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Watchcocks
At the time of his death      
(February 1988)      
Charles Terwilliger     
owned over 10,000    
Watchcocks   

This has to have been   
the largest collection   
of watchcocks   
ever assembled.   
What is a watchcock? The answer in his own words

In the 17th and 18th century Baroque art period, time was less insisting, and artisans of the old world devoted countless hours fashioning intricate covers to protect the delicate balance wheels of fine watches. These covers, or watchcocks were placed on the movement and inside the watch cases, thereafter seen only on infrequent occasions when the cases were opened.

Each watchcock usually began as a thin piece of brass. Once cut to shape, the round plate was pierced, filed painstakingly and hand engraved with intricate designs, and finally firegilded. It is suspected that many of the artisans were women. The composition of the design was usually very elaborate and based on foliage, a star, wheel, rosette, architectural form, or even a name or initials.

In the design of each watchcock, one may find birds, dragons, dolphins, lions, snakes, cherubs, heraldic and Masonic symbols, bizarre and grotesque faces, mythological animals, baskets of flowers, urns, musical motifs, or even human heads in full face or profile. The most wondrous fact of all is that each watchcock is truly unique. No two exactly alike have ever been discovered.


Hold your cursor
over the image

to define
the watchcock
  The movement shown is from a very rare and important 17th century French single handed coachwatch. Illustrations of the case are below.

 
So where did he get them all?
For a long time he ran little ads in British horological publications. "Wanted - watchcocks" - He said he must see them before he could make an offer. When they arrived he made an offer they couldn't refuse.






More about Watchcocks
A Gallery of Watchcocks
with indication of
their possible age
The remarkable
Coinin Collection
The entrepreneur emerges again, this time
in collaboration with with Abercrombe and Fitch. See:
'The Unique Antique'



So what happened to the watches?
The coachwatch from above

The short answer - they were scrapped for the gold and silver cases.

The long answer -

Watchcocks were used on watches that utilized the verge escapement for timekeeping. The verge escapement required a constant source of power which necessitated the fusee. The fusee in turn made the watch quite thick and bulky.

The verge escapement had been in use since the 1300's. During the 18th century a number of new escapements emerged. The cylinder, the duplex, and most significantly - the lever. All of these escapements were better timekeepers than the verge and none required the fusee so the watches could be much thinner.

Almost overnight the verge watch became obsolete and old-fashioned. Everyone who could afford a watch wanted the new thin stylish watches that kept time.

The watchmakers took in the obsolete verge watches and melted down the precious metal cases for scrap. They threw the movements away. But... some of them took the time to loosen one screw and remove and keep the balance cock. These are the watchcocks you see on these pages. The thousands of beautiful watches they graced are gone for good.

Photographs courtesy of Pieces of Time