Those who came away empty-handed from the autumn sessions in Geneva may find what they are looking for in Frankfurt. Established in 1975 by the expert and collector Dr Helmut Crott, Auctioneers Dr Crott has built up a solid reputation for fine antique timepieces. Alongside vinaigrettes, snuff boxes and an exceptionalà tact pocket , the highlight of the sale taking place on November 16th is a magnificent marine balance longitude clock attributed to Christiaan Huygens, the inventor of the balance spring, and considered to be the first longitude clock ever.
A 200-year vanishing act
Referred to as the BMP2, short for Balancier Marin Parfait version 2, it was made circa 1685. It remained in the Dutch scientist’s family until 1754, only to go missing for more than two centuries. It resurfaced around 1980 at the Time Museum in Rockford, Illinois. In poor condition, it was sold by Sotheby’s in 2002 for a modest sum, wrongly attributed to the English clockmaker Henry Sully. Fully renovated and its paternity rightfully restored, it is the only known longitude clock by Huygens and the earliest surviving clock to feature an equation of time mechanism. It has a pre-sale estimate of between EUR 600,000 and EUR 1,000,000.
“This piece wrote the history of precision timekeeping,” notes Arnaud Tellier, founder of Tellier Fine Arts and a foremost connoisseur of antique timepieces. In his quest to develop a highly precise isochronous system to determine the longitude of a ship at sea, Huygens came up with the idea of combining a two-arm balance (a foliot) with a pendulum. This mechanical principle, and the Dutchman’s discoveries in general, inspired the self-taught clockmaker John Harrison whose marine chronometer won the GBP 20,000 prize (the equivalent of several million today) put up by the Longitude Board, following the Act passed in 1714, for anyone who would propose a reliable method of determining longitude.
Breguet à tact watch
Among the 679 lots are a number of snuffboxes, including a vinaigrette in gold embellished with pearls and enamel. A type of snuff box that was popular in the eighteenth century, vinaigrettes incorporate a grid over a natural sponge soaked in scented vinegar, said to disinfect the air and do away with unpleasant smells. Lot 231 (est. EUR 30,000-40,000) is stamped “MB&C” for Moulinié, Bautte & Cie, the Genevan firm which made the gold case.
Admirers of Abraham-Louis Breguet may be tempted by an à tact watch in gold and silver, sold on February 26th 1824 to Count Hunyadi of Hungary (lot 236, est. EUR 25,000-30,000). This type of watch was made for the blind or for telling the time in the dark. In this instance, a hand mounted on the back of the case, with its delicate engine-turned patterns, aligns with raised studs around the case. Feeling the position of the hand gives an approximate idea of the time.
Full details at www.uhren-muser.com