Lot 132
  • 132

Berthoud, Ferdinand

20,000 - 30,000 USD
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  • Berthoud, Ferdinand
  • mahogany, brass, glass, metal
  • dial diameter 9.0cm; height of box 22cm
full brass plates for fusee and going train, Harrison's maintaining power, unusual pivoted detent escapement,  bi-metallic blade for temperature compensation pushing on a levered device for temperature regulation through a set curb pins, balance arbor with six large anti-friction wheels for balance pivots bearings, wound and set through the crystal • three silvered matte dials for hours, minutes and seconds, Roman numerals for the hour, ratchet-wheel knob to lock balance• set within a cylindrical bowl fitted with glazed aperture to reveal the balance, mounted within circular gimbals, 'quick release' latches, mahogany box, brass details and carrying handles • dial plate signed and numbered

Catalogue Note

Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807) was born in the Swiss Jura and left for Paris following a three year apprenticeship to his brother, Jean Henri.  After arriving in France, it is thought that he worked for the great horologist, Julien LeRoy (1686-1759). At the early age of 25, Berthoud made a clock with perpetual calendar that also indicated mean and solar time, which he presented to the Académie des Sciences.  Their approval helped Berthoud establish himself as a highly acclaimed horologist. His output of clocks, watches and marine chronometers was astonishing, as was his insatiable appetite for writing on the subject. Berthoud received the title of Master Watchmaker in 1754, and dedicated the rest of his life to studying and developing accurate marine chronometers. In 1764, he received the title of Horologer de la Marine; a post particularly esteemed at a period when the race to construct a timepiece capable of finding longitude at sea was of critical importance. His new title was accompanied by a handsome salary, which helped support his continued experimentation on precision clocks. 

King Louis XV appointed him to visit London to observe John Harrison’s famous H4. Harrison, suspicious that Berthoud would use his knowledge for the benefit of the French Navy, only showed him H1, H2, and H3. Regardless of this set-back, Berthoud established several key relationships on this trip, and on his second visit in 1765, met with Thomas Mudge, who described the working principles of H4 without showing it to him.

Berthoud returned to France with an understanding of the new British technology, and designed two marine clocks which were successfully used on a number of voyages by the French Navy. From then on, he produced all marine clocks and watches used on the King's ships, dedicating nearly 50 years to the study of accurate marine chronometers. He experimented with multiple design variants, beginning early on with weight driven chronometers, and then moving to spring-powered chronometers.  He later built compensating mechanisms into the balance itself. In all, Berthoud produced between 70 and 80 marine chronometers, of which several important examples reside in the Conservatorie des Arts et Métiers, in Paris. For detailed information on Berthoud's life and work see Hans Von Bertele, Marine and Pocket Chronometers, pp. 42-43, and Rupert T. Gould, The Marine Chronometer, pp.126-166.

The presently offered marine chronometer is a remarkable appearance of what seems to be a previously unknown Ferdinand Berthoud Marine Chronometer.  Its specific variation on temperature compensation and the unusual numbering system employed highlight this as a truly rare piece.

The temperature compensation employed is seen on some of Berthoud’s pieces, and includes what appears to be an original large bimetallic compensation blade across the top of the movement, designed to provide a rotative action on a pivoting curb on the balance spring when the temperature changes, and is thought to be based on one of Berthoud’s earlier compensation systems.

Of further note is the fact that this chronometer has a roman numeral serial number suggesting that Berthoud may have used two separate numbering systems for his chronometers; one series using Arabic numerals, and another using Roman numerals.  No. XXXII, a Berthoud chronometer in the permanent collection of the Conservatorie des Arts et Métiers in Paris, shares some of the same features as the present piece,  including dial layout, temperature compensation set-up and numbering sequence.  For an illustration of no.XXXII, see Hans Von Bertele, Marine and Pocket Chronometers, p. 140, figs. 120 a & b.