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Ferdinand Berthoud - Ferdinand Berthoud Celebrates Watchmaking Patrimony at Watches and Wonders

Ferdinand Berthoud Ferdinand Berthoud Celebrates Watchmaking Patrimony at Watches and Wonders

The historic Marine Clock N°14 from 1775 is restored and exhibited by Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud during Watches And Wonders 2022

When we think about watch fairs, the image evoked in the mind is very much one of discovering new products and the latest creations of the world’s biggest horological maisons. That’s what the biggest headlines tend to be about, that’s what people tend to remember the most. If you’re a watch brand that does things differently, however, you might choose another approach. That’s exactly what Ferdinand Berthoud have done this year at Watches And Wonders. 

Ferdinand Berthoud Celebrates Watchmaking Patrimony at Watches and Wonders

Chronomètres FB RSM © Ferdinand Berthoud

Having launched their Chronomètre FB RSM earlier this year, the Ferdinand Berthoud team have been busy preparing something else for the year’s biggest watch event. As the official brand statement declares, the timepiece that Ferdinand Berthoud just presented at Watches And Wonders is not new. In fact, it’s not even a watch. It is a clock — one of the famous marine chronometers made by Ferdinand Berthoud himself, dating from 1775. 

Ferdinand Berthoud Celebrates Watchmaking Patrimony at Watches and Wonders

Horloge Marine N°14 © Ferdinand Berthoud

After Watches And Wonders, the Marine Clock N°14 will take its place at the L.U.CEUM archive of watchmaking in Fleurier, where it will remain as a key part of the historical collection. 

Marine chronometers may seem like quaint relics of the past to us now, but in the 18th century, they held the key to global trade and cultural hegemony. In the past, international travel was not possible the way it is today. Precision timekeepers were required in order to safely navigate the oceans, since it was only with the accurate calculation of longitudinal position (a complex formula involving astronomical observations, distance travelled and speed) that a ship’s position at sea could be determined. Without this element, exploration by sea was a chancy and dangerous endeavour, often ending in loss of oceangoing vessels (not to mention the lives on board). 

Possessing a timekeeper that could reliably measure time on a ship was akin to winning the global arms race, as it enabled countries to systematically expand their empires without exhausting their navies and treasuries. Trading companies such as the Dutch Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie and the British East India Company grew almost as powerful as the governments they ostensibly reported to, and held virtual monopolies on the global commodities trade. Naturally, the watchmakers who enabled this were internationally celebrated and their chronometric creations were as coveted as the legendary map to El Dorado. 

Ferdinand Berthoud Celebrates Watchmaking Patrimony at Watches and Wonders

Horloge Marine N°14 © Ferdinand Berthoud

The Marine Clock N°14 of Ferdinand Berthoud was delivered to the Spanish royal navy in 1775, and features several mechanisms that ensured the timekeeping performance of a ship’s clock. Not only does it possess a pivoted detent escapement, revered for its stability, chronometric precision and mechanical prestige, it also incorporates a constant-force mechanism. This mechanism differs from the constant-force mechanism in the modern-day creations of Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud, as it uses a weight-driven system to ensure even torque output rather than the fusée-and-chaîne system of the contemporary watches. It also includes a bimetallic temperature compensation mechanism, pioneered by John Harrison, whose work Ferdinand Berthoud admired and studied extensively. Although Harrison famously used his invention, known as a gridiron, in pendulum clocks, Berthoud applied the same components and principles to a sprung balance. 

Ferdinand Berthoud Celebrates Watchmaking Patrimony at Watches and Wonders

Horloge Marine N°14 © Ferdinand Berthoud

I have something to confess at this stage. I just deleted three paragraphs of deeply technical explanations about how the bimetallic gridiron was successfully transplanted from pendulum clocks to sprung-balance timepieces. If you enjoy digesting phrases such as “thermal coefficients of expansion” and “self-adjusting regulator index” or perhaps “curb pins under angular displacement” — leave a comment and I might reinstate those paragraphs. Otherwise I think I just did everyone a favour by cutting out the nerd stuff.

The Marine Clock N°14 was previously in a private collection and was located and purchased after a protracted exchange with the erstwhile owner, who clearly understood the value of what he had and was reluctant to part with it. After they finally took possession of the clock, the Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud team spent over 400 hours restoring the clock to its full functional glory. As mentioned before, the Marine Clock N°14 will be permanently housed at the L.U.CEUM after Watches And Wonders, as an important part of watchmaking history, a testament to the watchmaker that inspires Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud, and a symbol of what the company can continue to aspire to. 

Ferdinand Berthoud Celebrates Watchmaking Patrimony at Watches and Wonders

Horloge Marine N°14 © Ferdinand Berthoud

 

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