Belmont: Horological gems hidden in plain sight

By Breguet Blog
February 6th, 2023


BELMONT is a Georgian manor house nestled in the countryside at Throwley close to Faversham, Kent, England. It represents some of the finest work of its architect, Samuel Wyatt (1737-1807), who also designed neoclassical country houses such as Tatton Park in Cheshire, and Trinity House in London and Digswell House in Hertfordshire as well as the Theatre Royal Birmingham.

Edward Wilks, store-keeper of the Royal Powder Mills at Faversham, built the first house on this site in 1769. Wilks did not enjoy it for long and in 1780 he sold Belmont to Colonel John Montresor of the Royal Engineers. It was Col. Montresor who was largely responsible for the creation of the house as it is known today between 1789-1793, enlarging both the park and the estate, and building the main block to a specification and design by Samuel Wyatt.

Montresor’s career suffered when, after his return to England, he was accused of embezzling army funds and later sent to Maidstone gaol, where he died in June 1799. However, in 1882, Montresor was exonerated when his surviving sons contested their father’s treatment, proved his innocence and received about £45,000 from the Treasury as compensation.

Belmont House 2022 © Breguet Blog
Belmont House, affectionately known as Belmont, in Throwley nr Faversham, Kent.

The Belmont Estate was sold off by the government at public auction in June 1801, held at Garroway’s Coffee House, 32 Cornhill, London. It was purchased by General George Harris (later Lord Harris) for £9,000. Born in 1746, Harris had a highly successful career in India and established his family seat at Belmont becoming ‘Baron Harris, of Seringapatam and Mysore and of Belmont in the County of Kent’. He died there in 1829. Lord Harris’s descendants were:

2nd Lord Harris (1782-1845), lived and died at Belmont, aged 63
⎣ 3rd Lord Harris (1810-1872), lived and died at Belmont, aged 62
⎣ 4th Lord Harris (1851-1932), lived and died at Belmont, aged 81
⎣ 5th Lord Harris (1889-1984), lived and died at Belmont, aged 95
⎣ 6th Lord Harris (1920-1995), lived at Belmont and later died at Huntingfield, aged 75

The Lord Harris Collection: Clocks & Watches

The 5th Lord Harris, founding President of the Antiquarian Horological Society, was one of the twentieth century’s great horological ‘celebrities’, and Belmont, with its incomparable collection, today represents a kind of ‘Mecca’ for clock and watch collectors.’

—Jonathan Betts, Curatorial Adviser to Belmont

George St. Vincent Harris, 5th Baron Harris, was born on 3rd September 1889, educated at Eton and received his degree from Christ Church College, Oxford. During WWI he served as a Captain in the Kent Yeomanry and was awarded the Military Cross in 1917. The following year he married Dorothy, daughter of the Rev J. W. Crookes, Vicar of Borden, but in October he was wounded by a shell blast and sent home to Belmont.

He became the 5th Lord Harris in 1932 and proved to be a successful stockbroker and investor. He set about restoring the fortunes of Belmont together with Lady Harris, devoting themselves to the upkeep of the house and expanding the estate.

Having secured the estate for the foreseeable future, Lord Harris’s second mission was to build one of the foremost collections of clocks and watches in private hands. In this, he succeeded admirably as can be seen by the sheer quantity and quality of his collection of 340 clocks and watches at the time of his death in 1984.

Lord Harris became deeply involved in the subject of horology: he served as Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers and, from 1953, he was founding President of the Antiquarian Horological Society. His passion for clocks and watches led him to auction houses and private sellers and he became not only as a thoughtful collector but a masterful curator of his own collection.

His dedication resulted in one of the world’s finest collections of clocks and watches slumbering quietly in the English countryside. All of the pieces are museum grade and meet all discernible definitions of national treasure and of serious international and historical importance taken individually or as a whole.

As such, it is impossible to cover the entire collection but this article draws attention to works by John Arnold, Dent, Edward East, Thomas Earnshaw, Charles Frodsham, George Graham, Antide Janvier, Japy, Joseph Knibb, Thomas Tompion, Daniel Quare, Ulysse Nardin, and, of course, the crown jewel of Lord Harris’s lifelong devotion to horology – Breguet. Because Lord Harris esteemed Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) as perhaps the most famous French horologist of all and counted him amongst his favourites, he built an outstanding collection of over two dozen works by Breguet.

Belmont House 2022 © Breguet Blog
Our host and guide, Jonathan Betts, stands next to a portrait of the 5th Lord Harris at the start of our guided tour.

