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John Arnold

(1736 - 1799)

John Arnold, born in 1736 probably in Bodmin, Cornwall, was an English watchmaker and inventor.
John Arnold was the first to design a watch that was both practical and accurate, and also brought the term "Chronometer" into use in its modern sense, meaning a precision timekeeper. His technical advances enabled the quantity production of Marine Chronometers for use on board ships from around 1782. The basic design of these, with a few modifications unchanged until the late twentieth century. With regard to his legacy one can say that both he and Abraham-Louis Breguet largely invented the modern mechanical watch. Certainly one of his most important inventions, the Overcoil balance spring is still to be found in most mechanical wrist watches to this day.

It was from around 1770 that Arnold developed the portable precision timekeeper. Arnold's basic design was simple whilst consistently accurate and mechanically reliable. This was managed by three main elements: -

  1. A detached escapement, which gave minimal interference with the vibrating balance and balance spring.

  2. A balance design that enabled compensation for the effect of temperature on the balance spring.

  3. A method for adjusting the balance spring, so that the balance oscillates in equal time periods, even through different degrees of balance arc.

In 1762, whilst at St Albans, Hertfordshire, he encountered William McGuire for whom he repaired a repeating watch. Arnold made a sufficient impression so that McGuire gave him a loan, enabling him to set up in business as a watchmaker at Devereux Court, Strand, London. In 1764.


John Arnold present to King George III an exceptionally small repeating watch cylinder escapement watch mounted in a ring. The escapement of this watch was later fitted with one of the first jewelled cylinders made of ruby. Arnold made another watch for the King around 1768, which was a gold and enamel pair cased watch with a movement that had every refinement. Arnold fitted bi-metallic temperature compensation as well as a minute repetition and centre seconds motion. This watch Arnold designated "Number 1" as he did with all watches he made that he regarded as significant, these numbering twenty in all. These watches were made as demonstrations of Arnold's talent, and, in terms of style and substance, were similar to other "conversation pieces" being made at the same time.


John Arnold was apprenticed to his father, also a clockmaker, in Bodmin. He probably also worked with his uncle, a gunsmith. Around 1755, when he was 19, he left England and worked as a watchmaker in the Hague, Holland, returning to England around 1757.


Arnold's son John Roger Arnold was born in 1769 and served an apprenticeship with both his father and the eminent French watchmaker Abraham Louis Breguet. He became Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1817. From 1787 he and his father founded the company Arnold & Son. After his father's death in 1799, John Roger continued the business, taking into partnership John Dent between 1830 and 1840. After his death in 1843 the company was bought by Charles Frodsham.





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