Tompion and the Golden Age of English Clocks

A fascinating inaugural show at a new Kensington antique-clock shop

The odds were surely stacked against Howard Walwyn becoming one of the UK’s leading antique-clock specialists. Passionate about clocks in his teens, he bought a longcase (or grandfather clock) for a few pounds, but his mother refused to give it house room. Not that this dampened his enthusiasm; today, he exhibits clocks – and serves on clock-vetting committees – at major international art fairs, including Masterpiece London. And now he has opened a gallery selling 17th-, 18th- and early-19th-century English clocks and barometers in London. “My aim is to create a specialist destination for buyers and collectors seeking some of the finest English clocks and a good retail space to mount specialist exhibitions,” he says.

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His inaugural show, Tompion and the Golden Age: English Clocks 1675-1725, which opened on Friday November 29 and runs until Saturday December 14, coincides with the 300th anniversary of the death of Thomas Tompion (1639-1713), widely considered to be England’s greatest clock maker. He supplied clocks to Charles II, James II, William and Mary, Anne and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

Tompion’s reputation chiefly rests on his technologically advanced designs; some only need winding once a year. Their movements, says Walwyn, “are robust and of the highest quality and so have survived the ravages of time”. His clocks are also exquisitely decorative. A rare, elegant longcase with a “japanned” (black and gold lacquer) exterior (first picture) already sold at the private view for £210,000, but an early table clock is still available for £295,000, as well as pieces by his contemporaries, from an ebony-veneered table clock by Daniel Quare (£85,000, second picture) and green and gilt design by Justin Vulliamy (£38,000, third picture) to a sumptuously decorated chinoiserie clock by Charles Cabrier (£58,000, fourth picture).

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One of these clocks’ main attractions is that they appeal on two distinct levels – scientifically and aesthetically. With their highly sophisticated internal workings, there’s more to them than a pretty face.

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