One of the fantastic parts of my job as a Horologist is the diversity of the work that passes across my bench. One day I may be working on a complex regulator with an unusual escapement, the next a musical clock, a singing bird box or even just a simple French clock, the range of mechanisms out there is fantastic. They do however all have one thing in common, they must be handled as individual cases. There is no ‘one size fits all’ in horology and that makes for a further level of interest when handling each object.
I am of course referring to how the job is handled with a view to how it is worked on.
The majority of objects that I handle tend to be in for restoration work and so often require fairly invasive work usually culminating with a certain amount of finishing work to restore the object to its original level of finish. There are however occasions when an object comes in which is in such original condition that the patination of the surface finish really has become part of the inherent quality of the object. In these cases, it would be a great shame to remove this quality just for the sake of it.
I was recently handed an 18th century ‘birdcage’ longcase for overhaul. It really was in such extremely original condition that I immediately started planning how we were to carry out the repairs and still retain the lovely warm genuine finish.
The clock was overhauled fully from a mechanical point of view with all pivots re-burnished and bushes replaced accordingly. The bushes were made to be very small so as to be as unobtrusive as possible. They were fitted carefully so that no marks were introduced to the surface finish of the plates.
The cleaning was handled with great care. It had to be cleaned to such a level that all the years of greasy oily sludge was removed but sensitively enough that the colour and feel of the patination remained intact. This I think we achieved as I am extremely happy with how the clock turned out.
The dial also retained an exceptional level of originality. The spandrels were complete with their original gilding, and the dial plate retained a heavy layer of shellac lacquer. The dial center showed the remains of the original silvering, however the chapter ring had been rubbed clean. To handle this the dial was dismantled and gently washed to remove the loose dirt and oil from the surfaces. The center was cleaned to allow the silvering action to occur, however it was not re-finished in any way. What was left of the original silvering was retained and the rest of the silvering blended into it. The chapter ring was re-silvered without invasive re-finishing work which achieved a lovely austere grey silver and sat perfectly with the rest of the dial.
The hands were cleaned back to their original surface and still retained some of their bluing. They were re-blued to a conservative dark blue and oiled so as not to make them stand out too much from the rest of the dial.
The results of the project I hope speak for themselves.
With this particular clock the less intervention had the greater effect, sometimes less really is more.
Christopher T Jobson