Horological shenanigans have seen quite a few notable clocks pass through the shop, the best being a clock by Vulliamy.
Benjamin Vulliamy (1747 – 31 December 1811), was a clockmaker responsible for building the Regulator Clock, which, between 1780 and 1884, was the official regulator of time in London.
Benjamin Vulliamy was the son of Justin Vulliamy, a clockmaker of Swiss origin, who moved to London around 1730. Justin became an associate of Benjamin Gray, a watchmaker established in Pall Mall, and married Mary, a daughter of the same, with whom he had Benjamin. Justin succeeded his father-in-law in the charge of the business and from 1780, his son Benjamin entered the society. Father and son worked together until the death of Justin, on 1 December 1797.
From an early age, Vulliamy had shown interest in pursuing his father’s career. As an adult, he began to earn a reputation as a builder of mantel clocks. Decorative timepieces that adorned the halls of high society (some can be found at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery). His talent earned him a Royal Appointment in 1773. Through this he came to receive an endowment of £150 a year as George III’s King’s Clockmaker. There was a similar distinction, Royal Watchmaker, then held by George Lindsay. The king, an enthusiast for watches and mechanical devices, was patron of Justin Vulliamy. However, only Benjamin received this significant honour.
Around 1780, Vulliamy was commissioned to build the Regulator Clock. The main timekeeper of the King’s Observatory Kew, which served as an unofficial Prime Meridian and was responsible for the official London time until 1884. After which the Greenwich Royal Observatory assumed both roles. The Regulator Clock is now in the Science Museum in London.
In 1780 Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy was born; he was the last to dedicate himself to the family clockmaking business. None of his descendants took up the art of clockmaking, although his son, Lewis, was notable as an architect.
The Vulliamy clocks
Vulliamy clocks were of considerable value and represented the climax of technology at the time. one such clock was presented to the Chinese emperor by the diplomatic mission of George Macartney to Beijing in 1793. Vulliamy clocks were combined with fine porcelain figures to create artefacts that combined both science and art. The overall design was made by Vulliamy. He employed prize-winning sculptors such as John Deare to create the figures that were influenced by contemporary French designs. The Vulliamy family used Crown Derby to make the figures from porcelain designs. One of Vulliamy’s assistants, Jacques Planche, was a brother of Andrew Planche who had been involved in the early Derby Porcelain business. The business also subcontracted much of the clocks’ manufacture to other skilled artisans.
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