Charles Frodsham, 84 Strand Street, London, No. 06862, ca. 1885.
Little introduction is necessary to discuss Charles Frodsham, and the successor company that is still in business today. Born in 1810 (Bloomsbury, London), Charles apprenticed with his father William James Frodsham. After various successes in the horological field, Charles was able to purchase the business of the late John Roger Arnold in 1843. Charles established his address in Arnold’s workshop at 84 Strand Street. Until 1858 he sold watches with the inscription of ‘Arnold & Frodsham, Chronometer Makers’. The serial number of some of Frodsham’s highest-grade chronometers were supplemented with the letters 'AD Fmsz’. This is an encryption for the year 1850, which marked a turning point in Frodsham’s career, distinguished by his manufacture of new movement calibers. By 1858, watches sold by his firm were signed only with ‘Charles Frodsham’. At the passing of the renown chronometer maker Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (d. 1854), Frodsham also purchased his business and, thereby, became the ‘Superintendent and Keeper of her Majesty’s Clocks at Buckingham Palace’. Charles Frodsham passed away in 1871. With 22 years of age, Charles’ son, Harrison Mill Frodsham (1849-1922), took over the firm. From 1885 onwards, Frodsham’s watches were signed with ‘Charles Frodsham & Co.’ to reflect the newly incorporated status of the business. In 1893, the firm moved premises to 115 New Bond street. Harrison Mill’s horological legacy was not overshadowed by his father’s achievements. Under Harrison Mill, the Frodsham firm’s reputation continued to grow, both with expanded international sales, and the continued preeminence of their record breaking chronometric performances. An example of this latter is the tourbillon no. 09182, which purportedly holds the record for the highest marks gained by an English watch at the Kew Observatory. The present movement, exceptional in the design of its caliber, is engraved with the name ‘Charles Frodsham’, a serial number of 06862, and an address of 84 Strand. These indications show the watch was manufactured before the name change in 1885, and before the change of street address of 1893. There is a recorded ‘Charles Frodsham’-signed free-sprung watch (cf. David Penney) exhibiting the serial number of 06847 (a difference of only 15) with hallmarks reflecting a date of 1886, and engraved dedication of 1887. A split-second, Nicole Nielsen & Co.-manufactured chronograph ‘Charles Frodsham’-signed watch (cf. Antiquorum) is recorded with the serial number 06545 (a difference of 317 watches), gold-case hallmarks for 1882-3, and case dedication inscription dating to 1888. Since movements were regularly manufactured years before their sale and subsequent casing, it is safe to assume that the watch numbered 06862 was manufactured between 1882 and 1885. I suggest this example was manufactured closer to a 1884-85 dating. Indicative of this mid-decade dating is the distinctive design of the movement, with the very rare floating mainspring barrel design (i.e., supported only by one plate). From the mid 1880s, the firm of Nicole Nielsen & Co. started producing pendant sized watch movements with the floating barrel. Only pendant sized English watches could use this design, since the force of mainsprings in larger calibers proves too strong for the barrel to be supported on one side only. This movement is stamped with ‘JP’, for the famous high-grade movement blank manufacturer Joseph Preston (Prescot, Lancashire). This caliber design (in various sizes) was used frequently by the Frodsham firm, almost exclusively with a highly decorated raised barrel design (typical also of Barraud & Lunds watches). Besides the very rare Nicole Nielsen pendant caliber, I have only encountered one other nearly identical example of this floating barrel movement. Floating mainspring barrel bridge design was not common in English watchmaking (due to the design of the gear-train with a heavy balance wheel), however, there is a well-recorded tradition of a 5-bridge floating barrel pendant-sized key-wound English made caliber (of which, examples having been sold by Frodsham as well). Notwithstanding, the many unique features of this movement, as detailed below, illustrate that this was most probably a specially commissioned piece, and modified for the purpose of ameliorating the caliber's timekeeping possibilities.
