Important Modern & Vintage Timepieces.

Geneva, November 11, 2018

LOT 493


Inking-chronograph. Rosewood with lemon-tree inlay rectangular-shaped cabinet, 1/5 inking-chronograph On the reverse, a sliding panel to access the adjustment for the balance and a key-button-winding White enamel dial, inlaid in a brass plate, with division in seconds numbered in groups of five, subsidiary dial for the fifth of a second (at 12 o’clock); push-pieces for “marche / arrêt” (on / off) (top left) and “pointage” (pointing) (top right); ink tank (lower left); blued steel hands.

Brand Nicolas-Mathieu Rieussec, Paris

Model Chronographe inventé par Rieussecà Paris

Year Circa 1830

Numbers Unnumbered

Caliber 87X64X17 mm. brass, with going barrel, cylinder escapement, monometallic balanceand blued steel flat hairspring

Dimensions 110X80X50 mm.

Signed low-plate Dial

CHF 9,000 - 14,000

HKD 72,000 - 112,000 / USD 9,000 - 14,000

Sold: CHF 26,250

Grading System
Grade: Logo grading


Case: 3-13


Slightly damaged

Movement: 3-6*


Slightly oxidized

Overhaul recommended, at buyer's expense

Dial: 3-8-01


Slightly scratched

HANDS Original


The Rieussec inking-chronograph The chronograph is a mechanical instrument that can measure the duration of an event or an observation. Etymologically, the word originates from the Greek terms Khrônos (time) and Graphos(graphein, inscribe, write, draw). Today, a chronograph is defined as a watch with a seconds hand that can be started, stopped, and reset to zero with one or several push-pieces. It's not certain who invented the chronograph in its present form, though we do know that the concept had its roots in the 18th century. As is the case with many inventions, we also know about numerous contributions and improvements that have helped the chronograph continuously evolve. The first split-seconds chronograph of modern conception, with two seconds hands, appeared circa 1880. Two seconds hands are indispensable for measuring two events that begin concurrently but end at different times, and also for the measurement of lap times. Chronographs came into the public domain at the beginning of the 20th century and are now used daily in sport and scientific research. This was not the case in previous centuries as the following excursion into the history of chronographs will show. On September 1st, 1821, Nicolas-Mathieu Rieussec (1781-1852) from Toulouse, Horloger duRoi, watchmaker of the King of France since 1817 (January 31), established 13, rue Neuve desPetits-Champs in Paris, succeeded in timing four horse races that took place on the Champ de Mars in Paris: the two Prix d'Arrondissements, the Prix Principal and the Prix Royal. On the 23rd of the same month, the racecourse officials drafted a memorandum "concerning the deployment of a chronograph that could measure, in an indelible fashion, the running times of horses over a predetermined distance, not only for the winning horse but also the ones that crossed the finish line thereafter, providing their number did not exceed 30 and the time difference between them was at least one-fourth of a second.". In comparison with the seconds counters that had been previously used, the apparatus developed by Rieussec delivered excellent results and eliminated mismeasurements. It was declared the official timekeeping instrument for future races. The only known example of this first type of apparatus was part of the former Collection of Augustin Seguin (1889-1981), French engineer from Lyon (Etude Couturier & de Nicolay, Paris, Jean-Claude Sabrier, Louviers, expert, auction, June 4, 1982, Collection Augustin Seguin, Horloges anciennes, Montres et Garde-temps, lot 30), then a private Italian collection before being offered again at auction at Christie's, Geneva, November 12, 2012, lot 67, sold for the amount of CHF 231 000.- This chronograph is now kept at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva. On October 15, 1821, the Académie Royale des Sciences acknowledged the "chronographe à secondes" (seconds chronograph), as it called the instrument, referring to a conclusive report produced by Antoine-Louis Breguet (1776-1858) - the son of Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) - and Gaspard de Prony (1755-1839), an engineer, mathematician, and member of the Board of Longitude. It recognised the scientific merit of the invention "which displays the duration of several consecutive events without requiring the observer to interrupt the observation in order to glance at a dial or concentrate on the sound of a time signal or the oscillation of a balance wheel A... A chronograph with such properties is no doubt a valuable aid for physicists, engineers, and others concerned with the measurement of event durations.". At its meeting of October 22, 1821, the Comité consultatif des Arts et Manufactures, the advisory board of trade and industry, expressed its negative attitude toward the granting of a free patent for this invention, citing the high cost of manufacture and the limited scope of applications for this new device. In his response to the ministerial secretary of the department of the interior, Count Joseph-Jérôme Siméon (1749-1842), on October 29, state councillor and prefect Gaspard de Chabrol (1773-1843) lobbied for the gratuitous granting of a patent. Rieussec himself sent a letter directly to the minister of the interior on November 8 of that year and asked for the patent to be granted. Eventually, on March 2, 1822, the same advisory board issued the patent without any further opposition. Thus, on March 9, 1822, Rieussec finally received a five-year patent for "a timing or path-counting instrument called seconds chronograph, that can display the duration of several consecutive events without distracting the observer's attention.". The device had a rotating dial, with 60 graduations, that performed a complete revolution once a minute. A brief press of a button caused a pen to traverse a minuscule ink container and place a dot on the white enamel dial. It enabled measurements with an accuracy of one-fifth of a second and was used "to observe events that require the utmost in precision". The dial had to be cleaned after each series of measurements (see the engraved plate of this patent). To date, only two copies of this first type of chronograph are known; they are kept at the Musée International d'Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds and at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva ;from the auction Etude Chayette & Cheval, Paris, May 16, 2011, lot 133, sold for the amount of A€ 160 000.