There is a growing interest in chronometers from collectors and general clock enthusiasts, Dava Sobel’s book on Harrison and various TV programmes have drawn attention to an unjustly neglected area.  The splendid new chronometer gallery at the National Maritime Museum Greenwich will, I am sure add to the number of enthusiasts.

In the late 18th century following on from Harrison's pioneering work, London makers, particularly John Arnold and Thomas Earnshaw developed a practical instrument which could be relied upon to navigate the world's shipping.  Incredibly, the design adopted at that time remained in production virtually unchanged until the 1980's, when Mercers of St Albans ceased production ending a two century tradition of craftsmanship of the highest order.  A good chronometer was often the most prized possession of a ship's captain and it was not unknown for a century old instrument to be relied on for the safety of a vessel at sea.  Owning and caring for one of these beautiful instruments is a privilege which gives us a unique link to our maritime history.

For anyone thinking of investing in a chronometer, now is a very good time.  It is estimated that no more than 100,000 were made in the entire 200 years of manufacture.  Considering that many were lost in the two world wars, I believe that demand will soon exceed supply.  It generally took over a year to manufacture and rate a chronometer, consequently they were very costly, the Admiralty paid 100 guineas in the early 19th century for the highest rated instruments.  This compares with 5 to 10 guineas for the average long case clock of the time.  Today it is possible to purchase a good chronometer for the price of a decent long case clock.

 

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