the highest price paid for a John Arnold watch — for a timepiece built by the British legend in 1781. This watch and another historic British watch, built by Thomas Earnshaw and Thomas Wright in 1781 — were the top two lots at yesterday’s Sotheby’s London “John Harrison’s Enduring Discovery ” auction. The auction was designed to celebrate watchmakers of the 18thcentury Golden era of English watchmaking, and was the second in a series of four specialized auctions, “The Celebration of the English Watch,” that trace the history of British watchmaking.
The John Arnold 1781 watch, which is large silver cased pocket chronometer, sold for $722,318. It was estimated that the watch might fetch $195,000- so it far surpassed all expectations. The watch—although numbered 23 out of 78 — is the only known Arnold timepiece that has never been restored and houses all original parts. Among those parts: Arnold’s ‘double S’ balance, created in 1780. The ‘S’ sections of the balance are shaped bars designed to overcome the changing elasticity of the balance spring and expansion of the balance’s rim.
The second highest lot at the sale was a watch by Thomas Earnshaw, who invented the spring detente escapement, and by Thomas Wright, who was the watchmaker to the king (George III) at the time. Wright paid for the patent to created the 1784 gold cased pocket chronometer, which is the only example of a watch made strictly to the spring detent escapement’s patent details. The watch sold for $395,524.
An unusual gold consular-cased early lever watch, made in 1785 by Josiah Emery sold for $162,100. A ruby cylinder watch made in 1762 by Thomas Mudge, that may be the earliest perpetual calendar watch of its kind, sold for $81, 050 – also over its estimate. It is one of two of its sort ever made by Mudge, and the other one is in the watch collection of the British Museum.
The third sale, dedicated to “The Genius of Thomas Tompion,” will be held in December. The fourth and final sale – celebrating the genius of George Daniels – will take place in 2017.