Leon Kuchajewski. A historically important and unique silver openface astronomical world time watch with imperial provenance
The first true astronomical world time watch
Leon Kuchajewski. A historically important and unique silver openface astronomical world time watch with imperial provenance


Leon Kuchajewski. A historically important and unique silver openface astronomical world time watch with imperial provenance
Signed Ln. Kuhajewski, W Warszawie, Wynalazt i Zrobit (invented and made), No. 1, 1814, manufactured in 1814
Keywound gilt-brass Breguet-type "Souscription" movement, Antoine Tavan-type à patte d'écrevisse or "clayfish claw" escapement, monometallic brass balance with parachute suspension on the top pivot, small silver dial with Breguet numerals and blued steel moon hands mounted on the large barrel bridge, engraved inscription Zycnie bez Uzytku Umieracnie bezpamienci, Polish for "life with utility, death with remembrance" to the barrel band, engine-turned silver plate engraved with the Polish names of 52 world cities, outer revolving copper-coloured ring calibrated to 24 hours, each divided into twelfths, the winding arbour in the centre, large circular case, the bezel calibrated for the 24 time zones and marked poludnie for "noon" and/or "south" at 12 o'clock, zachod" or "west" to 3 o'clock, pulnoc or "north" to 6 o'clock, wschod or "east" to 9 o'clock, oval-shaped cartouches on the band indicating the twelve signs of the zodiac and the twelve months, December being at the 12 o'clock position, the back engraved with a wreath of oak leaves centred by the motto of Alexander I of Russia Protector of Art and Knowledge in Polish, the pendant top engraved with the "All Seeing Eye" symbol to both sides, dial and movement signed
64 mm. diam.
Alexander I of Russia
Nicholas I of Russia (?)
Baron Alexander Von Humboldt
Count Tomasz Lamoyskiego
By descendent of the latter until 14 May 2002
Since 14 May 2002: An important private collector

Alexander I (1777-1825)
Alexander I, born Aleksandr Blagoslovennyi, meaning Alexander the Blessed, served as Emperor of Russia from 1801 until 1825 and was the first Russian King of Poland from 1815 to 1825. It is believed that Alexander became a Freemason in 1803 and that he was a member of a lodge in Warsaw. This assumption would explain the engraved "All-Seeing Eye" symbol found on the pendant of the present watch. An obituary medal issued on the occasion of this death 1825, the obverse showing is but, the reverse the all-seeing eye.

Nicholas I (1796-1855)
Nicholas I was the Emperor of Russia from 1825 until 1855, known as one of the most reactionary of the Russian monarchs. On the eve of his death, the Russian Empire reached its historical zenith spanning over 20 million square kilometers (7.7 million square miles). In his capacity as the emperor he was also the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Finland

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander Freiherr von Humboldt (1769-1859)
Prussian naturalist, scientific explorer, polyglot, and polymath and last great scientific generalist, von Humboldt made important contributions to nearly every branch of the natural sciences. He believed that no organism or phenomenon could be fully understood in isolation. Living things, the objects of biological study, had to be considered in conjunction with data from other fields of research such as meteorology and geology. His expeditions brought him to the planet's remotest places, including Central and South America and, in 1829, a 9,000-mile exploratory trek across much of Russia at the behest of Nicholas I, Czar of Russia.

His remarkable magnum opus 'Kosmos' was the first reasonably accurate encyclopaedia of geology and geography published.

Von Humboldt's object was to measure every aspect of nature, what he did with the finest instruments available at the time.

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Lot Essay

With fitted burgundy-leather box, the cover embossed with floral decoration, the back and inside cover stamped with the Cyrillic initials PPU surmounted by an Imperial crown, and a hand-written label in Polish, detailing part of the provenance, reading in English: "Astronomical pocket watch created for the Russian Tsar, given by himself to Alexander Humboldt, after the death of the latter it was purchased at auction in Berlin by Mr. Tomasz Lamo??ski (?) and put into his gallery".