One of the hallmarks of the collection is that it is meticulously curated. Lord Harris carefully documented each acquisition together with a description and purchase price. These details have proven most useful for posterity and particularly helped Belmont’s Curatorial Adviser and Horological Historian, Jonathan Betts MBE, to catalogue The Lord Harris Collection. It is this joint effort that informs our understanding today and has made possible this article which seeks to highlight some of the outstanding gems in the collection with a notable bias towards Breguet of course.

Belmont House 2022 © Breguet Blog
Tea Room at Belmont – afternoon tea and scones are highly recommended.

Best of Belmont

Before we dive into Breguet, it is only fair, nay, imperative to highlight some of the treasures that form part of the corpus of The Lord Harris Collection. The following works are simply too important to miss and, for a proper understanding of horological cosmology, the quality of these clocks must be considered essential alongside the creations of Breguet.

All images are from Horological Treasures of The Lord Harris Collection, Bonhams 2017, text by Jonathan Betts (page nos. refer to the catalogue). Fair use for educational and research purposes only.

John Roger Arnold (1769-1843)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Gold-cased early keyless pocket watch no. 7167 by Arnold & Frodsham, London, c. 1851. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Belmont does not have anything solely by John Arnold senior, but the pocket watch by John Roger Arnold with Prest’s keyless work is a fine example of the firm’s later production. Gold-cased early keyless pocket watch no. 7167 by Arnold & Frodsham, London, c. 1851. The movement has a lever escapement and compensation balance, and keyless winding by the crown on the pendant, the system devised by Arnold’s foreman Thomas Prest. Bought from Geoffrey Bell in Winchester. (p. 83)

Edward John Dent (1790-1853)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
8 Day table regulator by Dent, London, no. 508, c. 1838. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

8 Day table regulator by Dent, London, no. 508, c. 1838. Gilt brass and silvered, architectural style case support. Fusee movement with Harrison’s maintaining power and mercury compensation pendulum. The detached detent escapement was designed by George Biddell Airy (Astronomer Royal 1835-1881). It was first described by Airy in the Cambridge Philosophical Transactions in 1826, and was later used (1871) in the standard sidereal timekeeper at Greenwich. Bought from Frodsham’s. (p. 79)

Edward East (1602-1696)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
8 Day early pendulum wall clock by Edward East, London, c. 1660. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

8 Day early pendulum wall clock by Edward East, London, c. 1660. This highly important and early pendulum clock is in an ebony veneered architectural style case, and has a verge escapement and count wheel hour striking. The fire gilt and engraved dial is signed by the maker at the base. Clocks such as this represent the finest of the early English Golden Age productions. Bought from Frodsham’s in 1945. (p. 25)

Thomas Earnshaw (1749-1829)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Gold pocket chronometer no. 858/3420 by Thomas Earnshaw, London, c. 1808. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Gold pocket chronometer no. 858/3420 by Thomas Earnshaw, London, c. 1808. The movement has Earnshaw’s spring detent escapement and compensation balance. The watch was bought by Harris from Malcolm Webster in 1945 and then sold to George Daniels in 1978. Bought from Sotheby’s in 2012 for the Harris Belmont Charity. (p. 74)

Charles Frodsham (1810-1871)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Gold pocket chronometer with tourbillon, no. 09182/11487, by Charles Frodsham, London, c. 1906. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Gold pocket chronometer with tourbillon, no. 09182/11487, by Charles Frodsham, London, c. 1906. According to Lord Harris’ notes, this extremely fine watch was originally made for the Marquis of Bute. It has a one minute tourbillon by Nicole Nielsen, and gained record marks for an English watch when tested at the Kew Observatory in 1907 (“Especially Good”, 93.9 marks). It retains its original mahogany carrying box. Bought from Frodsham’s in 1944. (p. 90)

John Fromanteel (c. 1638-1692)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
8 Day table clock by John Fromanteel, London, c. 1665. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

8 Day table clock by John Fromanteel, London, c. 1665. The movement has eight latched pillars, a verge escapement with short bob pendulum and count wheel striking on a bell. The ebony veneered case is basically of simple box construction, as with many early spring clocks, and is mounted on a turntable to enable it to be seen on a table from wherever the occupants are in the room. The top originally had a gilt brass “fish scale” decorative covering. Bought from Frodsham’s in 1950. (p. 26)

Ahasuerus Fromanteel (c. 1607-1693)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
8 Day longcase clock by Ahasuerus Fromanteel, London, c. 1667. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

