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The History of Watches

by Jordan Ficklin

The History of Watches
by David Thompson
175 pages Hardcover with full color photographs, Abbeville Press 2008
Showcases the incomparable collection of watches at the British Museum
Includes bibliographical references, index, and glossary.

My father-in-law is the kind of person who, when he is at a museum, reads every plaque about every artifact. If you are like my father-in-law, then this is the book for you. After a fantastic introduction to the book and the history of watches in general, Thompson highlights 77 watches contained in the British Museum. The watches are arranged in chronological order and range from a 1560 tambour cased watch to a 2007 radio controlled wristwatch. Each chapter reads like a plaque that would accompany the watch in the museum.

The watches presented in the book are tremendous examples from watchmaking history and the photography (by Saul Peckham) is exceptional. The book serves as a fantastic reference for collectors or restorers as it surveys the work of many watchmakers, working mostly in London and Europe, pointing out the defining characteristics of each region, time period, and watchmaker with photographs of the watches inside and out.

The book is a history of the watchmaking profession as much as it is a history of watches. Thompson describes in much detail the circumstances of the watchmaker as well as case-makers, bell makers, pendant makers, enamelers, and all other tradesman involved in the art of creating fine timepieces. Thompson discusses the technical capabilities of each watch, but fails to describe how such feats were accomplished in a manner that would appeal to a watchmaker.

Whether you are a collector of historical timepieces, or just interested in expanding your knowledge of the history of our trade, this book is worth reading. My knowledge of the watchmaking trade was greatly expanded and I have a much greater appreciation for early watches. Should I ever need to date a watch from the 17th or 18th century or attribute it to a specific maker, I will definitely include this book among those I turn to as a reference.

Note: It wasn’t more than two weeks after reading this book that I came across an example of a watch very similar to one illustrated in this book and it proved very useful in identifying the piece.

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