The History of the Timepiece: From Sundials to Cecil Purnell

The History of the Timepiece: From Sundials to Cecil Purnell

Basel : Switzerland | Apr 10, 2012 at 3:25 AM PDT
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It's difficult to imagine a world without the measurement of time. Since the industrial revolution, our whole way of life has been contingent on measuring and planning against the clock. It is no surprise, therefore, that the history of watches and timepieces can be plotted against the rise of modern civilisation.

Before recorded history, time was measured primarily against the sun, moon and other celestial bodies. We have the Babylonians to thank for our current system of 24 hour days, 30 day months and 12 month years.

Portable timepieces became popular in the 17th century. However, these were often very basic and unreliable. It wasn't until the invention of the Tourbillon that the timepiece reached the level of sophistication we know today.

Developed in the late eighteenth century by Abraham-Louis Breguet, the Tourbillon was an ingenious innovation that overcame the effect of gravity on the watch’s measurement. The Tourbillon marks one the most innovative developments in the history of the timepiece. Indeed, the design is still considered the height of horological excellence and new companies are now celebrating this design again. One such company is Cecil Purnell.

Named after the grandfather of one of the founders, who was a horologist and passionate admirer of high quality Tourbillons, Cecil Purnell was founded in 2006 with the aim of bringing this timepiece into the modern world, while maintaining the quality and finesse that defined it in the nineteenth century. Founders Jonathan Purnell and Stephane Valsamides see the Tourbillon not only as a beautiful design, but an innovation of such strength that its craftsmanship has yet to be surpassed.

Cecil Purnell is dedicated to this craftsmanship, voluntarily creating only fifty watches a year. Everything about the brand, from the 100% Swiss components to the Haute Horlogerie stamp of quality, is a reassurance that traditional formats like Tourbillons have a place in modern horology.

It is intriguing to consider that a craft such as horology, which has gone from sundials to quartz, has a breadth that allows it to continuously evolve traditional formats. If this weren’t the case, it would be tempting to think that modern Tourbillons are purely a luxury item, a sacrifice of substance for style.

However, a glance at a Cecil Purnell Tourbillon quickly dispels this notion. If anything, these timepieces seem more durable and reliable than some of their digital alternatives. Cecil Purnell Tourbillons, like their ancestors, need to be wound regularly. This level of engagement with a piece of technology is increasingly rare, and for many Cecil Purnell owners, a highly coveted chance to engage with the past in a modern way.

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Cecil Purnell, Tourbillon, History of timepiece
This is a Cecil Purnell CP3888
GordonLuis is based in Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom, and is a Stringer on Allvoices.
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