the “Napoleon Clock”


When we were in Corpus last month for Aunt Kay’s funeral, I found out about the W family’s “Napoleon Clock.” MW said at the time she thought it was worth “millions.” But her dad said more like “thousands.” Sheeeit. “Either way,” I said, “let’s SELL it!”

Anyway, it’s made by Swiss/French timepiecemaker Jean-Antoine Lepine. Here is a short bio from the Horological Foundation’s web site:

LÉPINE Jean Antoine, son of Jean. Paris (Place Dauphine), b.1720, d.1814.

He was bom in Switzerland in a village called Challex near Geneva. He started his horological career in Geneva but soon went to Paris in 1744 as apprentice to Andre Charles Caron, the King’s clockmaker. He married Caron’s daughter in 1756 and was made Master in 1765 about which time he was appointed Horloger du Roi.

Lepine was responsible for a great many inventions but none more important than a new calibre of watch movement that revolutionized watch making and with which his name is synonymous. This ‘Lepine calibre,’ in which separate bars were used instead of a single top plate was introduced about 1760.

Introduced the use of a mainspring barrel supported at one end only, and other changes, leading, with cyl. escapement, to thin watches. Described a repeating movement using rack in place of chain, in Mémbre de l’Acadademy des Science in 1766.

Watchmaker to: Louis XV, Louis XVI and Napoleon I.

  • Invented the virgule escapement and a keyless winding.
  • Acted as agent for Voltaire’s workshops at Ferney ca.1770.
  • 4-colour g. watch: Victoria and Albert Museum. S. Kensington
  • Enamelled watch and chatelaine: Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge,
  • Six watches: Guildhall Museum
  • Two with virgule escapement: Collection of the late Major Chamberlaine
  • 4-colour gold watch Fränkel coll.Lyre watch: Basle Museum
  • Gold enamelled watches: M.P.S. Dresden. Watch Carnegie Museum
  • Two 4-colour gold watches: National Museum Stockholm,
  • Watch in porcelain case: Gélis coll.Watch in ring: Ilbert coll.
  • Astro. clock and three mantel clocks: Buckingham Palace, London
  • Two clocks: Palais de Compiègne, one made for Napoleon. Clock made for Josephine, Mobilier National, Paris
  • An eminent maker. He worked as CARON ET LEPINE till 1769. Left his business to his son-in-law RAGUET in 1783.

    Lepine’s business was sold in 1810 to J. B. CHAPUY, who employed Jacques Lepine. It was sold in 1827 to DESCHAMP, who was succeeded in 1832 by FABRE. The business continued under the name Lépine till ca.1916.

    The clock’s design is themed around the Greek goddess of the Harvest, Demeter (or to the Romans, Ceres). See my Flickr site for more detailed images.

    Unfortunately, the clock’s in pretty bad shape. Demeter’s right arm, which holds a staff, has broken off. There is another piece that fits on top of the clock-box that has broken off. There is one more decorative piece that has broken off from somewhere on the mechanism. And there is supposedly a glass dome that fits over the whole thing. TW says it is around his house somewhere, but his immediate search was futile.

    However, the clock does seem to be the real thing. It is made of brass: i took a penny to the inside of the base and tried to scratch off what may have been brass plating, and nothing scratched off, which is a good sign that it’s not just brass plating, but solid brass.

    So, it seems like, if this clock was actually owned by Napoleon, (or even Josephine), it should be worth some pretty good money even in its condition. I’m posting queries to some antique clock message boards, to see if anybody knows anything more about it.

    Putting it out there…

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