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Famous watchmakers

Christian Huygens

1629 - 1695

Christian Huygens © mhe

Dutch physician, mathematician and astronomer.

Member of the Royal Society in London (admitted in 1661 or 1663).

Member of the Academy of Sciences in Paris (admitted in 1666).

Known as the father of scientific clockmaking (opened the era of precision).

Key dates

1657

Invented the pendulum clock, on the basis of work by Galileo and Bürgi. Its construction was assigned to the Dutch clockmaker, Samuel Coster. Huygens was the first to bring the pendulum out of the experimental phase.

1659

He perfected the isochronism of the pendulum. Huygens discovered a limit to Galileo's demonstration (circular error) and produced the cycloidal pendulum that guarantees a strictly identical oscillation period regardless of the amplitude, even in the case of great amplitudes.

1673

Publication of “Horlogium Oscillatorum”, a major work in which Huygens explained the operation and assembly of a pendulum clock.

1675

Invented the spiral balance watch (flat spiral) designed to control the oscillations of a watch's balance wheel.

Presented to the Royal Society in January 1675, Huygens' first spiral balance wheel watch was made by French clockmaker Isaac or Jacques Thuret. Invention disputed by Englishman, Robert Hooke who had discovered the utility of the spiral in 1660, without properly following it through. Huygens appears to have been the first to have applied the invention decisively, without finding the means to compensate for errors due to temperature variations.