The Art of Time

A Breguet Type 20 Chronograph steel cased gentleman’s wristwatch, circa 1971 © Toovey’s 2021

Over the millennia humankind has sought to record and measure time. Watches which can tell the time with exceptional accuracy can be bought for very little today and yet our enduring fascination with exquisitely engineered mechanical watches remains undiminished. Not only do these watches connect us with the present but they also link us with points of extraordinary human endeavour and adventure.

Breguet and Rolex remain two of the world’s most enduring brands. The art of time is given expression in the Breguet Type 20 and Rolex Submariner illustrated which realised £13,500 and £10,000 respectively at Toovey’s.

The great-great grandson of the founder of Breguet was Louis Charles Breguet (1880-1955). Louis was amongst the early pioneers of aviation building hydroplanes and warplanes used by the French during the First and Second World Wars.

After World War II the Breguet type 20 was one of the most popular watches for pilots.

Amongst the defining characteristics of a Type 20 chronograph is its black dial with two or three registers at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock that count up to 30 minutes. They have luminous hands and Arabic numerals, as well as Flyback function which stops, resets and restarts the chronograph with a single press of the lower button. They also have to be accurate within eight seconds per day.
In an age where we rely on satellites, even in our cars, it is hard to imagine the importance of timekeeping in flight navigation.

Since routes were determined by a series of navigational directions and flight times a pilot’s ability to precisely measure time intervals was vital.
In the 1970s Breguet began to produce a revised Type 20 wristwatch. The distinctive black dial with batten hands and luminescent numerals remained, though the case was made larger and a black anodised rotating bezel was introduced. The chronograph was powered by a Valjoux 725 calibre movement with two, or three counters as you see here.

Perhaps the most iconic of all diving watches is the Rolex Submariner. The idea was conceived in 1953 by Rolex board member and keen diver, René- Paul Jeanneret, who identified the potential for a diving watch which could also be worn every day. The French underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau, invented the aqua-lung ten years earlier in 1943 and is said to have used a Rolex Submariner himself on occasions. His underwater adventures aboard the ship Calypso would be made famous by the BBC television series of the 1960s and 1970s.

Rolex diving watches have been design icons since their introduction in 1953. They were the first diving watches to be waterproof to 330 feet. Early and rare examples of Rolex Submariners can command five and six figure sums at auction. The stainless steel cased Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner illustrated with its leather strap dates from 1964.

We have a fascination with handmade watches and chronographs and value them far more highly than homogenous, mass produced timepieces. Interest, demand and prices continue to rise in this evocative field of collecting.

A New Minimalism Expressed in English Country House Taste

A beautiful Sussex Dining Room in the English Country House Taste

I have to own that I much prefer a rich layered interior in the English Country House Taste to the austerity of modern minimalism. There is such a joy in an eclectic mixture of objects which speak of our place in the procession of history and of our own stories – objects which reflect the patchwork quilt of our lives.
The Sussex Dining Room you see here gives voice to that English Country House Taste. The first spring sunlight reflects on the Dutch display cabinet’s glass panels as it gives life to the silver-plated, flower filled wine-cooler of Campana Urn form and the pair of candelabrum with their glass spear drops.

A Chinese blue and white bowl and a polychrome enamel dish decorated with scattered flowers rest on top of the Dutch walnut display cabinet. Both date from the mid-17th/early 18th century Kangxi period when the Dutch and the British East India Company competed for trade in the Far East. As a curator at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam once remarked to me with a wry grin “The Dutch and the English – keeping it sharp”. The Chinese pieces are flanked by two earthenware Dutch Delft tin glazed blue and white vases.

There is a delight to a display cabinet. Curated objects jostle for attention and compliment one another. The alcove cabinet with its crisp painted white gloss and Regency blue interior frames the eclectic mixture of porcelain: figures in the 18th century taste, a Royal Crown Derby vase, a Dresden bottle vase decorated with summer flowers and a Chinese Qianlong period famille rose teapot with a silver handle.

There is nothing new in these scenes except the artistic composition of furniture and objects arranged like pieces in a painting.

Here is minimalism at its height. Not the austerity of throwaway contemporary minimalism driven by fashion, but a minimalist approach to how we walk in the world.

Everything you see in this room is personal and beautiful. The quality of manufacture and design honours the finite and precious materials from which these things were made. They have already delighted many generations and they will continue to delight and serve generations to come too.

These pieces and the interiors they create are not bland or homogenous but unique, allowing us to give expression to who we are. The comfortable, inclusive and timeless taste of the English country house is once again on the rise.

Perhaps, rather than being herded into uniformity, we might embrace a new minimalism which English Country House Taste gives expression to. It allows us to speak of who we are; embracing antique and vintage pieces to create generous, gathering homes whilst treading lightly on the world.