8 Day longcase clock by Ahasuerus Fromanteel, London, c. 1667. In an architectural style, ebony veneered case, the clock movement, originally with verge, then cross-beat escapement, now has an anchor escapement and a long pendulum. The outer dials are moveable and can be set to indicate solar time, (i.e. time by a sundial) and were probably altered by John Fromanteel soon after the clock was made. Although correct in style, the case is a 20th century restoration. Formerly part of the Iden Collection, the clock was bought from Frodsham’s in 1946. (p. 27)

George Graham (1675-1751)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Small 8 day spring clock by George Graham, London, no. 608, c. 1725. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Small 8 day spring clock by George Graham, London, no. 608, c. 1725. The movement has a verge escapement and hour striking with quarter repeating. The ebony veneered, inverted, bell-top case has fine pierced ebony side frets, which are now glazed over. Above the chapter ring on the dial are Rise-and-Fall regulation dial (left) and Strike/Silent control (right). Bought from Frodsham’s in 1936. (p. 44)

Antide Janvier (1751-1835)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Month-going ‘audience-timer’ by Antide Janvier, Paris, c. 1805. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Month-going ‘audience-timer’ by Antide Janvier, Paris, c. 1805. Simple mahogany, architectural style case. Spring driven movement with a dead beat escapement, gilt and enamel dial with a single hour hand and a subsidiary 10 minute dial in the centre. Below is a bimetallic thermometer indication on a semi-circular dial. It is thought such a clock might have been used for observing 10 minute intervals for an audience with an important person. Bought from Frodsham’s in 1948. (p. 55)

Japy Freres (c. 1776-19th Century)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
8 Day singing-bird carriage clock by Japy, Paris, c. 1860. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

8 Day singing-bird carriage clock by Japy, Paris, c. 1860. The glazed gilt-brass case contains a half-hour striking carriage clock movement with a duplex platform escapement and centre seconds on the dial. Above is mounted an automated singing bird which whistles and moves realistically. It can be operated at will or can operate in conjunction with the clock’s alarm mechanism to wake the owner up with birdsong. Bought from Christies in 1965. (p. 70)

Joseph Knibb (1640-1711)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Month-going phase I spring clock by Joseph Knibb, London, c. 1680. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Month-going phase I spring clock by Joseph Knibb, London, c. 1680. The large ebony veneered case has gilt brass handle and mounts. The chain driven fusee movement has verge escapement and roman striking, and the dial has a solid silver chapter ring. Lord Harris believed this fine clock to be the only example of its kind. Bought from the Iden Collection in 1942. (p. 36)

Daniel Quare (c. 1648/9-1724)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Month-going grande-sonnerie longcase clock in arabesque marquetry case, no. 145, by Daniel Quare, London, c. 1715. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Month-going grande-sonnerie longcase clock in arabesque marquetry case, no. 145, by Daniel Quare, London, c. 1715. This exceptional clock is one of the great ‘icons’ of the Harris collection. Surely made by Quare for a royal or noble patron, the case and movement are of the highest quality. The intensely detailed marquetry covers almost the whole front of the clock and would have been much brighter in colour originally. The quarters are sounded on a scale of six bells, one scale representing each quarter (thus four scales at the hour), the ‘grande-sonnerie’ meaning that after every quarter chimed, the previous hour is also struck. Bought from the Iden Collection in 1944. (p. 41)

Thomas Tompion (1639-1713)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
8 Day spring clock by Thomas Tompion, London, no. 297, c. 1680. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

8 Day spring clock by Thomas Tompion, London, no. 297, c. 1680. With six pillars, the movement has a tic-tac excitement, typical of the work of this maker and of Joseph Knibb. It has internal count wheel hour striking on a bell. The simply proportioned case is of ebony veneer. The clock appears to have originated c. 1680, but its serial number, perhaps added when it was completed, dates it to the later 1690s. Bought from Percy Webster in 1938. (p. 35)

Ulysse Nardin (1823-1876)

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Gold-cased keyless minute-repeating, calendar pocket watch no. 2592 by Ulysse Nardin, Le Locle, c. 1900. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Gold-cased keyless minute-repeating, calendar pocket watch no. 2592 by Ulysse Nardin, Le Locle, c. 1900. The open-faced case has a push-piece by the pendant for hand setting. The high grade movement, updated by Nardin after it was produced, has a lever escapement with compensation balance and incorporates moon’s phases into the calendar work on the dial. (p. 88)

Breguet at Belmont

The centrepiece of the collection is none other than the work of Abraham-Louis Breguet. Lord Harris was a diligent collector of many great names in horology but worked especially hard to acquire quality examples by Breguet. The following selection showcases the finer watches by Breguet that Lord Harris was able to add to the collection. There are over two dozen extant works in total but the references listed below celebrate the rarest pieces.