Movement, back side: A high-grade, hunter-style (second’s at 6 o’clock) 31.5mm diameter gold-gilt, hand-engraved movement. Many aspects demonstrate it was a specially concieved watch, with an emphasis on precise time-keeping. The most distinctive trait of this movement is the floating mainspring barrel, visible through an opening on the 2/3 bridge. The bottom mainspring barrel pivot, normally supported by the 2/3 bridge, is given a cap held by two polished screws. This cap functions to hold in place the Geneva stop-work finger, which actuates the Maltese safety stop wheel, half of which, is visible under the pivot cap. The custom modification of the Joseph Preston caliber was necessary to accommodate a broader, and hence, stronger mainspring than is traditionally necessary for this size movement. The stronger mainspring placed in this movement is a function of the weight of the balance wheel and strength of hairspring. The beautifully curved 2/3 bridge has three blued holding screws placed equidistantly from each other, and radiating from the center wheel pivot. Another distinctive facet of this Preston caliber, are the three plate screws not positioned in counter sinks, but rather, resting directly on the plate itself. This was an intentional decision so that the movement would be thinner by approximately 1mm, and still retain the characteristic raised barrel bridge circular feature of the mainspring area. The two case-holding polished half-screws are positioned above and below the three blued bridge holding screws. The polished screw on the right of the movement is marked with a locating dot on one of its lobes, which is a visual sign that it belongs on the right side, next to the ‘period’ after the word ‘London’. The other pivots present on the 2/3 plate show two different kinds of treatment: The center and third wheel pivots receive a simple functional countersink without jewels. The fourth wheel pivot is given a jewel set in a bushing (chaton), and held in place by two blued screws. The bushing is given a mark on one portion of its perimeter, and the screw closest to that mark has a dot to indicate its correct location. This is traditional high-grade English watchmaking practice, denoting that each screw was hand finished to its precise location (i.e., not interchangeable, nor mass produced). The engravings on the 2/3 bridge show three different scripts: The traditional Gothic-script abbreviation for the serial number. Then a form of Victorian cursive for the brand, and the notice of Frodsham’s appointment by the Queen. The final engraving style is the address of ‘84. Strand. London.’ in italics. The visual distinction of the 2/3 bridge is the stylized curvature of the upper perimeter. A generous lobed arch is formed around the left mainspring area that then changes course to leave space for the balance wheel to be fully exposed in the center. The movement of the line ends with a distinctive kink around the fourth wheel jewel, with the curve moving up and out towards the right extremity of the bridge is a design feature that becomes prominent in London-made high-grade pocket watches. It is a feature frequently seen in the work of Nicole Nielsen & Co. Finally, this became widespread in the early 1900s, when the London manufacture of P&A Guye introduced this design facet in their machine-made watches for J.W. Benson.
Balance bridge: The balance bridge presents the tradition of late 1880s to early 20th century English practice of foregoing any kind of floral decoration on bridges that hold flat or Breguet overcoil hairsprings. Decoration of the balance bridge became an option reserved mostly for free-sprung balances. The hairspring regulator and holding stud are the correct shape for the Breguet overcoil hairspring. The regulator has the indexing pins directly on the circular portion of the regulator (as opposed to protruding outwards from a tangential arm). The hairspring holding stud is splinter shaped as customary (instead of the square shape of flat hairsprings). Both regulator and stud are given a fine bevel, normally reserved for the highest quality work, and is a trait normally associated with Coventry work. The inscription for the initials of Fast and Slow engraved in Italics, and separated by the traditional stylized fleur-de-lys figure. The fine regulating marks for the hairspring index finger are separated into the typical six divisions. Further indicative of the timekeeping focus of this movement is the blued-steel bushing holding a faceted diamond end-stone. This being also marked with a location dot along its perimeter, and the polished steel screw adjacent to it also having received a locating dot. The diamond end-stone decoration is normally presented with a polished steel bushing, and reserved for the highest grade movements, typically with free-sprung balance wheels. In this instance, the steel bushing is blued, having the effect of highlighting the presence of the diamond on a caliber size that normally does not receive this level of chronometric attention.
