Thomas Tompion of Bedfordshire, England, was a master clockmaker. He is widely regarded to be the finest English clockmaker of all time. His excellence was based on his ingenious design, outstanding skills of his production workers and exquisite materials used to make the clocks. Tompion’s apprentices include many skilled clock makers such as George Graham, Daniel Delander, Jeremiah Martin and Edward Banger among others.
Through his collaborations with scientist Robert Hooke, Tompion is credited for developing the early spiral balance watches in 1675. These were extremely accurate and featured two hands (for minutes and hours) which was unusual at the time. In 1675 he was responsible for constructing the first clocks for the Greenwich observatory. Apart from other innovations, Tompion is though to be one of the first manufacturers to use a numbered serial system for each of his products.
His bracket and mantle clocks are some of the finest timepieces of their time and are extremely rare. Also known as the grande-sonnerie (French for ‘grand strike’), these clocks used a complex mechanical system which struck a gong at every quarter of an hour. Apart from the design ingenuity, the craftsmanship and build were also outstanding. Each of his clocks were elaborately decorated. The clock cases were embellished with ornate stamped patterns and the clock faces featured prominent engraving and elegant script for the numbers. There are estimated to be only four examples of his grande-sonnerie clocks left in existence.
Tompion’s clocks and watches command extremely high prices when they come up for auction. The most recently found example of his work was found in Germany in 2003 – an exquisite grande-sonnerie spring clock in a red turtle-shell case estimated to cost between £600,000 – £900,000.
Clocks made honouring Thomas Tompion’s legacy, quality and worksmanship have been reproduced by several makers over the years, including but certainly but not limited to Ridgeway Clocks and the Howard Miller Clocks Company.