History of Time

Time
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Ancient Civilisations

From the beginning of man's existence, life has been governed by the passage of time. Through the study of astronomy, early civilisations of the Middle East and Egypt created a system whereby the year was divided into days, months and seasons. The earliest clocks relied on shadows cast by the sun, such as obelisks from ancient Egypt and sundials from ancient Greece. It is believed that Stone circles, such as Stonehenge, were also built to predict seasonal and annual events.

900

10th Century

Water clocks, incense clocks and burning candles were introduced as timekeeping devices. Perhaps the most famous candle clock was invented by Alfred the Great, a Saxon King. It was created using six candles made from 72 pennyweights of wax, each with 12 markers.

 

1000

11th Century

The hourglass became a preferred method of measuring time and was used alongside magnetic compasses to aid navigation at sea. As making methods improved the hourglasses became regarded as a dependable and reasonably accurate time measuring device at a time when the rhythm of life was largely determined by the seasons and daylight. 

1300

14th Century

The Renaissance Period witnessed the introduction of the first mechanical clocks in public places throughout Europe. Powered by weights and employing a foliot balance escapement. A fine example is the clock dated 1386 in Wells Cathedral.

1400

15th Century

As societies advance greater wealth established a demand for smaller versions of the public clocks. The development of crude springs meant that much smaller Chamber Clocks could be made. These timepieces were extremely expensive and had poor accuracy.

1500

16th Century

A growing interest in science following the Renaissance stimulated demand for clocks in Tudors England. During this period, English clock making was enriched by many skilled clockmakers and craftsmen seeking refuge from religious persecution in continental Europe. Typically these makers were highly skilled being trained in the traditions of locksmiths. Henry VIII presented Anne Boleyn with an richly ornamented weight driven clock on their wedding day in 1532.

1600

17th Century

The Lantern Clock emerged as a popular style in England to meet the demand from rapidly growing merchant classes. The early clocks had a single hand, were of 30 hour duration but had limited accuracy.

1631

1631

Resentment over the numbers of foreign clockmakers settling in London prompted a group of English makers to petition the King in 1622. In 1631, King Charles I granted a Royal Charter to set up the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers to supervise and maintain the high levels of craftsmanship of London clockmakers.

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1656

1656

The Dutch scientist Christian Huygens applied the principle of a pendulum, thought to have first been discovered by Galileo, to a clock mechanism. The constant rate or swing of the pendulum dramatically improved  accuracy and in 1658 the famous London maker, Ahasuerus Fromanteel introduced his first pendulum clock with a verge escapement.

1671

1671

William Clement developed an anchor escapement making possible greater accuracy and clocks of 8 day, a month or year duration on a single winding. The narrow swing and length of the second beat pendulum lead to the development of the first longcase floor clocks for wealthy clients. The finest cabinet makers of the day were employed to create the cabinets to protect the precious movements.   

1676

1676

Thomas Tompion makes the first precision regulators with a dead-beat escapement based on a design by the astronomer Richard Townley for the Greenwich Observatory. The escapement eliminated the energy loss due to the recoil action of anchor escapements and could achieve an accuracy of less than 10 seconds a day. This escapement gained widespread use over following centuries in quality pendulum clocks.

Learn more about the Greenwich regulator

1685

1685

Religious conflict in France lead to the removal of Protestant rights when Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes. Calvinist, known as Huguenots, sought refuge in England. Typically highly skilled artisans, their arrival in Britain stimulated great interest and demand for clocks with highly decorative finishes such as gilded dials and fine veneered cabinets with elaborate marquetry.

Read about marquetry

1688

1688

The trading activities of the English East India Company in the far east stimulated great interest in lacquered furniture from China and Japan. A technique of artwork called Chinoiserie was developed by English craftspeople to bring the exotic sophistication of the Far East into British homes.

Learn more about Chinoiserie artwork

1700

18th Century

Increased wealth of the merchant classes combined with a need for precision instruments for navigation and scientific use boosted the clock making industry. It is thought that almost one percent of people were employed in the clock making industry in the 18th Century.

1720

1720

The development of fusee movements with verge escapement and bob pendulum allowed for the development of bracket or table clocks.  Fashionable styles such as the basket top, break arch and bell top remain popular to this day.

Learn more about Comitti’s Georgian period bracket clocks.

 

1721

1721

George Graham developed the first temperature compensated pendulum leading the way to making more accurate regulator timekeepers demanded by scientists and astronomers.

Learn more about Comitti’s temperature compensated pendulums.

1725

1725

In the early 18th century or Queen Anne period walnut from Europe was used for finest quality clock cabinets. However this all changed when timbers such as mahogany were transported half way across the world from South America and the West Indies. The rich warm colour and quality of this wood offered the greatest opportunity for fine cabinet makers to master there craft.

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1726

1726

English clockmaker, John Harrison, developed the first fusee mechanism with maintaining power to achieve a more constant force from a movement mainspring to improve accuracy.

Learn more about Comitti’s view the detail of the Grasshopper movement

1761

1761

John Harrison successfully made the world's first marine clock with an accuracy of plus or minus one second per week. This extraordinary achievement allowed marine navigators to establish their longitude position on the high seas for the first time. An achievement that helped to establish the supremacy of the Royal Navy, the key to building the British Empire.