Breguet no. 1948

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Gold-cased five-minute repeating pocket watch no. 1948 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1806. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Gold-cased five-minute repeating pocket watch no. 1948 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1806. The movement has a ruby-cylinder escapement with parachute, and repeats hours, quarters and then five minutes by operating the pendant. The later wooden box was probably made for the watch soon after purchase. The watch was sold by Breguet to “Hocke and Faton” (Hocke was his Russian agent) in August 1806 for 2,200 Francs. Given to Lord Harris by Lady Harris in 1939. (p. 52)

Breguet no. 1273

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
8 Day table clock no. 1273 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1805. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

8 Day table clock no. 1273 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1805. Mahogany case and white enamel dial with jump hours. The half-hour striking movement has an anchor escapement with a pendulum on a silk suspension. A tandem barrel drives both trains. Bought in Faversham (from an antique shop) in 1949. (p. 54)

Breguet no. 1641

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Large grande-sonnerie coach watch no. 1641 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1810. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Large grande-sonnerie coach watch no. 1641 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1810. This large, silver-cased travelling watch, was made ostensibly for the Turkish market. Having a verge escapement for robustness, it strikes the hours and quarters (with the hour struck after every quarter) and has pull-quarter repeating. It retains its mahogany carrying case. It was sold to Compte Galowskin in 1810 for 1,800 Francs. (p. 56)

Breguet no. 1416

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Gold-cased pocket watch with equation of time no. 1416 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1812. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Gold-cased pocket watch with equation of time no. 1416 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1812. This extraordinary fine watch has a lever escapement, half quarter repeating, annual calendar and equation of time, indicated with two minute hands. It was sold to “Prince Antoine – Don Antonio a Valencay” on 24th December 1812 for 6,000 Francs. The watch belonged to Malcolm Webster and was sold in 1954. (p. 57)

Breguet no. 2246

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Gold-cased minute repeating pocket watch no. 2246 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1807/1821. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Gold-cased minute repeating pocket watch no. 2246 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1807/1821. The silver dial has Breguet’s secret signature at XII. The movement has a ruby-cylinder escapement, temperature compensation and parachute shock protection. The watch was originally constructed for M. Casteneda in 1807, but finally sold to M. Moltchanoff in 1821 for 3,060 Francs. Bought from Breguet in 1954. (pp. 58-9)

Certificate of authentication for watch no. 2246 issued by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1821

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
© Harris (Belmont) Charity

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Certificate of authentication for watch no. 2246, issued by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1821. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Many fakes were produced of Breguet watches during his lifetime, and Breguet always sold his products with certificates acting as receipts, proof of ownership and authentication. The rear of the certificate (shown here in photocopy form) includes details of Breguet’s international agents. The certificate is an original issued for watch no. 2246 shown above.

Breguet no. 4000

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Slim gold early chronograph pocket watch with split seconds no. 4000 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1822. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Slim gold early chronograph pocket watch with split seconds no. 4000 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1822. The engine-turned silver dial of this important watch has hours and minutes shown on a subsidiary dial above VI, with twin centre seconds hands on the main dial. The gold seconds hand runs constantly while the stop button on the right stops the blued steel hand, the button on the left starting that hand gain. The watch was finally sold to Monsieur Guntzberger in 1845 for 2,000 Francs. Bought from Frodsham’s in 1937. (p. 61)

Breguet no. 4517

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Slim gold pocket watch with equation of time indication no. 4517 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1823. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Slim gold pocket watch with equation of time indication no. 4517 by A.-L. Breguet, Paris, c. 1823. The engine turned silver dial of this extraordinary watch has moon’s phase at the top, regulation and calendar in apertures to the sides, temperature and seconds indication within the main dial, the month and the day of the week outside the main dial and an equation of time indication below. All this in such a slim watch is a veritable tour de force of design. The watch was finally sold in 1836 to Anatoly Demidoff, 1st Prince of San Donato, Russia, an industrialist, diplomat and arts patron, for 4,000 Francs. Bought from Breguet in 1951. (p. 63)

