Clocks are wonderful historical objects, and very important in their development, because through clocks came timepieces that went to sea and this gave ships the gift of navigation.
If it were not for clocks, we would have no jumbo jets flying the Atlantic because even now, they use time to find out where they are through GPS. So clocks have been extremely important on that front. They are delightful and beautiful objects in their own right and I think very much part of the history of Great Britain, England and London in particular.
My collection – which tours the world – focuses on early English clocks. The pendulum was first noticed as being a time base by Galileo and the apocryphal story (or it may be genuine) is that he saw the High Altar lamp swinging in Padua cathedral, and then he used his pulse to time the swing.
As the swing decayed he noticed that it was the same number of beats of pulse regardless of the amplitude of the lamp. He had more sophisticated timing than the beat of your heart! You can find that the larger the swing, the slower the pendulum and it’s only as it decays it actually goes faster. It appears to be going fast when it’s swinging in this way but in fact it’s going faster time-wise when it’s got a small amplitude.
Christiaan Huygens the Dutch physicist, was the first to formalise a pendulum clock, when he published Horologion, and he took out a patent for a domestic clock. I think that Ahasuerus Fromenteel in London was actually making pendulum clocks two or three years before Christiaan Huygens. But Christiaan Huygens certainly did the drawings and made a pendulum clock for domestic use which was disclosed in his book, and Ahasuerus Fromenteel’s son went over to help with the manufacture. John Fromenteel went over to help Saloman Coster, the clockmaker in Holland who had the contract to make the domestic clocks for Christiaan Huygens.
I was lucky enough to help curate the John Harrison exhibition in the Jerusalem Chamber in Westminster Abbey, the Royal Society, and Buckingham Palace. The historical records of the development of clock making is as fascinating as the inner workings of these wonderful machines.
I think it’s very important to share my passion for clocks so I frequently loan watches and clocks to exhibitions so that they can be enjoyed by the public at large. The latest exhibition is called The Luxury of Time including clocks, watches and instruments from 1550 to 1750. It’s taking place at the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, Edinburgh EH1 1JF and runs to January 26 2020.