As early as during the 17th century, master watchmakers developed "geographical" watches and instruments indicating the time in a number of world locations, over a century ahead of the appearance of the first "world time" or "universal time" watches designed following the divisions of the earth into 24 time zones in the second half of the 19th century. The very first "world time" watches consisted generally of a fixed enamel dial, divided into 24 sectors with the painted names of various places, centred by a revolving disc indicating the relevant time. As functional and inventive as they were these watches had a variety of disadvantages, such as the lack of a constant reference time, or home time. Furthermore the outer dial had to be of a certain size in order to accommodate the names of the locations, resulting in a small, rather inaccurate and difficult to read inner time indication. Consequently, these early world time watches were inept for the purpose they were originally designed for, which was travel and exploration.

The present "Universal Time" watch however is a significant and historically important discovery in the world of 19th century watchmaking. Made as early as 1814 by the Polish inventor Leon Kuchajewski, it illustrates the genius of his creator most notably by the locations featured on the finely engraved dials, some of them merely five solar minutes apart. Apart from the challenge from an horological point of view, establishing these time zones represented an enormous defy at the time, requiring comprehensive knowledge of precise global locations.

Technically quiet straightforward, Kuchajewski's used a Breguet-style "souscription à tact" calibre which he modified by replacing the traditional arrow indicator by the small silver hour dial on the à tact gear. Both driven by the large centre barrel, the hands on the small hour dial and the hour ring on the "main" dial move simultaneously, indicating the hours of the relevant time in the various locations on the copper-coloured scale. The additional information featured such as the months, the points of the compass, rendered this watch the perfect instrument for an explorer.

The extremely unusual and ultra-rare escapement of the present watch known as "à patte d'écrevisse" or "crayfish claw" was devised by Antoine Tavan (1749-1836), one of Switzerland's most recognized watchmakers of the 19th century, reputed for his work on high precision watches. His invention is similar to Breguet's "échappement naturel" or "natural escapement", created in 1789 as a solution to the problem of having to use oil on the friction planes of the escapement pallet stones, which has long been one of the foremost factors in the causing of variations in rate of a timekeeper. In 1805 Antoine Tavan was commissioned by Melly Frères in Geneva to devise a new type of watch escapement models, resulting in the production of not only one but 12 new watch escapements including 3 of his own unique vision and design. These models are today in the collections of Geneva's Musée d'art et d'histoire. At the Société des Arts or Society of Arts 1816 competition for the regulation of clocks and watches, the task was to manufacture a watch so precise that the variations would not exceed 3 seconds within a period of 24 hours. The main challenge however was that this exploit had to be accomplished at any temperature or positioning of the watch, whether it was lying flat, suspended, or worn. Antoine Tavan walked away victorious with 800 florins in his pocket and a whole new level of prestige in his community. For a detailed biography of Tavan and description of some of his work see Technique and History of the Swiss Watch by Jaquet & Chapuis, pp. 162-163.

On 12 December 1814, the Polish inventor Leon Kuchajewski submitted the present watch to the guild of watchmakers. The adjudicating panel consisted of two watchmakers and two astrologers and returned the watch to him on the 26 October 1815 with the authorisation to call himself the inventor of the first true astronomical world time watch.
Kuchajewski then presented his timepiece to Tsar Alexander I of Russia who had, during the Congress of Vienna, laid claim to Poland earlier that year. A handwritten note to the inside of the watch's box states that the watch was given by Tsar Alexander I to the world famous scientist and explorer Baron Alexander Von Humboldt. This, though not unlikely as the two men would have met on many occasions in Prussia, is probably not strictly true. It is however more probable that the watch was presented to Baron Von Humboldt by Tsar Nicolas I, Alexander I's brother and successor, with whom Humboldt explored the relatively uncharted interior of Russia in 1829. It was on this expedition that Humboldt is credited with discovering the phenomenon of permafrost. Upon Humboldt's death in 1859, this watch was apparently bought by Count Lamoyskiego at auction in Berlin and placed in his private gallery.

According to family tradition the watch was passed by descent to the last owner whose grandfather, a lawyer and collector, had purchased it in the late 1950s.

Since its sale in this saleroom on 14 May 2002, the watch has remained in the same private collection until its consignment to the 14 May 2012 auction, safely stored away for 10 years and preserved in very good overall condition. Representing a significant witness for the development of horology in the 19th century and of highly interesting provenance, the present "world time" watch must be considered one of the most important historical timepieces to appear in public in recent years.

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