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The Vault: Pocket Watch by Charles Oudin

July 17, 2023
Home / The Vault / The Vault: Pocket Watch by Charles Oudin

Items of adornment throughout the Georgian era were often utilitarian in nature, with an emphasis not only on aesthetic but on everyday objects of use. Perhaps the most prolific of these items is the pocket watch, which were worn by men and women alike. Jean-Charles Oudin was one of the premiere watch and clock makers of the late 18th century and his brand, Charles Oudin, remains one of the oldest French horology firms still in production today. This pocket watch from The Kalmar Vault is a rare timepiece by the great horologist, Charles Oudin and tells a part of the Parisian watchmaker's history.

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Apprentice to Breguet

The invention of the mainspring in the 16th century revolutionised the horological world and enabled portable timepieces to be created (Source 1). This invention was the catalyst for the creation of pocket watches and carriage clocks, any portable time device. Beyond this invention there is a single name that is attributed to many fundamentals of watch making, Abraham-Louis Breguet. Breguet inventor of the tourbillon, Breguet hairspring and stylistic accents such as Breguet hands and numerals; these technological advancements and design principles defined Breguet's watches and cemented his name as one of the most important figures in the world of horology (Source 1). The legacy of Abraham-Louis Breguet was carried forth by those who apprenticed under him, who learned the skill of watch making by a Master, his most famous apprentice was Charles Oudin.

The Oudin Dynasty

Charles Oudin grew up in the Northwest of France and was born to a family of watch and clock makers. Charles Oudin was the third generation of horologists in his family with his great uncle, Jospeh Arnould, an established clockmaker in Nancy and his grandfather, Jean-Baptiste Oudin, a clockmaker from Sedan. His Uncle, Charles Oudin known as Oudin Père, was a clock and watchmaker in the place de la Halle in Sedan and was one of the family members who worked for Breguet. His four sons were also in the watchmaking trade and one of them, Jospeh Oudin, worked alongside his cousin, Jean-Charles Oudin for Breguet.

Jean-Charles Oudin apprenticed under Breguet in the late 18th century and worked alongside him at his Parisian studio, he became known within the industry as Charles Oudin. His earliest watches from around 1797 bear the signature, 'Charles Oudin, Elève de Breguet', translating to 'Charles Oudin, pupil of Breguet' (Source 2). "The Oudin name is also often linked to that of the renowned clockmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) since at least three members of this remarkable family made important contributions to Breguet's oeuvre, especially during the period that Breguet spent in Switzerland during the Reign of Terror, from 1793 to 1795" (Source 3). Charles Oudin remained in Paris during the French Revolution and it is rumoured that Breguet had asked him to continue the running of his studio during his time in Switzerland. However, it was decided by Oudin that he would instead open his own watchmaking firm.

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The Charles Oudin Firm

Oudin went on to set up his own studio at the end of the 18th century. "The rarity of the mechanism, the ambition for excellence and the expert know-how: these attributes can just about give the essence of the work of Charles Oudin, one of the oldest French watchmakers who dedicated his life to mastering precision watches" (Source 2). In March 1801, Charles Oudin rented a property at no 65 Palais Royal, at Galerie de Pierre. He had married Anne Antoinette Virginie Le Roy, whose family founded the prestigious Parisian clockmaker firm Leroy. "Oudin quickly gained so much notoriety that in 1805 he created a 'tact repeater' watch for Empress Josephine, the first of a long line of royals who would call upon his services. During his career, Charles Oudin would use his talent to satisfy the desires of Queen Victoria, the Count of Adhémar, the King of Spain, the Tsar of Russia, and even Napoleon III" (Source 2).

This led to a string of achievements including an honourable mention at the 1806 Exhibition for French Industry (Exposition des Produits de l'Industrie Française) for a self-winding watch and clock with moon phase and calendar month indications. "It is those of 1806 and 1819 which earned him, respectively, a medal for a watch winding up by the pendant and a citation for an ingenious equation watch" (Source 2). In 1809, Oudin would open a new shop at no 52 Palais Royal, the address which appears on many of Oudin's watch dials. A mosaic with the firm's name and title "Watch Maker of the French Navy" (Horloger de la Marine Française) appears on the present site today (Source 3).

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The Pocket Watch

Exciting elements of this history can be noted on this Charles Oudin pocket watch made in 1830. The pocket watch features a striking monochromatic design with the case constructed in ebony and contrasted with white enamel. The front of the case features roman numerals with a demi-hunter design so that the time can still be read when the case is closed. When the case is opened, Arabic numerals on the dial are revealed in an elegant font. The white enamel dial is in immaculate condition and is signed 'Ch. Oudin Breveté' which translates to 'Ch. Oudin Patent' and bears the retail address 'Palais-Royal 52'. The hands are all original and are turned by the finger to set the time. The key is made from ebony and sterling silver and has a small ratchet system that when winding the pocket watch will turn one way and wind back the other, making it very easy to wind without removing the key from the hole. The watch is attached to an exquisite sterling silver chatelaine, which would have been attached to a pocket or waist band. The back of the case features a detailed sterling silver monogram of the letters 'R' and 'M' bearing a special connection to the original owner.

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This piece is such an important piece of horological history from one of the most celebrated watch and clock makers. Timepieces of Charles Oudin can be found across institutions including the Met Museum, the British Museum, the Hermitage, the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva and the Breguet Museum in Paris. We are so lucky to have our own Charles Oudin pocket watch as a part of The Kalmar Vault collection. This item is not for sale but on public display at our store in the Queen Victoria Building.

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  1. Fob & Co (2023), Pocket watches: a brief history; Pocket Watches - A Brief History - Fob & Co (fobandco.com.au)

2. Simonin, L (2022), Charles Oudin: the equation of time; Barnebys Magazine: Charles Oudin: The Equation of Time | Barnebys Magazine

3. Richard Redding Antiques (2023), Charles Oudin; Charles Oudin, A late nineteenth century French petite carriage clock of eight day duration by Charles Oudin, Paris, date circa 1880-90 | Richard Redding Antiques

4. Charles Oudin (2023); Women’s Luxury watchmaker 8 place Vendôme (oudin.com)

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