From longitude to La Chaux-de-Fonds
John Arnold is the "son" in Arnold & Son. It was he who travelled abroad from his native Cornwall to complete an apprenticeship, return to England with knowledge and expertise that allowed him to present to the royal court of King George II what was at the time the smallest repeating watch ever made. It was, however, Arnold's knack for producing ultra-precise watches that would lead him to greater fame in a period where nation states were competing to calculate longitude at sea that would give them the upper hand in ocean navigation and secure economic and military supremacy.
Over a period of 20 years, from 1770 until 1790, Arnold dedicated himself to the advancement of precision timekeeping, partly at the request of the king himself. He introduced a number of innovations that led to improvements in how we tell the time, including the detent escapement, the helicoidal balance spring, terminal curves and the first use of gold for balance springs.
The inventor of the tourbillon and the inventor of the chronometer Both Arnold and Breguet had a wealthy clientèle that would come from afar to purchase their watches. One customer that both watchmakers had in common was the Duke of Orléans, a man with royal connections as the king's cousin, who arranged for the two watchmakers to meet after Arnold had shown such admiration for a Breguet watch that the Duke of Orléans had shown him.
A friendship blossomed between Abraham-Louis Breguet, the inventor of the tourbillon, and John Arnold, who had first coined the term "chronometer" to such an extent that they each entrusted their respective sons to each other for their watchmaking apprenticeships. Documentary evidence even shows that they shared trade secrets, Arnold notably informing Breguet that the gold hairspring offered the best performance. Breguet offered the ultimate tribute to Arnold after his death by modifying one of Arnold's pocket chronometers to add the first tourbillon escapement.
John Arnold's son John Roger Arnold continued the family tradition of watch manufacture, pushing the boundaries even further with his research in chronometry together with Edward John Dent. They focused in particular on the influence of magnetism and temperature on chronometer rates and succeeded in manufacturing exceptional chronometers with glass balance springs and spirals, which could be considered as the predecessors of today's silicon escapements.
The Arnold & Son Royal Collection
As a nod to John Arnold's royal connections, the brand maintains a vast Royal collection in steel, DLC coated steel and gold. These cover everything from the three-hand model with small seconds, moon phase watches, chronographs, tourbillons, decorative ladies' watches and the brand's signature models with the skeleton design and a double balance visible in the upper half of the dial, which are available as a constant-force tourbillon, a chronometer, tourbillon chronometer and true beat. The Hornet World Timer is worthy of particular note, since its movement includes equation of time and true solar time, as well as big date and multiple time zone displays. The True Moon watches also stand out with their realistic perpetual moon phase displays.
The Instrument Collection and the quest for absolute precision
The Instrument Collection draws its inspiration from watches made by John Roger Arnold, in particular the first two, produced around the time of his father's death, known as No. 1 and No. 2. They had a "Z" balance wheel and displayed both mean time and sidereal time. Another influence comes from a watch produced in 1855 with Charles Frodsham, which was a very unusual chronometer that displayed mean time in a subsidiary dial on the left, a symmetrical subdial on the right with a power reserve indication, and a central seconds with an additional chronograph split-seconds.
The idea is carried over to the Instrument Collection, which shows the secondary importance of solar time by displaying the hours and minutes on an off-centred dial. This frees up space to show off either complications or wonderful examples of artistic crafts on the dial. Two of the more recent models in this collection offer an entirely new perspective on time. The Golden Wheel combines the Arnold & Son true beat seconds complication with a wandering hours function with a central time carrousel in 18-carat red gold (hence the name Golden Wheel). The wandering hours (also known as jumping hours) seem to float above the dial, with the corresponding hour seemingly appearing out of nowhere. The true beat seconds are displayed on a retrograde scale in the upper half of the dial. The Golden Wheel is a limited edition of 125. The other model is the Time Pyramid, which reflects the architecture of regulator clocks and the distinctive vertical arrangement of their dials. In the Time Pyramid, the A&S1615 calibre has been given the full skeleton treatment to leave it eminently visible through a transparent sapphire crystal dial and case back. The gear wheel train runs vertically, connecting the two barrels at six o'clock to the balance wheel at twelve o'clock, giving the movement its pyramid structure. The bridges are designed so that all of the wheels, the two mainspring barrels, the escapement and balance wheel are all visible from the dial side. The Time Pyramid comes with an 18-carat red gold case.