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.

The Golden Age of Clockmaking

A late 17th century red tortoiseshell veneered bracket clock, by John Cotsworth of London

The late 17th century saw a revolution in English horology with huge leaps forward in science and technology. The invention of the pendulum and the verge escapement transformed the accuracy of mechanical time keeping. This period has become known as the golden age of English clockmaking.

The introduction of the pendulum shortly after 1650 has been described as ‘the greatest event in the history of horology’. A pendulum has a definite period of swing and gives a repeated unit of time whilst regulating the rotation of a clock’s spring or weight driven wheels.

It was Galileo who first discovered the isochronous properties of the pendulum in 1581. The pendulum clock was invented by the great Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens and patented in 1656. In 1657 he assigned the rights to his invention to Saloman Coster, a clock maker from the Hague. John Fromanteel, a member of the famous London family of clockmakers of Dutch descent, worked with Coster in Holland between 1657 and 1658 and introduced the technology to England upon his return.

The introduction of the pendulum clock to England coincided almost exactly with the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. Charles was a great patron of the arts and returned from the Continent with a taste for the finest art, clocks and objects in contrast to the austerity of the Puritan period which preceded him. England’s new found and rising wealth led to a growing demand for this new fashion and taste.

The Great Fire of London added to this demand as vast numbers of houses were rebuilt and refurbished. And this was the age of Sir Isaac Newton with Britain taking a leading role in the pursuit of science.

A late 17th century ebonized bracket clock, by John Cotton of London

The combination of Royal patronage, rising wealth, science and an increasingly international maritime outlook produced an outstanding generation of clockmakers which included Thomas Tompion, regarded as the ‘Father of English clockmaking’, Edward East, watchmaker and clockmaker to Charles I, Daniel Quare, and Joseph Knibb, who has been described as ‘next to Tompion…the greatest horologist of his time’. The demand for clocks remained strong into the late 17th and 18th century with other clockmakers working alongside them.
The late 17th century red tortoiseshell and ebonized bracket clocks you see here by John Cotsworth and John Cotton are fine examples and sold at Toovey’s for £6400 and £5000 respectively.

Both clocks had eight day twin fusee movements with verge escapements, finely engraved and signed back plates, and square brass dials with Roman hour numerals and Arabic minutes. The red tortoiseshell and ebonized architectural cases with their cushion-moulded tops and brass handles are typical of the period. There is much to celebrate in the quality of their mechanisms and their cases.

Interestingly John Cotsworth (sometimes Cossworth) is recorded as a London clockmaker, born in 1637. He was apprenticed to Jeremy Gregory and made free of the Clockmakers Company in 1669 to 1702. Cotsworth died in 1732, described as ‘aged near 100, formerly a watchmaker in Fleet Street and the oldest inhabitant of St. Dunstan’s Parish’. John Cotton is recorded as a London clockmaker, apprenticed in 1683, he was made free of the Clockmakers Company in 1695 to 1697.

Clocks remain one of the strongest collectors’ fields combining the skill of the clockmaker with that of the cabinet maker. These fine horological instruments give us a sense of our place in the procession of time and history – it is easy to understand their appeal.

Image 1: A late 17th century red tortoiseshell veneered bracket clock, by John Cotsworth of London.
Image 2: A late 17th century ebonized bracket clock, by John Cotton of London.


Rolex – Design Icons and Superlative Timepieces

Rolex Watches at Toovey's
A selection of Rolex gentlemen’s wristwatches which totalled £23,000 at Toovey’s

For more than 100 years Rolex have produced superlative timepieces which today are considered design classics.

Rolex is one of the world’s strongest brands representing more than a century of precision watch making, creativity and aspiration. Many may be surprised to learn that the company we know today as Rolex was founded in London by Alfred Davis and his brother in law Hans Wilsdorf in 1905. It traded as Wilsdorf and Davis. Hans Wilsdorf wanted his watches to bear a name that was memorable, short and easy to say in any language. In 1908 he registered the trademark ‘Rolex’. In the same year he opened an office in Switzerland.
In 1914 the Kew Observatory awarded a Rolex watch a Class A precision certificate for accuracy, a distinction usually reserved for marine chronometers. Heavy tax duties in the UK after the Great War on luxury imports and exported precious metals used in watch cases caused Wilsdorf to move the company to Geneva, Switzerland.

