The French Carriage Clock, as its name suggests, originated in France in the 19th Century. It was invented in Paris by the horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet, and they were designed for the very wealthy. Aside from telling the time, the clock was also able to show the date and the temperature.
By carriage clock, the word carriage was derived from the French word meaning “carry-able” rather than the horse-drawn carriages. They were also called “officer’s clocks” because Napoleon Bonaparte ordered his military chiefs to carry a carriage clock with them at all times, after he had almost lost a battle because one of his officers was late. Later on, orders placed with master clockmakers for a carriage clock always included the reference “a clock for an officer”.
The French carriage clock typically took the form of a metal-framed case that was glazed on all four sides and had a carrying handle on top. For Breguet’s highest quality carriage clocks, he used a case of individual design that consists of a round topped, humpback case with silver chains at the top for carrying. The firm of Breguet made these carriage clocks between 1812 and 1830.
Breguet made a great change after a few different clock creations by eliminating the pull-cord design that needed to be wound to keep the clock going. He introduced a new design in which the user would just push a piston and the action itself would wind the clock. His use of size along with portability was the reason for the boom in carriage clocks. Pieces signed by Breguet are extremely sought after today.
Parallel with the production of the expensive clocks of Breguet, Parisian clockmaker Paul Garnier promoted an industry of semi-mass produced carriage clocks. He made quite distinctive clocks that he incorporated with his standard case, dial, and hand designs which was associated often with the Garnier ‘Chaff-cutter’ escapement that was supposed to overcome problems in time-keeping and regulation
The three most well known French carriage clock makers of the post 1850 period are Drocourt, Jacot and Leroy. Drocourt made fine clocks with most being housed in Gorge cases. Both Drocourt and Leroy made use of the movement by clock maker Henri Lamaille.
Henri Jacot, on the other hand, is one of the most keenly collected of the carriage clock makers. Clocks by Jacot are always of excellent quality and have a number of exclusive features. The white enamel dials generally have a thin ‘inner’ ring sighted around the inside of the chapter ring whilst the backplate bears the trademark of a parrot (a jacot is a french parrot) on a perch with the initials H.J
The French were the first producers of the carriage clock. The French carriage clocks were made with precision and elegance that the English and Swiss clockmakers mimicked but never seemed to replicate. Though popularity of the French carriage clocks waned with the introduction of wristwatches, they are now one of the most sought after antique clocks. They command high prices because of its distinctiveness, precision, and elegance that no one can match.