Upcoming Lecture: Mechanical Jewels: The Art of the Watch 1500 – 1800, by Jonathan Snellenburg

Join HSNY on Thursday, September 13, 2018 for a lecture on Mechanical Jewels: The Art of the Watch 1500 – 1800, by Jonathan Snellenburg, Director of Watch and Clock Sales for Bonhams Auctioneers, New York.


  Jonathan Snellenburg

Jonathan Snellenburg

Early watches look deceptively like their modern descendants. They are familiar enough to assume the first watches were made to "keep time" as watches do today. Not so. In fact, these early watches were actually indifferent timekeepers, more suited to symbolize time than reliably measure it. Although technical advances over the next 200 years improved their performance, it was not until the end of the 18th century that ordinary watches became truly reliable timekeepers.

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The earliest watches were probably carried not so much because civilization required portable timekeepers, but rather because of the Renaissance fashion for pendant jewels that served as both display of wealth and talisman. The early 20th century horologist, G. H. Baillie, referred to this developmental period as the "Age of Decoration." Watches were often fashioned into diverse forms and decorated with scenes from Classical literature. Both the form and decoration of these watches were intended convey a message how to make the best use of time.

Using sources from the fine and decorative arts, this lecture considers the imagery of these early jewel-like watches and illustrates how their appearance reflected society’s evolving attitude toward time and timekeeping. Only when the watch was transformed from metaphor into measuring device in the late 18th century did the “pocket watch” take its familiar modern form.

Read the full story here!