Born in Cornwall, John Arnold (1736-1799) is one of England’s most famous and important watchmakers. Initially apprenticed to his father, a Clockmaker from Bodmin, John Arnold almost certainly worked for a time as a gunsmith with his Uncle, William (see Vaudrey Mercer, John Arnold & Son, p.4). In the mid 1750s, John Arnold travelled to Holland where he continued work as a watchmaker’s assistant and it is here that he learnt German which doubtless proved a great asset in his later connections with King George III’s court. In 1762 he moved to London and shortly thereafter presented a repeating watch mounted on a ring to King George III. The watch created a sensation and was widely reported upon with details included in the “Annual Register” for 1764 and the “Gentleman’s Magazine” of the same year. It has been suggested by several
researchers, including Cedric Jagger in his book Royal Clocks, that John Arnold was encouraged by King George III to “enter the ‘longitude’ arena” and make an accurate
timekeeper for use at sea. Arnold’s first attempt at a marine timepiece was completed in 1768 and presented before the Board of Longitude in 1770. Arnold realised that a detatched escapement would be highly desirable and this led him to invent his early detatched escapement in c.1770, followed by his spring detent (which bears his name) in c.1782. To overcome isochronal variation, Arnold took out a patent for a helical spring in December 1775 and used this with his ‘double T’ and ‘double S’ balances. Arnold realized that a detached escapement would be highly desirable and this led him to invent a detent escapement, circa 1781, which bears his name. In 1787 he took his son, John Roger Arnold, into partnership, changing the business name to “Arnold & Son”, which was retained until his death. A detailed examination of the life and work of John Arnold is given in Vaudrey Mercer’s definitive work on the maker entitled John Arnold & Son, published by the Antiquarian Horological Society in 1972.
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