One of the advantages of the SIHH is of course that you see all you’d expect in terms of wonderful new watches. Some of the greatest pleasures, though, are the unexpected ones.
During a walk through the Audemars Piguet booth I was captivated by a fantastic display of complicated pocket watches, and noticed a tall, immaculately attired gentleman showing two other visitors what I instantly recognized had to be a very old watch. That gentleman was Audemars Piguet board member Olivier Audemars and he had with him a watch that’s a reminder just how old the name “Piguet” is in watchmaking.
The watch is probably from a period roughly around 1740. At the time it would have been state of the art. The construction is of the “pillar and plate” type –earlier examples had more ornate pillars, which could have very elaborate shapes reminiscent of Classical architecture, though as watchmaking evolved, the detail on the pillars became more sober and even (as in this case) absent. Jeweling of pivots, the lever escapement, and the use of bridges for movement construction were all still in the future.
The ornate, pierced cock –really, a bridge, as it’s affixed to the plate by two screws at opposite points on the circumference –which covers the balance and spring is also typical of watches of the period (the balance spring itself had only been in use for about eighty years at this point.) The keyhole shaped blued steel “coqueret” holds the upper pivot of the balance in place. The large dial for fine regulation is on the left –the index is connected to a geared wheel below the plate that moves the curb pins which vary the effective length of the balance spring. Note the use of pins on the pillars rather than screws to hold the whole thing together.
Though the construction and accuracy of this watch are, of course, crude by modern standards, it was pretty state-of-the-art for the time. In addition to having a spiral balance spring (the single horological invention most responsible for making watches real timekeepers instead of mere entertaining trinkets) it’s fitted with a fusée and chain as well. As the watch has a verge escapement this is almost a necessity for any reasonably close rate stability, since the verge –a frictional rest type escapement –is very sensitive to variations in power –a situation which the addition of a balance spring mitigates to some extent but can never really solve entirely.
The creation of such a watch would have been a long, slow, laborious business, and of course, since the creation of interchangeable parts in watchmaking was still centuries away, any watch of this age is unique. Mr. Olivier Audemars happens to take pardonable pride in the maker’s name, which also tells us that this watch came, long ago, from the patient hands of an ancestor of his.
We mentioned that “Piguet” is a very old name in watchmaking in the Vallée de Joux –Mr. Olivier Audemars is the great grandson of Edward August Piguet, one of the co-founders of Audemars Piguet.
Our thanks to Mr. Olivier Audemars for sharing this delightful piece of (very old) family history with us.