Keeping Time

A clock for the wealthy 19th-century traveler ages well



Your French carriage clock is a great example of its type and was made in the late 19th century. The carriage clock was first invented for Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 as a clock to be used for travel. (Napoleon’s clock even had a built-in thermometer!) The clock’s design was one of complex spring mechanisms that enabled the clock to keep accurate time without relying on a pendulum. By not having a pendulum, the clock was perfect for travel as it did not need to be level and upright to keep time. It could be jostled in luggage on a bumpy carriage ride and maintain accurate time for eight days when fully wound.

Carriage clocks continued to evolve and they became a must for the wealthy traveler. The clocks were typically brass with beveled glass panels to show off the complex mechanism, and often would come with a leather carrying case. Some carriage clocks were elaborately decorated with engraving, enameling and even jewels. The clocks were often “repeaters,” which meant that they would chime on the hour; some were fitted with an alarm mechanism, thus becoming the first travel alarm clocks.

 

The works of your clock are stamped “Made in France” and are also signed with an arrow maker’s mark of Armand Couaillet. Born in 1865, Couaillet began his career as a young man working in a clock factory; in 1890, he founded his own carriage clock business and was joined by his three brothers. His clocks were beautifully made and he soon had 100 employees producing 4,000 clocks per month. With the advent of World War I, clock manufacturing stopped and production was switched over to make parts for airplanes and telegraph machines. In 1919, Armand Couaillet, always a visionary, designed and created a lightweight, three-wheeled electric car. He produced approximately 250 of these cars and eventually went bankrupt.

As your carriage clock is a fine example with an alarm mechanism and is in excellent working condition, I would estimate its value at $900.

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