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Inner Workings on Display: The English Skeleton Clock

The term "skeleton clock" refers to any clock or wristwatch in which the internal mechanisms have been made visible. They are extremely difficult to make and must be superb in every way—a marvel of mechanical precision as well as a beauty to behold! Because of the intricacies of manufacturing a skeleton clock, their successful creation represents the absolute height of a clockmaker's skill. Many such clocks were crafted for display at international exhibitions to showcase a new technological innovation or as a special presentation piece.





English Skeleton Clock by Smith & Sons, Exhibition-Quality


This particular skeleton clock is one of the finest ever produced. Standing an impressive 28” tall, it was made by John Smith & Sons of Clerkenwell as a special commission. The beautiful timepiece was given as a gift to Joseph Norton, owner of the Highbridge Textile Mill in Yorkshire, in honor of his retirement. In fact, the clock still bears a silver plaque that is engraved “Presented to Joseph Norton Esquire on retiring from business by his Numerous Work People as a Testimonial of Their Regard and Esteem. May 1864.” The skeleton clock is designed in the Gothic-Revival architectural style, and time is accurately indicated on a silver dial with Roman numerals. Visible for all to see, time is measured using an exceptionally rare triple chain fusée movement and Vuilliamy-type deadbeat escapement. Meanwhile, a steel gong strikes each hour on the hour and eight nested bells ring every quarter hour—it sounds just as beautiful as it looks!

This remarkable clock is prominently featured in Skeleton Clocks: Britain 1800 - 1814. In the text, the author Derek Roberts praises the timepiece as "one of the finest English skeleton clocks produced."
The makers of the clock, John Smith & Sons, are particularly famous for their turret and skeleton clocks. The company was founded in 1780 and produced their wares from a factory in St. John’s Square, Clerkenwell from 1830 until the late 1980s. The factory itself was very unique because it housed every discipline necessary to manufacture a clock from start to finish—they even seasoned their own mahogany and cast brass parts in an on-site foundry!

Recognized for their innovation and remarkable skill from the start, John Smith & Sons presented clocks at several international exhibitions, including the illustrious Crystal Palace exhibition on 1851, to great acclaim. Although the English firm has since ceased clock-making, its world-wide renown has failed to fade. Today, the beautiful skeleton clocks manufactured by John Smith & Sons are heralded as the finest ever produced!



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