Breguet no. 4227

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Two-day, silver cased ‘garde-temps’ no. 4227 by A.-L. Breguet et Fils, Paris, c. 1824. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Two-day, silver cased ‘garde-temps’ no. 4227 by A.-L. Breguet et Fils, Paris, c. 1824. The simple, silver ‘tabatier’ type case is housed in a mahogany deck box. The twin barrel movement has an Earnshaw spring detent escapement and compensation balance. Bought from “Mrs Bowes-Lyon”, a member of the Queen Mother’s family, in 1946. (p. 64)

Breguet no. 3728

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Gold-cased ‘montre a tact’ pocket watch no. 3728 by Breguet et Fils, Paris, c. 1826. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Gold-cased ‘montre a tact’ pocket watch no. 3728 by Breguet et Fils, Paris, c. 1826. The gold case has an integral white enamel chapter ring. The movement has a ruby cylinder escapement and temperature compensation. The watch was sold to M. Campbell in January 1826 for 1,700 Francs. (p. 65)

Breguet no. 4873

© Harris (Belmont) Charity
Gold cased ‘garde-temps’ no. 4873 by A.-L. Breguet et Fils, Paris, c. 1833. © Harris (Belmont) Charity

Gold cased ‘garde-temps’ no. 4873 by A.-L. Breguet et Fils, Paris, c. 1833. The gilt brass fusee pocket chronometer movement has an Earnshaw spring detent escapement and compensation balance. French-silvered brass dial. The watch was sold to M. Pardieu in 1833 for 1,800 Francs. (p. 67)

World heritage

It is surely no exaggeration to ascribe to Belmont the status of a world heritage site in terms of The Lord Harris Collection. Having discovered a passion for horology as a young man, the 5th Lord Harris earnestly devoted the second half of his life to building a collection whose scope remains unmatched in the United Kingdom outside of national museums.

In keeping with his meticulous nature as a collector, Lord and Lady Harris established the Harris (Belmont) Charity on 20th June 1980 to fund and secure the ‘preservation, maintenance and upkeep of Belmont House and its contents.’

Lady Harris died the following year and Lord Harris three years later, in 1984, at the age of 95.

Visitors are highly encouraged to enjoy not only the famous clock and watch collection but also the house and grounds. The gardens and countryside around the main house provide a wonderful opportunity for outdoor walking, for families and anyone with an interest in landscape gardens. The Tea Room is a particular delight and visitors should allow themselves enough time to savour a classic portion of English scones and clotted cream.

Belmont House 2022 © Breguet Blog
Belmont’s clock tower and gardens, as seen from the east side (front lawn).

Acknowledgements

Breguet Blog would like to extend enormous thanks to all the kind staff at Belmont for their generosity and support. Breguet Blog is especially indebted to Jonathan Betts MBE for his expert guidance and tour of the clocks and watches at Belmont House.

Please visit https://belmont-house.org and book your visit with Jonathan Betts at the earliest opportunity.

Bibliography

https://www.breguet.com

BETTS, Jonathan, Belmont: Faversham – Kent, Clocks & Watches, Elsenham: David Penney (1998). ISBN 0-9533122-0-8.

BETTS, Jonathan, Horological Treasures of The Lord Harris Collection: An Exhibition Saturday 9 to Friday 15 December 2017, London: Bonhams (2017).

BETTS, Jonathan, Marine Chronometers at Greenwich: A Catalogue of Marine Chronometers at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2017). ISBN 978-0199641383.

BREGUET, Emmanuel, Breguet: Watchmakers since 1775, The life and legacy of Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823), China: Swan éditeur (2016). ISBN 978-2-9536796 8-7.

DANIELS, George, The Art of Breguet, Switzerland: Sotheby’s Publications (1986). ISBN 0-85667-004-9.

HABSBURG Antiquorum, THE ART OF BREGUET: An Important Collection of 204 Watches, Clocks and Wristwatches, GENEVA, HOTEL DES BERGUES, SUNDAY 14 APRIL 1991, Switzerland: Schudeldruck, 4125 Riehen (1991). ISBN 3-85895-911-1.

SALOMONS, Sir David Lionel, Breguet. (1747-1823.), London: Kent and Sussex Courier Company (1,000 copies printed). Illustrated with over 150 photographic reproductions & other parts (1921).

SALOMONS, Sir David Lionel, Supplement. Breguet. (1747-1823.), London: Kent and Sussex Courier Company (1,000 copies printed). Illustrated with over 40 photographic reproductions (1921).

All photos in this article © BreguetBlog.com 2022 unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved

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