Friday, 30 June 2017

Fathers and Sons - Again

My latest research project has disclosed yet another instance of an enterprising, industrious father who built a business and reputation over several decades, and a son who presided over the rapid decline of that business and the loss of the family’s wealth.  I don’t go looking for such sagas and must conclude that the scenario was not so uncommon in the English horology trades of the nineteenth century.  See also

With this maker – as with Ralph Gout, about whom I wrote in Antiquarian Horology, June 2016 – the son lacked the father’s craft skills as well as business acumen.  As a result it was under the father’s name that the business was carried on after his death.  This assured a maintenance of reputation for a while and demonstrates that the concept of a trusted, quality ‘Brand’ was as commercially important in Victorian times as it is today.

My new subject managed to get through a seven figure (in current value terms) legacy in just 11 years.  There are indications that this came about through overtrading with a reliance on high sales volumes with small profit margins, the carrying of excessive amounts of stock and a move to high-overheads premises.  There is however also a strand which is all too typical of late Victorian urban society – chronic ill health brought about by environmental factors.  The son contracted TB and was forced to relocate to the coast, where he nevertheless died decades short of his three-score-and-ten and no longer a well-known watchmaker/retailer and jeweller, but a humble boarding house keeper.


I am aiming to publish a substantial article on this watchmaking family in the autumn/winter.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Rentzsch and Berrollas

Since my last post here, I have finalised an article on Rentzsch.  This includes some interesting new information which has come to light as a result of contact from Michel Reymond as he researched an article on the Australian watchmaker, John Forrester.  Forrester emigrated from England in 1837 and set-up in business in Sydney the following year.  In an advertisement he includes the boast, “Twelve years Foreman to Sigismund Rentzsch, Watch Maker to the Queen and Royal Family, St. James Square, London.”  My thanks to Michel and I look forward to seeing his piece on Forrester.

I am also publishing a new article on Joseph Anthony Berrollas.  Possibly born in the same year as Rentzsch and also an immigrant to nineteenth century England, Berrollas was highly innovative though not very successful in commercial terms.

Both Rentzsch and Berrollas worked on distinctive versions of keyless winding and they are associated with some of the most significant watchmaking names of the early nineteenth century: Rentzsch employed a young Peter Ingold and Berrollas worked with the London retailer, Viner, and the leading Liverpool makers, Robert Roskell and Peter Litherland.

Here are examples of Continental craftsmen who were instrumental in providing a dynamic within English watchmaking whilst the Trade’s very future was so intensely threatened by the cheap products being imported from Switzerland and France.



Berrollas Alarm Movement, courtesy of Worthpoint