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1771

1771

English scientist, Robert Hooke, developed the balance wheel escapement and spring assembly for small clocks and watches. His work is considered to have played a vital role in improving the accuracy of small clocks and watches.

1797

1797

Great damage was done to the industry when William Pitt imposed a tax on clocks to help fund the Napoleonic wars. Innkeepers and coffee houses introduced large "Act of Parliament" or Tavern clocks to attract customers who had disposed of their timepieces to avoid the tax. Within a year the tax was removed but the industry never fully recovered.

1800

19th Century

In the Victorian Age Great Britain emerges as the first industrial society. Clocks are an essential tool at the heart of the Industrial Age and the British Empire. Accurate timekeepers are critical to running the new railways and factories, accurate navigation on the high seas, exploration, scientific research and for domestic use.

1808

1808

Sir William Congreve patented his rolling ball clock; a military timepiece useful for measuring the flight and distance travelled by artillery used during the Napoleonic Wars.    

Learn more about Comitti's congreve clock

 

1810

1810

From the late 18th Century onwards, hand painted dials became very fashionable for domestic grandfather clocks. Named Japanning, the technique was employed to paint local scenes, moon phases and automata such as rocking ships. 

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1830

1830

Domestic demand generated by the Industrial Age could not be satisfied by English clockmakers. The industry adopts mass production techniques and large numbers of clocks are imported from overseas. The high standards enforced by the Clockmakers Company Guild maintained London as the leading centre for precision timekeeping.

1850

1850

Onarato Comitti travelled to London from the Lake Como area of northern Italy. He was a skilled instrument maker seeking his fortune in the most advanced industrial country in the world. He established his workshops in Clerkenwell, the centre for instrument and clock making in London.

1851

1851

The Great Exhibition in London stimulated a fashion for elaborate skeleton clocks and carriage clocks that revealed the art of clock making. Famous makers such as James McCabe, Edward Dent and Charles Frodsham, fascinated the British public with creations of sophisticated clocks with automata, moon phases, calendars and elaborate chime and strike mechanisms.

Learn more about Comitti’s great wheel skeleton clock the Mayfair.

 

1852

1852

E J Dent is commissioned by Sir Benjamin Hall to manufacture the turret clock for the New Palace of Westminster following the fire in 1834. A new gravity escapement pioneered by Edward Denison is adopted that keeps the pendulum free from the external influences such as wind pressure, rain and ice on the hands. The Great Bell, named "Big Ben" after the Commissioner, was installed in 1859 completing what remains the most accurate clock of this type in the world.     

1880

1880

Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) replaced local time by the Railways in 1858 and throughout Great Britain in 1880. In 1884, 25 countries accepted Greenwich, England, as the prime meridian and the basis for the world's time zones. This milestone in history enhanced London's status as the centre of international trade.

1888

1888

Onarato Comitti received the Diploma D'Onore for the quality of his barometers and thermometers from the Exposizione Italianna Londra. Onarato's son Luigi became chairman and Comitti was registered as a Limited Company at Companies House in 1897.

1899

1899

Comitti published a broadsheet showing registered patents and a comprehensive collection of mercury and aneroid weather instruments. Barometers for marine use, Admirals Fitzroy's instruments designed for recording data across the Britain for coastal and national forecasting, Fortin barometers for scientific research, Pocket Aneroid for altitude measurement, the companies Improved Torricelli Barometer, sophisticated Royal Polytechnic Barometers recording Barographs and mantel barometers including timepiece movements.

Learn more about Barometers

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1900

20th Century

The Barker family takes control of the company after George Barker married Luigi Comitti's daughter and becomes a Director in 1903. He is appointed chairman and steers the company through the difficulties of WW1.

1907

1907

A catalogue is published showing a comprehensive collection of barometers including the patented "Discuss" Barograph, a wide selection of specialist clinical thermometers such as the patented Rapido Seteesi and for the first time a collection of timepiece mantel clocks.

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1946

1946

George's son, Ronald James Barker, becomes a Director of the company following his service as a tank commander in WW2 in the North African Campaign.

1960

1960

Comitti builds on its reputation as the worlds oldest maker of barometers and related instruments. The companies early mercury and aneroid barometers become sought after as valuable antiques and a specialist department is set up for the restoration and repair of these instruments. The company continues to manufacture a wide range of period and contemporary instruments.   

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1984

1984

After the retirement of RJ Barker, his sons become Directors of the company. The company broadens its activities drawing on its heritage and superb craft skills to manufacturing increasing numbers of classic English clocks. 

1990

1990

Comitti is recognised as the UK's leading maker of classic English clocks and barometers. The new collections included longcase, wall and table clocks as well as specialist commemorative timepieces. The company is presented with the UK Jewellery Awards as a Luxury Objects finalist.

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2000

21st Century

Globalisation of trading activities and the impact of the new digital age prompts a  strategic change in the company's business model. Aspirational quality and design become the key to competing with low cost makers from around the world. Comitti launches its new program with the strapline The Art of the British Clockmaker.

2007

2007

A European Union Directive banned the use of mercury ending the production mercury barometers, instruments made by Comitti for over 150 years. 

2012

2012

A special version of the Royal Greenwich Regulator is presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11 on the occasion of Her Diamond Jubilee and is.....

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2013

2013

Comitti launches the Meridian Co-Axial Table Clock. A world first and unique contribution to the story of the British Clockmaker at Baselworld in Switzerland

Read more about the Meridian