The prolific inventor, pilot, clockmaker and collector on the watch he would keep over all others
By James Buttery
WHO: Dr John C Taylor
WATCH: 1618 silver and gilt astronomical verge watch signed by David Ramsay
Dr John C Taylor is a man who has clearly taken a big bite out of life. The man who invented the 360-degree cordless kettle, among other things, has also been an enthusiastic pilot since his father taught him to fly in his teens.
An explorer too, he also developed a fascination with navigation during a solo flight from Manchester to Tokyo in the 1970s in a twin-engined light aircraft. This led to him amassing a world famous collection of early English clocks and watches, including pieces by John Harrison that were loaned to the National Maritime Museum in 2014 for its Ships, Clocks and Stars: The Quest for Longitude exhibition.
While he still treasures the Rolex Oyster Perpetual his parents gave him for his 21st birthday, it is another watch – which some accounts suggest was commissioned by a king – that holds a special place in the good doctor’s heart. Dr Taylor paid just shy of £1 million for the watch at Sotheby’s “The Celebration of the English Watch: Part I” sale in December 2015.
“There’s another one of these on loan to the V&A and it’s thought that they were commissioned by King James I himself from David Ramsay, when he was in Edinburgh,” he explains. “He came down with King James and set up in London. It’s signed ‘David Ramsay, Scottus Me Fecit’.”
“I think ‘how on earth was this designed?’ When you design something you have to think the whole thing through in your mind first; it’s not just the sum of its bits. This incredible watch was conceived and built out of somebody’s mind 400 years ago. He didn’t have spectacles, he didn’t have CAD, he probably didn’t even have proper drawings.
“They used plates to lay out how the train would go, but they had to imagine how it all fitted together. Then you’ve got to make it – and remember that these were among the first manufactured articles in the world. There was no supply of plate brass, they cast everything which was needed, they had to make patterns for that. How did you make the patterns?”
“You couldn’t go out to the shop and buy a saw; there weren’t any shops selling them, there wasn’t the demand. Then you break the saw blade and you’ve got to make yourself a new one.”
“If you want to make a hole you’ve got to use a drill. Well, what drill? You’ve got to make a drill yourself and then make a drill bit. It’s a completely different world from our world. Awe-inspiring.”