Watchuseek Blog

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Setting sail: Thomas Mercer LE Marine Chronometer 'Classis'

We reported on the revival of Thomas Mercer, the renowned British marine chronometer firm in August. Now the Thomas Mercer Chronometer, known as Classis, and designed by one of Britain's leading design firms, Andrew Winch Designs, has been officially launched at Monaco Yacht Show.

Main features of the timepiece

The name 'Classis', from the Latin word for fleet, heralds the next dynasty of chronometers from Thomas Mercer.

Produced in a limited series of 10 units and  inspired by the shape of a winch, the chronometer recounts the most important voyages of discovery in the history of navigation. 

Each facade of the timepiece pays homage to famous ships that played a  leading role in the world’s destiny. The departure year, the coordinates of the most significant points reached during the trip and the image of each ship are engraved on the case, and the twelve names are made of satinwood inlaid on a fine ebony Macassar body. In addition to this, the dozen achievements are symbolically united in the Mercator Map standing out from the dial. 

The style and beauty of the exterior of Classis is also found in the mechanism. The escapement, the beating heart of the mechanism, comes in its Spring Detente form, and is visible on the dial.

The movement is in a stunning bi-colour finish: a beautiful combination of polished and grené effects. Features include an 8-day power reserve, and a chain and fusee and spring detente escapement mounted on the quintessential gimballed suspension.

The design, while featuring the traditional elements of a pure chronometer, has been transformed into a work of art.

The Thomas Mercer Marine Chronometer 'Classis'

Thomas Mercer: How the legend began
Thomas Mercer enjoys an illustrious history, but it very nearly never got off the ground. 1854 Having decided that the English watch and clock industry held no future for him, Mercer, 32 years old at the time, took a coach to London and bought himself a one-way ticket to America. While awaiting passage, he saw a marine chronometer in the shop window of John Fletcher, one of the most important chronometer makers of the day. He walked in and asked for work, and was accepted as a watch springer and finisher. 

During this period, the Greenwich premium trials were being held, to enable the Royal Navy to find makers capable of supplying and servicing chronometers that could be relied on to perform accurately and consistently under the extremes of temperature and motion encountered at sea. High prices were paid for chronometers that passed these trials. Two years later, Mercer left Fletcher's service to set up on his own as a chronometer maker at New North Road, London.

Mercer became involved in the British Horological Institute, in 1874 he set up a factory behind his house at 14–15 Prospect Road St Albans. Thomas Mercer marine chronometers are revered in British maritime history and are most famously linked to Shackleton’s trans-Antarctic expedition (1914-1916), better known as the ‘Endurance Expedition’. 

The expedition was ultimately unsuccessful after Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, became trapped in the ice and was destroyed. All of the men survived their ordeal of spending 22 months in the Antarctic however, after
Shackleton managed to lead his crew to safety – using his Thomas Mercer chronometer (now on permanent display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich) during the open boat trip on the James Caird.

Thomas Mercer played an active role in the restoration of H1 and H3; the clocks that John Harrison invented in the 18th century to win the Longitude Prize and that can be considered as the ancestors of the modern marine chronometer. Both clocks are now exhibited at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

The importance of the Mercer family to the British Admiralty was illustrated during WWI, when Thomas’ son, Frank, returned from duty in Egypt to lead the chronometer industry, at the request of the Admiralty.

About Andrew Winch Designs

Andrew Winch Designs is an award-winning British based design studio, founded in 1986 by the designer Andrew Winch. Their diverse portfolio encompasses yachts, aviation and architecture, each of their projects is entirely unique, reflecting the client’s tastes and lifestyle. What underpins all of their  work  is quality, attention to detail and the enthusiasm of their team. Working with the leading shipyards and completion centres all over the world, Andrew Winch Designs are recognised internationally for their exquisite designs.

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