HOME » Antique pocket watches and chains » 1. L'Epine, pocket watch, ca 1775-1785.

1. L'EPINE Pocket Watch, ca. 1775-1785.

L'Epine a Paris, verge fusee pocket watch, ca. 1775-1785,  guilded movement, Silver watch case, with Silver Chatelaine.







 Jean-Antoine Lépine, was a revolutionary and inventive French watch and clockmaker, who contributed with crucial inventions for watchmaking still used nowadays.

He was amongst the finest French watchmakers, like francois berthoud, abraham louis brequet, guillaume nourrisson, who were years ahead of other countries in watchmaking.

They knew each other and worked or devellopped ideas by each other.

Beginnings and appointment as clockmaker to the King:

Since his childhood he was interested in watchmaking, and it's technical aspects.

He worked for Mr. Decrose, manufacturer of Saconnex watches, in  Geneva.

He moved to Paris in 1744 when he was 24, as apprentice to André-Charles Caron

(1698–1775), who made clocks for Louis XV.

He fell in love with Caron's daughter and married her in 1756 and got into the

firm of his now father in law,  then named "Caron et Lépine" untill about 1769.

By 1765 he was made Master watchmaker and appointed by Louis XV as

Clockmaker to the King.  

As a clock and watchmaker to Louis XV, Louis XVI and Napoleon Bonaparte,

Lépine’s watches were very much "en voque" and demanded.

In 1766 he appears on the list of Paris clockmakers of that year as Jean-Antoine

Lépine, Horloger du Roy.

In 1782, his daughter Pauline married Claude-Pierre Raguet (1753–1810), with

him he formed a partnership in 1792.

He was also associated with the philosopher Voltaire, at his watch manufactory set up in 1770 at Ferney.

He gave commissions to the workshops there until 1792. An unsigned memoir

of 1784 reports that Lépine stayed in Ferney for 18 months and that he had

watch movements made there with a value of 90,000 livres a year.

1770: Invention of the revolutionary Lépine calibre

Around 1770, he created a revolutonary thin watch which immediately was wanted.

His radical design broke with more then a hundred years of tradition and worked better. 

Still today about all watches manufactured at the world are based upon the lepine calibre.

Up to the 1840s, watches were all hand-made, so  parts were not interchangeable.

The usual practice in the 16-18th century was to have the movement between a

one piece  bottom plate and one piece upper plate and the balance wheel

outside, connected in line with/ to the echappement/ movement through a hole

in the upper plate.

Lépine divided/ saw the upper plate in individual pieces that each hold a part of

the movement at it's place, stabilised/ fixed at the still one piece bottom plate,

the so called "bridges" or "les ponts".

This is esentialy the lepine calibre. 

It made it easier to assemble and repair pocket watches, and allowed him to replace these bridges to make watches thinner and lighter.  

He changed the system of fusee and its chain and began using the cylinder escapement.

He also invented the floating mainspring going barrel.

Lépine influenced all watchmakers, one of them,  Abraham Louis Breguet used 

modified versions of the "calibre ponts" (Lupine's bridge system) for his by then

modern watches.

With watchmaker (to the king), Ferdinand Berthoud, Lépine was master of Breguet.

Other improvements and inventions:

Repeating mechanism; in 1763 devised a mechanism in which by depressing the pendant the repeating spring is wound and where the hour and quarter racks were placed directly on the winding arbor.

The new design was a great improvement, eliminating the fragile winding chain. It also gave the system better stability and decreased friction, while saving room and simplifying the mechanism.

The 1763 Mémoire of the Académie des Sciences, in the chapter “Machines ou

inventions approuvées par l’Académie en 1763”, gave a very favorable report of Lépine’s invention.

The idea, with some modifications, still survives today.

Winding system requiring no key.

“Lost hinge” watchcases (invisible); his "secret" opening mechanism with hidden hinges, releasing the back cover by twisting the pendant.

He was also the first one to use Arabic numerals on dials as many for the hours as for the minutes.

Lépine is also credited for introducing hand-setting at the back of the watch and the hunter case (or savonette) that completely covers a dial with its spring-loaded hinged panel.

A new form of case, à charnières perdues, with concealed hinges and a fixed bezel.

Since these watches were rewound and set from the rear, the movement was

protected from dust by an inner case.so the front didn't need to be opened anymore.  

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