In 1927 Rolex developed the first waterproof and dust-proof watch named the ‘Oyster’. In 1931 this was complimented by Rolex inventing the world’s first self-winding mechanism.

As a fine art auctioneer in Sussex I have spent some thirty-five years journeying with people sharing the stories of their lives told through objects. I have often reflected that the most precious objects in our lives are those that allow us to tell these stories – the prompts to fond memories. I refer to them as the patchwork quilt of our lives. Rolex has always understood this and today its ambassadors are drawn from leading figures in the arts and sport whose lives are reflected in the these remarkable timepieces.

Rolex diving watches have been design icons since their introduction in 1953. They were the first diving watches to be waterproof to 330 feet. The ‘Submariner’ illustrated, with its leather strap, was made in 1965. The 1986 GMT- Master is similarly inspired. Introduced in 1955 the mechanism was able to simultaneously show the time in two zones allowing it to be used for navigation by those crossing the globe. The movement was improved in 1982 making it easier to use.
The two Rolex Oyster Perpetual wristwatches from 1958 and 1959 in their restrained stainless steel cases with simple dials are beautifully conceived. In contrast the 18ct gold Day Date wristwatch and the two colour Datejust appeal to those with more glamorous tastes.

New or old a Rolex combines the status of a design icon with superlative time-keeping. This combination delights connoisseurs and collectors. The selection of Rolex wristwatches illustrated have just sold at Toovey’s for £23,000.

Perhaps it’s time to change your wristwatch. Toovey’s Director, Tom Rowsell, is preparing his next specialist auction of fine watches which will be held on Thursday 23rd January 2020. Entries are still being invited. Tom and his team of specialists are always delighted to share their passion for watches and offer advice. They can be contacted on 01903 891955.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

James Cox’s Amazing Clocks

The processional clockwork automaton where figures and animals move ‘magically’ across the landscape

A rare late 18th century tortoiseshell and gilt-metal bracket clock with a processional automaton by the celebrated British entrepreneur and goldsmith James Cox (1723-1800) has been discovered by Toovey’s specialist, Tom Rowsell, in a London collection.

From the mid-18th century James Cox ran a company specialising in the manufacture of objects de vertu which were intended to delight and surprise his clients. He became famous for his extravagant clocks with their ingenious automata which made objects move, seemingly of their own volition. The clocks were hugely expensive and were sold across Europe and as far afield as India, China and Russia. Cox employed craftsmen from across Europe to create these extraordinary pieces.

Tom explains that this James Cox automaton clock was part of the estate of a London collector. It was the only clock in the collection which was predominately focused on Chinese porcelain. A late example of James Cox’s work, the clock dates from the late 18th century and has a complicated three train movement with automaton, playing ten tunes on fourteen bells. The automaton on this clock sees figures and animals process from left to right. His clocks are still a source of wonder and were never intended to be practical. Indeed they have been referred to as ‘magical moving objects’.

A late 18th century automaton clock by James Cox

That a British clock like this should appeal to a connoisseur of Chinese porcelain should not be a cause of surprise. The Chinese Emperor Qianlong (1735-1795) collected both Western and Chinese clocks and two of James Cox’s chariot clocks dating from 1765 and 1766 can still be seen in The Palace Museum in the Forbidden City, Beijing.

Although Cox had an early Indian connection most of his business was with China via Canton. A number of exotic, valuable pieces were exported there from 1763. These mechanical objects were received with great curiosity by the Chinese court and must have made Cox substantial profits. Trade seems to have developed steadily but by 1770 the market had reached saturation. The demise of Chinese interest deprived Cox of this his most profitable and important market.

