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Restoring Harrison’s Timekeepers

Posted: October 29th 2018, 9:59am
by koimaster
An unscientific – to the point of being casual – survey of watchmakers over the years has reveal that John Harrison is the most highly regarded watchmaker of the past. Harrison This article about restoring his timekeepers appeared in IW Magazine in 2011. The editor who worked with me was Jonathan Bues. As proof that the world is small (at least the horological world) Jonathan and I are from the same town and attended the same high school.

Jonathan Betts may have the world’s best horological job. As Senior Specialist in Horology at the UK’s Royal Observatory in Greenwich, just outside London, Betts gets to spend months picking the brain of a genius: John Harrison.

As recounted in Dava Sobel’s bebestsellerLongitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, Harrison created the first marine chronometer enabling sailors to determine their exact position at sea. Sobel’s book details Harrison’s battles with the Board of Longitude established by the British government in 1714 to dispense money for chronometer R&D and award a huge monetary prize to the successful inventor.

Today’s many watchmakers regard Harrison (1693 – 1776) as the greatest ever practitioner of their art. (See IW March 2010; History’s Greatest Watchmaker.)

Betts’ brain picking is not some ghoulish undertaking. Harrison’s brain and the rest of his body remain intact and untouched in a small London churchyard. For Betts picking Harrison’s brain consists of disassembling the four Harrison marine chronometers in the Observatory’s care: H1 (1737), H2 (1741), H3 (1759) and H4 (1760). Before reassembly every component is studied, measured, sometimes weighed, researched to determine its material, exact function and origins, and then photographed. ... mekeepers/