- hammer, on an estimate of A€ 3 000.- / 4 000.-). The concept of the rotating dial was not new. In 1763, Alexander Cumming (1733-1814) in London had already invented a machine that recorded changes in barometric pressure and with an ink-filled stylus plotted a time-based curve on a revolving dial. In 1785, the Frenchman P. N. Changeux built a similar instrument, a barométrographe. The term "pen and ink chronograph" or simply "inking chronograph" is certainly apt, because in these instruments a stylus marks the beginning and end of an event with an ink dot on a dial. Since ordinary hands do not leave behind any traces, present-day chronographs should actually be called chronoscopes. On June 21 and 22, 1822, in Montlhéry (~ 25 kilometers southwest of Paris), a Rieussecchronograph is part of the equipment of a group of scientists - including Alexander von Humboldt(1769-1859), François Arago (1786-1853) and Gaspard de Prony -, to measure the speed of sound. Rieussec received a bronze medal for his invention at the French Industrial Exposition of 1823 in Paris, which was held on the ground floor of the Louvre. On February 9, 1822, Frederick Louis Fatton(1802-1859) - a former student of Abraham-Louis Breguet - who was working in London, was granted a patent (No. 4 645) for "an astronomical instrument or watch, by which the time of the day, the progress of the celestial bodies, as well as of carriages, horses, or others animals, may be correctly ascertained.". Indeed, it was the first patent granted for an inking chronograph. On September 27, 1822, Fatton was given a second patent (No. 4 707), also in London, for a pocket chronograph that had a fixed dial and fifth-of-a-second graduations. On March 6, 1823, Jonas-Louis Lassieur (1785-1850), a nephew of Abraham-Louis Breguet, deposited Fatton's patent in the section foreign patents: "Chronometer with counter for seconds and their fractions, serving for the measurement of the duration of various events with an improved recording device and generalized for different applications.". The correspondence between Abraham-Louis Breguet and Frederick Louis Fatton seems to substantiate the considerable contribution of the great master to the invention of this chronograph after 1820. The patent owner saw parallels between his improvement and Rieussec's invention, in which he criticized several shortcomings, including the excessive load on the staff of the last wheel of the rotating dial and the difficulty of releasing the chronograph push-piece quickly enough for the inked barb to produce a single dot on the dial rather than a line. His invention eliminated these inconveniences. The Breguet manufacture introduced Fatton's"chronomètre à détente" (snapback chronometer) on the occasion of the French Industrial Exposition of 1823 in Paris. The report of the jury emphasized the difference between the instruments of Rieussec and Fatton-Breguet. In the latter system, the ink reservoir was fastened to the seconds hand. Another seconds hand lying over the first one carried a sharp barb at its tip. The barb passed through the ink reservoir and imprinted a fine mark on the dial as soon as the push-piece of the snapback spring mechanism was pressed. When the push-piece was pressed at the beginning and at the end of an event, the barb left two concise marks on the dial. The space between them - the reading could be taken to fractions of a second - indicated the duration of the event. In the years that followed, Fatton in London and Breguet in Paris made many of these inking chronographs, and Breguet even crafted a few double-face versions in the style of his subscription watches (see the engraved plate of the Fatton-Breguet patent). Rieussec also created timepieces with static dials in the 1820's. For an example of this new type of instrument signed by Rieussec, see: Antiquorum, New York, December 15, 1998, lot 472, sold for the amount of USD 61 900.- This apparatus is now kept at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva (Inv.S-396). The model we present today, simpler in its construction than the previous one, but also with a fixed dial, is a new example of Rieussec's research in order to improve his invention. It had to be made circa 1830 and bears the mention "A"Inventé par Rieussec" (Invented by Rieussec) and not "Breveté" (Patented), as is the case for the two models of the first generation (according to the patent of 1822). At any rate, he applied for a patent on September 9, 1837, concerning "Improvements for chronographs" (see the engraved plate of this patent). It is then installed at 4, boulevard Bourdon. He was granted a patent (No. 8 110) for the duration of ten years. The improvements mainly related to very small watches and pertained to the display of time on an off-centre subsidiary dial while the chronograph scale was plotted on the periphery of the main dial that featured the two sweep-seconds hands, one with the ink reservoir, the other with the barb. This invention was also awarded a bronze medal at the French Industrial Exposition of 1839. In 1842, he made a large watch, where the hour and minute hands and the chronograph are concentric. This involves drilling, along its length, the axis of the centre-wheel to make room for the axis that carries the chronograph hand; given the technical means of the time, it is a very delicate operation. An example of this device is now preserved at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva (Inv. S-878). In 1850, Louis-Clément Breguet (1804-1883) - a grandson of the great master -, told the AcadémieRoyale des Sciences that the idea of the inking chronograph was originally his grandfather's and not Rieussec's. However, he did not reiterate this statement in his report on the Universal Exposition of 1855 in Paris. Nicolas-Mathieu Rieussec continued to refine his chronographs. He reduced the cost of producing them and subsequently presented his instruments at other expositions where they won many awards.