Arnold & Son DBS (“Double Balance” and “Sidereal Time”) Watch

With its new “DBS” watch, high end niche brand/manufacture Arnold & Son makes its first but surely not its last appearance on Perpetuelle.  This is a darn beautiful watch, with great symmetry and great mechanics — yes that is a double balance wheel you see above.  It is also a piece with a great historical tie-in.

Before I get into the particulars of the DBS, just a heads up that because this is the first I have featured Arnold & Sons here at Perpetuelle, included at the bottom of the page a brief overview of the Arnold & Sons brand (with both historical and modern day context).  But in a nutshell, Arnold & Son is basically a niche independent brand and manufacture of their own calibers focused around specialty complications.  Now, on to the watch.  The Arnold & Sons DBS Equation Sidereal is a modern day tribute to two watches made by esteemed watchmaker John Roger Arnold (1736-1799) that showed mean solar and sidereal time on two separate subdials.

John Roger Arnold, mean and sidereal pocket chronometer with Bimetallic “Z” balance

No.2, London, 1796-1799

The movements of these two watches, made between 1796 and 1799, featured some of the most famous inventions of father and son, including their fabulous thermo-compensated Z balance, expansion escapement and gold helical spring.  It is no exaggeration to say that they represented the state of the art in the micromechanics of their time.

Watches with a sidereal time display were extremely rare at this time and they remain rare today.  After the Arnolds had paved the way, it was none other than Abraham Louis Breguet (a friend of John Arnold) who followed in their footsteps and produced a few watches with a sidereal time display and a similar dial layout (such as No. 3863, sold in 1824).

Arnold & Son DBS Watch

(Double Balance and Sideral Time)

Price:  $46,500 US

44mm rose gold case, sapphire caseback, local hours, minutes and seconds, sidereal hours and minutes, local time 24 h indicator, sidereal time 24 h indicator

Creating a precise sidereal time display is a tall order.  Simply adding a second gear train to a standard movement showing mean solar time is not a viable solution because a mean sidereal day is about 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4.091 seconds, which is not a round fraction of the 24 hours in a mean solar day.

For Arnold & Son, the choice was to create a movement specifically for sidereal time, with a double barrel/gear train and double balance/escapement running at different speeds that enables the watch to display mean solar time and mean sidereal time simultaneously.  This technical solution has the additional advantage that neither of the two indications saps energy from the other.

Manufacture Arnold & Son mechanical caliber A&S1311

hand-wound, power reserve 40 h, 21’600 vph (3Hz)


Movement decoration: Nickel-silver movement, rhodium treated with Haute Horlogerie finishing: hand chamfered bridges and polished edges, fine circular graining and ‘Côtes de Genève’, blued screws

If anyone has comments on the quality of movement decoration compares to other esteemed brands, please do tell.

Watches with a double balance and escapement are extremely rare today (I believe Greubel Forsey has or is working on a novel approach on this…and others?), so Arnold & Son should rightly take some pride in this piece in the mechanics of this piece.  And the overall aesthetic is also praiseworthy — the dial has beautiful symmetry and balance and the view of the double balance wheels is a real treat.

Arnold & Son Background

First a bit of background on the brand. The namesake is one John Arnold, Cornwall in 1736.  His father was a watchmaker and his uncle a gunsmith, which probably explains his early interest in precision engineering and metalwork.  A talented craftsman and scholar, he left England for the Netherlands at the age of 19 after completing his apprenticeship to hone his watchmaking skills. He returned two years later speaking excellent German, which stood him in good stead later at the court of George III, and had established himself as a watchmaker of repute in London’s Strand by his mid-twenties.

After Arnold presented the smallest repeating watch ever made to King George III and to the court, he rapidly acquired a wealthy clientele.  He was one of the most inventive watchmakers of his day and held patents for a detent escapement, bimetallic balance and helical balance spring . Arnold’s “No. 36″ was the first timepiece to be called a chronometer, a term reserved for unusually precise watches to this day.  Napoleon Bonaparte himself presented an Arnold clock to the Observatory of Milan in 1802!  As well, many a famous explorer also benefited from the handiwork of Mr. Arnold — as this excellent chronology lays out.

Unlike other watch manufacturers, who often use the same calibre for different models, Arnold & Son develops a new movement for every single model — and yes they do have a spectacular lineup of calibers (see them all here), now thirteen in number with the DBS.

Now I am not exactly sure when the brand faded away (Arnold himself passed away in 1799), but it was not until 1995 (I believe)
that the brand came to be revived by British Masters (which also owns the Graham London brand).

Thus today, in a certain sense, Arnold & Son is really a Swiss watch company (based in La Chaux-de-Fonds) with no connection to the original firm founded by John Arnold.  Even so, I do not have a problem with this as the name has gravitas and that the brand has been “revived” under the name of watchamaking’s greatest — and to draw inspiration from this — is great.

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