Sunday, March 2, 2014

Precious Time: Queen Charlotte's Lever Watch and Pedestal, 1770

Watch, Pair Case and Plinth
Thomas Mudge, c. 1770
Purchased by King George III for Queen Charlotte
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection

Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

This gold watch case with an enamel dial fits into a plinth of tortoiseshell and gilt bronze. Both were made around 1770 by Thomas Mudge (1715-1794). The set was purchased by King George III (1738-1820) as a gift for Queen Charlotte.

This unique timepiece has been called “Perhaps the most historically important watch in the world” because of the fact that it is the earliest known example of a “lever escapement.” This advancement in clock-making, next to the creation of the balance spring, is considered the single greatest improvement to the art of watch-making. Most historians consider this particular watch the “forerunner” of the modern wrist and pocket watch. The watch is also important because it contained the earliest known example of an automatic device designed to compensate for changes in temperature.

Mudge invented the lever escapement in 1754, but didn’t employ one in a watch until this one was built in 1770. Mudge referred to the timepiece in correspondence with his patron, Count von Bruhl as “The Queen’s Watch,” suggesting that it was always intended for Queen Charlotte. There’s some debate as to the origin of the plinth upon which the watch is displayed. Some feel it’s original to the piece. Others think it was certainly altered over time. Others still believe it may be a replacement for the original presentation box. The first reference to the plinth comes in 1825 when both watch and plinth were restored. However, obviously, it existed long enough to need to be restored. Earlier records are spotty at best.

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