Museum-Worthy Watches, From Pearls to Plastic

by nyljaouadi1
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When is a watch considered museum quality?

There are many factors — age, condition, materials, maker — but design also ranks high for choosy curators.

Here’s a look at some contemporary and antique pieces that have been deemed worthy.

Amid the hundreds of examples in the Clockmakers’ Museum, a collection displayed within the Science Museum in London, are pieces by the British horologists Thomas Tompion, John Harrison and George Daniels, whose handmade designs have sold at auction for millions of dollars.

Anna Rolls, the curator of the Clockmakers’ Museum, said that when talking about design, it’s important to distinguish between form and function.

“Some of the watches on display from the early 17th century take the shape of recognizable objects such as flowers, fruit and birds, and in these instances their design is arguably function following form,” she said. “They were small and beautiful, but not very good timekeepers.”

Yet sometimes design “evolves as a result of the timekeeping element,” Ms. Rolls said, citing the introduction of the balance spring in the 1600s.

“Prior to this invention, a watch’s accuracy was poor enough to only warrant the use of one hand — the hour hand — on the dial,” she said, as the timekeeping could be off by as much as 20 minutes.

But designs could be intricate: The dial of a silver-cased, star-shaped piece by David Ramsay, watchmaker to King James I, and dating from around 1625, is carved with winged figures and religious iconography.

“This watch was concealed for many years behind a tapestry at Gawdy Hall, Norfolk — now demolished — and only discovered in around 1790,” Ms. Rolls said. “As a result it is in remarkable condition.”

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