Pierre-Frédéric Ingold - WHO? WHY?

The “why” is easy. I have always found the history of watchmaking engrossing, partly because I am a history buff, partly because I have a science background and partly the idea of invention and discovery has held a deep fascination for me for a long time. It speaks to the wonderful ability of mankind and the greatness of the mind’s capability and in many cases the nobility of spirit.
In researching this history one comes across a panoply of characters who contributed in different ways to watchmaking, its art and science. Researching a topic takes us away from the compression of time into a few paragraphs to the daily more intimate existence of individuals and how they acted and reacted to their societies as well as those around them. History then becomes more immediate and one finds oneself becoming more empathetic. It also becomes a bit voyeuristic J but  even though one knows the ending, one can’t turn away and must follow the vicissitudes of the characters until the final curtain.
Anyway, enough philosophizing…on with the main course!
 
Ingold is not a name commonly know these days to the likes of us. I only came across it while researching Leschot. But like Leschot, he stands out as an amazing creative genius in the annals of watchmaking . But unlike Leschot, he had very little commercial success in his lifetime. He remained a veritable Don Quixote, born a few decades too early and for whom success was just a bridge too far. Jules Jurgensen wrote of him: “He belongs in the category of really great people. In any century only two or three the like are born”.

Pierre-Frédéric Ingold - WHO? WHY?
 
Ingold was born in Bienne (Biel) in 1787, and even from the young age of 12 years, he was part of that cottage industry of watchmaking, cranking out pinions, wheels and escapements. But his was not to be a sedentary life. In 1809 he left La Chaux-de-Fonds for Strasbourg and Paris. Then after a few years in the latter, he had planned to leave for America, ostensibly to escape conscription into Napoleon’s army. However, shortly after departure from Dunkirk, his ship was captured by the English and he was briefly imprisoned. After a few months he returned to Paris, walking all the way from Normandy and for the next few years shuttled between Paris and London, working for Rentsch, the Royal Clockmaker, where he produced the first pendant watch wound without a key. Eventually he spent five years in Paris under Breguet. This time allowed him to see some of the finest watches of that era as well as enhance his exposure to other experienced watchmakers. He also became Breguet’s representative in Turkey for a short while.
 
During his apprentice years with Breguet, Ingold developed a mastery of jewel work. The Breguet atelier was well know for its consummate work with sapphires and rubies, cutting, splitting, drilling and polishing. Using jewels with tiny oil-filled resevoirs for lubrication was also a technique used at Breguet. Ingold developed a keen understand and a great facility for handling these jewels. There still exists today a tiny pinion with 8 leaves made entirely of sapphire and remarkably only 2.8mm diameter.
 
Pierre-Frédéric Ingold - WHO? WHY?

I am going to digress here to describe Ingold’s first major oeuvre in 1816 which still exists today in the School of Horology in Bienne.
It is one of the first watches to eschew a winding key. The hands were set by the stem as in modern watches. When the crown was pulled up, the hands could be moved thanks to a toothed crown wheel and an intermediary wheel. But even more amazing was that the watch was wound by the bezel. The bezel contained 72 internal teeth operating a ratchet which wound the mainspring.  It is a cylinder watch with the inscription P.-F. Ingold à La Chaux-de-Fonds.

Pierre-Frédéric Ingold - WHO? WHY?

The watch has a very curious history …being sold and gifted to a Polish princess Jablonowiska, who regifted it Marie-Louise, Napolean’s second wife. She carried it as a pendant watch for 30 years and then bequeathed it to one of her servants who just happened to be the cousin of a prominent horologist of the time, Sylvain Mairet, who resold it to Ingold.
 
Ingold was a visionary, constantly full of ideas and plans. He felt that watchmaking in the early 19th century had gone about as far as it could go and would not progress without some form of mechanization. And if the machines were not available, he would develop them. He initially tried to form a company with Berthould, Japy and Monnin, in Paris; but Japy felt that Ingold’s aspirations were too bold and unachievable and therefore was unwilling to take the financial risk. Without Japy’s backing, nothing came of the attempt.
 
Ingold continued to work in Paris repairing and restoring, undertaking custom orders, and designing and building machine tools. Towards the end of the 1830’s he had machines to produce plates with sinks and jewel seats, machines for barrels, wheels and balances, pinions, escape wheels and on and on. With the backing of many individuals they formed the “Compagnie de l’Horlogerie Parisienne”. But unfortunately they decided to keep the home workshop concept with the addition of machines instead of moving everything to a factory setting under one roof. Consequently, the output of finished pieces, although of excellent quality at a reasonable price (200-1500 francs), was far too low to be profitable. The enterprise bled money and ultimately failed.  The concept was right but the execution fell short. This occurred  about 1839, the fateful year for Vacheron Constantin and Leschot.

Pierre-Frédéric Ingold - WHO? WHY?

Pierre-Frédéric Ingold - WHO? WHY?

Pierre-Frédéric Ingold - WHO? WHY?
 
But like many visionaries with focused views, Ingold remained undaunted, adhering to the lyrics of that famous Jerome Kern song: “Pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start all over again”.
He did pick himself up and moved to England taking many of his machines with him. And therein lies a tale.

Continued in Part deux...
An interesting insight...
11/25/2013 - 20:43
Joseph - thank you for the background details of Pierre-Frederic Ingold Esq. This perhaps highlights the fact the hardwork is not a formular for success - as an ingredient it is vital but there are no guarantees that go with it!. Luck ,however, does play a role and 'being in the right place at the right time' counts for an awful lot. I look forward to viewing your following despatch. (One of these days I shall know as much as youwink) Tony