Experts talking

Every time, the "Experts talking" column develops a different case.
The author's aim, as connoisseur and authority about the matter, is to help you to understand the subject by making these informations comprehensible and digestive.
Presently: The "Rotor"

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The author

Joseph Flores

I was born in 1932, in Villers le Lac, France. I grew up in the watchmaking business but did not receive any professional training. I simply observed my father, who was himself self-taught. However, this provided me with something more than knowledge: a passion, which is the most important driving force.
At the age of 20, I became infected with the virus of the type of watchmaking known as "antique". For more than 30 years I have edited the "Horlogerie ancienne" [Antique Watchmaking] magazine published by AFAHA, Besançon. I am honoured to have won the Gaïa prize, in the History category.
Finally I have written some books on watchmaking, including "Perpétuelles à roue de rencontre" ( out of stock).

34. The "Rotor"




The automatic mechanism, like the pallet, hairspring, etc., is one of the factors contributing to the stature of watchmaking today. It is impossible to measure the extent to which this automatic mechanism has generated employment and profit.
So do we know at least where it comes from, and who invented it?
I will endeavour to tell you, hoping to open the debate, as the subject is delicate, and unfortunately calls into question a school of thought which is very widely accepted. However, if history has caught up with us, we cannot escape its verdict; I am simply its vehicle.
At present, no one can say who originated the principle, but I am nevertheless going to pinpoint the origin of the rotor mechanism, which I am not linking to the origin of the principle itself.
There is a well-known book which is an authority on automatic watches, by Alfred Chapuis and Eugène Jaquet, published in 1952 by Editions Griffon of Neuchâtel (4).
This book of over 200 pages dedicates 35 of those pages to Abraham Louis Perrelet, primarily to attribute to him the rotor mechanism mentioned above. In the long list of individuals who have contributed to the development of the automatic watch, there is a name that is missing: that of Hubert Sarton (1748-1828), a watchmaker from Liège (5). My analysis puts him in prime position.
History often catches up with us and, since 1993, for me, one event has followed inevitably upon another. In March, a manuscript report originating from the Académie des Sciences de Paris came into my possession, and in April, the watch attributed to Perrelet by Chapuis was put on sale at Antiquorum (6). The report is a manuscript describing a mechanism. Detailed analysis of the manuscript revealed that this mechanism is the one that is now called "automatic rotor movement." (3)
As this mechanism had been attributed to Perrelet in 1952, I set off in search of the factors that had caused Chapuis to make this attribution. I found nothing, despite hundreds of various contacts, e-mails and letters.
I have deduced today that Alfred Chapuis made a mistake.
Unfortunately, this mistake has become firmly entrenched and has been repeated many times since, but always without supporting evidence.
We must put things in their proper place.
Here, therefore, are some factors (amongst many others), which show that the watch invented by H. Sarton is indeed identical to the one too rashly attributed to Perrelet. Several details prove this.
For example the fusees of these pieces (7) - that of the report and that attributed to Perrelet - are absolutely identical, even in the gear ratios. This view of the fusee and the internal gear, the teeth of which are turned towards the centre and of which there are 30, as in the text, proves this (8).
The differential gear, also housed in the centre of this fusee, is absolutely identical (9). Then there are the reversers (10). Locking of the weight when the watch is fully wound (11), etc.
History will reveal the truth sooner or later.

Joseph Flores
5 rue des Essarts
25130 Villers le Lac
Tel.: +33 (0)3 81 68 05 66



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