The French Carriage clock

Carriage clock

I have in my collection an unsigned 8-day carriage clock in a moulded rectangular brass case. This attractive little clock has a white enamel dial with Roman numerals, blued steel hands and a spring driven movement with platform lever escapement visible through the top beveled glass. The moulded brass case has beveled glass panels on all sides complete with a fold-down travel handle and two sided key.

Next to a Sessions Beveled No. 2
Next to a Sessions Beveled No. 2

Although my knowledge of carriage clocks is somewhat limited, searching the origin of the carriage clock on the net reveals that this type of clock was a very popular item for well-to-do travelers in days gone by. Carriage clocks were spring driven clocks popular in the late 19th and early 20th century designed for travel. It’s golden age was somewhere between 1860 and 1900.  The first carriage clock made by Abraham Louis Breguet was designed exclusively for Emperor Napoleon of France in 1812. More information about this fine inventor and horologist can be found here. Many came with a sturdy leather carrying case with one hinged panel that opened to check the time. Mine came without one.

The movement plates in my clock are secured by screws rather than pins suggesting that it was made at a later period. This clock would have been produced for the English market since it has “S”and “F” stamped on the escapement. If one assumes that the key which has “France” inscribed on it is original, then the clock is French. There are no markings on the outside of the clock save for the number “73” stamped twice on the inside access door and once on the bottom of the carrying handle. There are numbers visible on the inside of the plates that I can barely see but once I get the clock apart I can determine if they mean anything and report in a subsequent blog entry if I find anything of significance.

It’s diminutive size, 3 inches wide by 4 1/2 inches tall (without the handle) and 2 1/2 inches deep makes it exceptionally portable. If it is to be displayed on a mantel, a shelf or a desk, it is small enough to be placed anywhere in the home without dominating a room.

The balance and spring-driven platform jeweled escapement that comprised the working mechanism of the carriage clock made it ideal for transportation. The fact that it needed to be transported means it was more robust in dealing with jostling and movement than any other type of clock in it’s day. They were built to last which is why so many of them survive in very good condition to this day. Many had time and strike mechanisms, some with a repeater function, but this is a simpler time-only version.

Back plate showing winding arbour and lever for speed adjustment, with verdigris present

I managed to revitalize the case as you can see in the first two photos. However, the back plate shows a significant amount of oxidization though one hopes that the movement itself is in good condition. This oxidation is called Verdigris. Verdigris is a bright bluish-green encrustation or patina formed on copper or brass by atmospheric oxidation, consisting of basic copper carbonate.

Although the clock came to me in running condition the movement is very dirty and requires disassembly and a thorough cleaning. I am encouraged by the fact that the clock ran through an eight day cycle so I must assume that the jewels in the escapement are in good condition. Repairing jeweled escapements is not something I can do at this stage.

At the moment I see two issues with my clock. One, there is a small break in the lower corner of the beveled glass on the left side which is barely visible and two, the pull handle on the access door is slightly bent. There may be other issues once I get it apart but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes. I might even find that missing piece of beveled glass trapped somewhere in the movement.

During my research concerning the repair and servicing of carriage clocks I have discovered that letting down the mainspring is critical prior to disassembling. I read about a case where the platform escapement was taken off without letting down the mainspring and the result was the contrate wheel (having teeth that are at right angles to the plane of rotation) below the escapement was seriously damaged. I want to avoid that.

At the moment I have too many other clock projects on the go. However, in the meantime, that won’t keep me from displaying this beautifully crafted timepiece in a prominent location.

In a future blog I will report on the steps I will take to bring this clock to a healthy running condition.