Thomas Tompion (1639-1712) The Father of English Clock Making

19 June 2024

Born in around 1639, the eldest son of a blacksmith, Tompion’s life before his London clockmaker’s apprenticeship in 1664 is relatively unknown. Reference to him was first recorded in around 1670 in Water Lane (now Whitefriars Street) off Fleet street.

Engraving of Thomas Tompion by John Smith, National Portrait Gallery
Engraving of Thomas Tompion by John Smith, National Portrait Gallery

His early work showed a connection to Joseph Knibb and his most important early patron was the scientist Robert Hooke, this relationship was key to his success, opening doors to Royal Patronage and allowing access to the latest technology. Thanks to Hooke, Tompion was able to craft some of the first watches with balance springs, which had the potential to be significantly more accurate than earlier models. He experimented with several types, including an early design featuring double balances geared together to eliminate errors in motion.

Tompion used only high-quality materials and employed skilled workmen mostly with either French or Dutch Huguenot origins, giving him an unrivalled reputation throughout the world. He was England’s prominent watchmaker, building around 5,500 watches and 650 clocks during his lifetime. His three train grande sonnerie bracket clocks are masterpieces.

His later numbering system for spring and longcase clocks for manufactured goods is thought to be the first time a serial numbering system was used.

His later relationships included Edward Banger and George Graham, After Tompions death Graham further developed Tompions designs and numbering systems.

Tompion died on the 20th November 1713 and is buried in Westminster Abbey, George Graham being buried alongside him at a later date.

Tompion left a legacy in the world of horology, his incredible craftsmanship standing the test of time with many of his works still operational today, including two of his one day clocks in Buckingham Palace

Bellmans will be auctioning Lot 1263 on Wednesday 26th June