Roy C Harris FBHI
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UK Specialist in the Service and Restoration of Marine Chronometers

BUYING AND OWNING A MARINE CHRONOMETER

Most collectors of Clocks and Watches like to include a Marine Chronometer amongst their acquisitions. It is probably for this reason that marine chronometers have retained and steadily increased their value over the years. The first thing to consider is the part you want the chronometer to play in the collection, by this I mean do you require an instrument that is to be run continuously or one that is to be run intermittently. If you require a chronometer that is to be run continuously then the later model you choose the better. The easiest way to rationalise this statement is to compare it with a motorcar. You would not wish to run a historically important vintage around the M25 everyday. This is not to say that an early chronometer will not perform as it was first intended. Some early instruments are in excellent condition and it is left to the owner to choose its role.

The question of the price depends on five criteria. They are; age, condition, special features (duration, balance etc.), maker and provenance/history.

Sourcing stock is always difficult, as you really have no way of checking the overall condition of an instrument until it is completely stripped down. Bent and worn pivots, cracked jewels, damaged teeth, worn ratchets and clicks, etc., etc. cannot be seen. Remember that when buying from an auction house there is no guarantee and detailed inspection of the movement. Auction house commission (plus VAT on the commission) must be added to the hammer price. Today at the leading houses this means an additional 30% of the hammer price.

The overriding factor when purchasing a chronometer is that it has to be right i.e. genuine, not a marriage in anyway and the condition of the movement and box such that when overhauled/restored will be a good example of its kind that can be guaranteed. A fair number of chronometers need work, jewels, clicks, springs, detents etc. These are very expensive components to produce, they cannot be purchased off the shelf and it takes years to acquire the skills to produce them and years of experience to know what you are looking for.

If you would like to discuss any of my stock or a marine chronometer that you have which requires work please contact me. If you send me a land line telephone number I will be pleased to give you a call.

It always amazes me how many buyers with little knowledge of chronometers, will buy unseen, or unchecked from on-line auctions, or non-horological traders abroad and end up with either very costly repairs or “wrong” chronometers.