Escapement: The right-angle English escapement uses a hairspring with an overcoil for precise time keeping. The hairspring block, is of the rectangular highly-polished steel type. A shape that is only reserved for the highest quality chronometer watches. This is augmented by a traditional by-metallic split balance wheel with large gold screws and four platinum fine adjustment counterweights along the interior of the balance wheel. The use of platinum counterweights is a practice normally reserved for larger free-sprung watches, and uncommon in a caliber of this size. These counterweights are the reason the mainspring barrel is larger than normally found on this size movement. The roller on the balance staff breaks from a traditional English single-roller style, and has a Swiss-type double roller plate holding a semi-cylindrical impulse jewel. The escape lever, of ‘club’-shaped end, is also traditional of English practice. However, it is fitted not with a top mounted safety pin, but a heavy gold bottom-mounted safety pin. The banking pins are placed underneath the balance bridge. With the escape wheel, made of hardened and highly polished brass, of expected pointed teeth design.
On the dial front side, is the rare presence of a small dedicated bridge above the mainspring ratchet wheel. The bridge, covering nearly the entirety of the ratchet wheel, has the function of stabilizing any axial play that might arise from the torque placed on the ‘floating barrel’ design by the hairspring. The shape of the bridge, reminiscent of a flint arrowhead, is particularly distinctive, since it echoes the angularity present in the design of the steel keyless works. To this very unconventional addition are two ratchet wheel clicks, positioned on opposing sides. This is a practice typical of English chronometers, helping ensure that the added strength of the mainspring doesn’t inadvertently force the click to slip while winding the watch. The upper click, holding screw, and tension spring all receive a dot marker to indicate they are a group, and differentiating their location in relation to the lower left-side ratchet wheel click. Of note, is that below the winding ratchet, and on the mainplate, the mainspring arbor receives a massive hardened and highly polished brass bushing held in place by three equidistant blued screws. This bushing is purposely added to help stabilize later forces exerted on what would otherwise be a much softer brass mainplate arbor hole. Accompanying the special mainspring ratchet bridge is the elegant 1/3 bridge that provides support for the gear train. The movement of the interior arches is similar to the watch’s 2/3 bridge, with a prominent lobe moving into an arch around the minute wheel, which then ends in other scalloped recesses to provide space for the intermediary and hour wheels. Visible on the 1/3 bridge is the iconic English right-angle escapement, where the escape wheel pivot is placed at approximately 90-degrees from the escape lever pivot. The two holes present on the mainplate (at roughly 5 and 11 o’clock) are recesses for the original dial feet. Stamped on the upper left side of the movement, facing outwards, are the serial number, blank-movement maker’s initials, and the caliber thickness (‘04’).
Keyless work: Visible top-mounted Coventry-styled brushed steel rocking lever bridge, with a fine highly polished round bevel on its perimeter. The stylized ‘club’ shaped ends of the lever arms move towards the center rocking wheel with the outer right-side being gracefully arched around the circular cap, and the interior ending in a sharp pointed end. This creates a visual play with the talon styled ratchet wheel clicks, and the mainspring barrel ratchet wheel bridge designs. The center wheel cap of the keyless work is held in place by two polished screws aligned tangentially to the axis of the lever’s movement. The polished buttons visible on the rocking lever ends are the extremities of the holding screws for the upper intermediary winding, and the lower intermediary time setting wheels. The steel hour wheel to the left of the rocking lever is given a traditional very delicately executed sunburst finish. The minute wheel is executed in brass. All screws are presented polished, thereby differentiating screws that hold movement bridges (blued), from those of the keyless work.
Train: Solid hardened brass and gold-gilded train. With steel highly-polished pinions.
Jewels: 17 Jewels - Balance wheel (5), escape lever (2), escapement bridge (8), third wheel (2).
Coggiola Watch Roma Wristwatch Case, Buckle & Restoration Work:
Bespoke case, more details forthcoming.
Hand manufactured case and parts in Rome, Italy:
Case: Solid 316L stainless steel three-piece case. Threaded front and back bezels. Case with solder-fastened crown sleeve. Time setting pusher. Front and back sapphire glass, fastened via a concealed Hytrel gasket (recessed-milled gasket seating).
Diameter, without crown: TBA.
Lug to lug: TBA.
Height, including crystal: TBA.
Strap: TBA mm width. Length: Normal.
Restoration Work: Through-winding stem block installed on main plate. New escape lever pivot, burnishing of pivots. Restoration of blued surfaces on screws, cleaning of surface from rust.