In response to the decline in the eastern markets for his clocks, James Cox opened a museum in London and charged the public to see his amazing clocks. The manner of their sale in 1775 by national lottery was as ingenious as the objects’ mechanisms. Two of the largest and most complicated of these clocks were the Silver Swan and the Peacock Clock which can be seen at the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle, Co Durham, and at the Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia.

Producing such magnificent objects was hugely costly and brought with it significant financial risks. James Cox would face bankruptcy on more than one occasion.

This rare James Cox automaton clock will be auctioned in Toovey’s next curated sale of fine clocks and watches on Thursday 1st November 2018 and is estimated at £15,000-£25,000. If you would like advice on your clocks telephone 01903 891955 or email

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Scientific Instruments to Mark and Measure Time

Antiquarian, clock specialist and horologist, Brian Baskerville
Antiquarian, clock specialist and horologist, Brian Baskerville

The start of a New Year seems a good moment to consider time and how we have measured it over the centuries. This week I am in the company of Brian Baskerville a highly regarded antiquarian, clock specialist and horologist.

When you first meet Brian Baskerville it quickly becomes apparent that you are with an exceptionally talented specialist.

Brian started his business in 1969 in the King’s Road, Chelsea, before moving to Kensington Church Street in 1980 and eventually to Petworth in 1987. He says “I have spent most of my career as a horologist working in the field of fine clocks. Horology refers to the art and science of making, servicing, repairing and restoring timepieces and measuring devices. Today’s watch and clockmakers need to combine the traditional, practical, dextrous specialist skills and techniques with an ability to embrace new technology.”

As an active member of The British Antique Dealers Association Brian served on the Main Council and its Cultural and Educational Trust. A Liveryman and former steward of The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers he also worked on the Main Council and Publications Committee of The Antiquarian Horological Society.

Highly respected by his peers and collectors of fine clocks Brian remains passionate about promoting his specialism and emerging talent. This is apparent in the work that he did at West Dean College over some twenty-five years. Brian explains “I served as Chairman of the West Dean College Horological Conservation Course Advisory Board. I also acted as the administrator for the St. Roche’s Educational Trust which was specifically founded to support education in the conservation and restoration of antique horological items.”

Brian Baskerville is very generous with his knowledge and continues to invest in the future of horology. For a number of years now he has acted as Toovey’s clock consultant working closely with Tom Rowsell.

Brian delights in these scientific instruments crafted to mark and measure time. It is always a pleasure to listen to him as he examines a clock. Our conversation turns to two clocks sold in 2017 at Toovey’s specialist clock auctions.

A George III brass mounted mahogany bracket clock by Isaac Rogers of London
A George III brass mounted mahogany bracket clock by Isaac Rogers of London

The first, a George III brass mounted mahogany bracket clock by the London maker Isaac Rogers, had an eight day twin fusee, rack striking movement with verge escapement. Brian explains that the clock’s Dutch striking on two bells with pull-repeat mechanism is a rare feature. He comments “Dutch striking is where the clock strikes the hours at the preceding half hour on a high toned bell and at the hour in a low toned bell.” It realised £3600.

A late 19th century French lacquered brass and white marble four glass table clock with perpetual calendar and moonphase by Le Roy & Fils of Paris
A late 19th century French lacquered brass and white marble four glass table clock with perpetual calendar and moonphase by Le Roy & Fils of Paris

I remind Brian of the late 19th century French lacquered brass and white marble four glass table clock Toovey’s sold for £4200 by Le Roy & Fils of Paris. Brian says “Le Roy & Fils was a French watchmaker. The company was founded in 1785 by Basile Charles le Roy and remained one of France’s leading makers. The quality of its eight day movement striking on a bell with perpetual calendar and moonphase was matched by the three piece white enamel dial with Roman numerals and visible Brocot escapement. Although there were some problems around condition the clock’s quality made it very appealing.”

If you are looking to acquire or sell a fine clock Brian Baskerville is always pleased to share his expertise and advise you. He can be contacted at Toovey’s Auctioneers.

An antique clock is the perfect way to measure and mark time and the market for fine clocks remains buoyant.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.