The three watches in the John Franklin Set are the latest additions to the Instrument Collection and take as their subject three famous paintings from London’s National Maritime Museum. The timepieces, which feature a true-beat seconds and off-centre hour and minute hands, each depict an episode in the life of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, vessels that eventually perished in the course of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition to discover the North-West Passage in the mid-19th century. S
To the British government, the North-West Passage had long been an obsession. It represented a shorter route to the Indies that would eliminate the need for rounding Cape Horn and avoid meetings with the hostile fleets of other European nations. And although its mythical status as a faster route to the East had evaporated by the mid-19th century, it was still one of the last uncharted coastlines of the world.
In 1845, Sir John Franklin set out on his third expedition to the area in HMS Erebus, accompanied by HMS Terror. After being sighted by whalers in mid-summer, the two ships disappeared. Over forty expeditions set out to locate and rescue them but found only remnants of the expedition. We know now that both ships were subsequently trapped by the ice and abandoned by their crews, who perished. A later expedition established that Sir John Franklin died on 11 June 1847.
For his third and final expedition to the waters north of Canada, Sir John Franklin had with him a marine chronometer made by John Roger Arnold in around 1815 with an eight-day movement, Arnold spring detent escapement and balance.
“This,” as Philippe Boven of Arnold & Son, points out, “turned out to be one the most intriguing elements in the entire narrative.” As later became clear, it was one of several items recovered during searches for the Franklin expedition but was not handed over to the authorities. Only more than a century later did it reappear on the market, when it was purchased by the Friends of the National Maritime Museum.
It was immediately clear that Arnold’s marine chronometer had been modified while missing and converted into a travelling timepiece. It was still mounted in the original bowl, to which a handle and four feet had been added. The engraved, silver-plated brass dial showed signs of alteration to the signature around the name ‘Arnold’.
The case, in 18kt rose gold, measures 44mm. They have an AR-coated sapphire crystal, a sapphire display back, and they are water resistant to 30 meters.
They come on brown hand-stitched alligator leather straps with gold buckles.