Antique Marine Chronometers

Learn more about Antique Marine Chronometers

What is a Marine Chronometer?

Marine chronometers are rare and precious items, crafted with great care and precision, to provide an accurate means of measuring time and thereby determining longitude at sea.

Developed in the eighteenth century, these beautiful instruments were produced for the next two hundred years to the same design and played a significant role in the growth of maritime trade. Ultimately, helping to shape the world that we know today.

The problem of calculating longitude whilst at sea was one that vexed every ship’s captain in the eighteenth century, as he could not establish his position within hundreds of miles to the east or west.

The solution was to find a clock to calculate how much the earth had turned and thus accurately establish longitude. It would need to be as accurate on board a pitching and tossing sailing ship as a fine precision pendulum clock on land.

Marine Chronometer Features

When and Where Were Marine Chronometers Made?

Each of the seafaring nations (Britain, France, Holland and Spain) offered inducements to inventors. In 1714, the board of longitude was established in London. The British government put up a prize of £45,000 (worth over £2 million today). Although many tried to solve the problem, eventually the son of a carpenter John Harrison claimed the bulk of the prize in 1768 and thus gave birth to the marine chronometer.

Clearly Harrison was a clockmaking genius who solved one of the most complex problems of the time. The marine chronometer must rank as one of the most perfect machines ever developed. Its invention saved literally thousands of lives and allowed nations to prosper through trade and warfare on the seas.

Fully developed by the late eighteenth century, these instruments were produced for the next two hundred years to the same design; even the materials used remained essentially the same. It is a tribute to a small band of ingenious craftsmen, and Harrison especially, that despite continuous experiment over the next two centuries, no significant improvements were made until the advent of modern electronics.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the chronometer in the making of the modern world which was so closely bound with global exploration and trade. The great empires depended upon the transport by sea of the goods that fuelled industrialisation and transformed the lives of their citizens. The vast increase in maritime trade which took place in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century coincided with crucial developments in the science of navigation, made possible by the invention of a reliable timekeeper which would withstand the rigours of long sea voyages.

Marine chronometers will always be rare and precious objects; the craftsmen with the skills needed to make them are virtually extinct and no more will ever be made.  Maritime history enthusiasts and clock collectors alike regard these as prized possessions and sound investments.

Marine Chronometers for Sale

A large number of chronometers have undergone a great deal of alteration over the years and as such prices of chronometers are influenced by condition, originality and authenticity.  The best advice which applies to buying any type of chronometer is to be vigilant and go to a reputable experienced dealer.

Olde Time Marine Chronometers for Sale

We supply a wide range of marine chronometers her at Olde Time. We have a huge choice with each chronometer more unique than the next.

Marine Chronometer Maintenance and Repair

In order to keep your marine chronometer looking as good as new here are some maintenance guidelines:

  • Keep the chronometer out of direct sunlight and avoid excessive hot or cold temperatures.
  • A weekly feather dusting or cleaning of the casework with a mild natural beeswax or crystalline wax will help to remove fingerprints and a build-up of dust from the case. Crystalline wax is a mixture of refined waxes, blended to a formula used by the British Museum to revive and protect valuable furniture, leather, paintings, metals, marble, etc. It is available to buy from Olde Time.
  • Never use household cleaners or abrasives of any kind to clean any part of the chronometer.

An antique marine chronometer clock should only be cleaned and overhauled by a specialist restorer.  Never attempt to clean or repair an antique chronometer yourself.

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