Sotheby’s, London, 15 December 2016
Few QP readers will need reminding of the importance of the great John Harrison, the tireless 18th century horologist who devoted 40 years of his life to solving the problem of calculating longitude at sea with the development of his series of sea clocks. His daughter, Elizabeth, was married to a watchmaker called James Barton who created this 57mm, pair-cased verge watch in around 1771.
The date is significant, because it was in that year that Harrison’s son, William, was interviewed by King George III who subsequently organised an independent trial for Harrison’s H5 timekeeper. This resulted in Harrison’s work officially acknowledged by the Longitude Board as being worthy of winning the £20,000 prize offered for solving the longitude problem.
It is thought, therefore, that this watch might have been made as a gift to celebrate Harrison’s pending triumph after his decades-long struggle for recognition. (An act of Parliament in 1773 finally acknowledged his achievement).
Made from 22 karat gold and chased with images of astronomical instruments, the watch is highlighted by an exquisite enamel portrait of Harrison, which is thought to have been the work of George Michael Moser, a Schaffhausen-born gold chaser, medallist and enameller who moved to London during the 1720s.