Henri de Martinot

A clock fit for a king

As we have talked about in previous posts this September and October, gifts from Willis R. and Ruth Michael of York, Pennsylvania have greatly enriched the Museum’s clock collectio.  Much of this collection is  on view in, "For All Time:  Clocks and Watches from the National Heritage Museum."


Along with hundreds of historic clocks and watches made for everyday people, Willis Michael collected some extraordinary timepieces—including a clock fit for a king. 


Martinot cropped and lighter Engraved inscriptions on this clock’s face tell that the works were crafted by Henri de Martinot (1646–1725) and a Parisian mathematical instrument maker named Pouilly.  An inscription on the back of the clock notes that Martinot worked at the Louvre—no surprise, since Martinot came from a distinguished and well-connected family of clockmakers.  In fact, Henri succeeded his father as one of the king’s official clockmakers.  When King Louis XIV died, he owned ten or more Martinot clocks. 


There is no evidence to suggest that this clock was part of the royal collection.  However, early clock historian F. J. Britten wrote that elements of the clock’s ornamentation point toward a royal patron for the piece, possibly Louis XIV of France.  Click on the picture here for an expanded version of the image and look closely.  You can see the crown-topped double letter L’s at the base of the columns on the face and a fleur-de-lis motif just above the upper corners of the Boulle work case.  These feature caused Britten to suggest that “the clock was made for Louis XIV, possibly for presentation to some distinguished person.”


Ornamentation aside, this clock has an intriguing mechanism.  The clock not only tracked and displayed hours and minutes but it also called out feast days, eclipses, phases of the moon, months of the year and other information.


Willis Michael in front of the Martinot clock Willis Michael purchased this clock in New York at a sale of material from the Henry P. Strause collection in 1948. This black and white photograph shows Willis Michael discussing the Martinot clock with fellow members of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors at a party at his home in 1949. This picture was likely taken at a dinner for over seventy clock aficionados and their guests the Michaels hosted during Willis Michael’s tenure as national president of the NAWCC.


“For All Time” closes on February 21, so you have just a few weeks to enjoy this and the many other exciting clocks showcased in the exhibition.



Clock, works, 1690-1710, case 1665-1680. Henri de Martinot (1646–1725). Paris, France. Gift of Mrs. Willis R. Michael, 85.108.7a-e. Photograph by David Bohl 


Willis Michael at his home in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, 1949. National Heritage Museum.



I am grateful to Jonathan Snellenburg for his interesting description of this clock at the 2006 symposium organized by the New England Chapter of the NAWCC held at the National Heritage Museum.  This event is described in "National Heritage Museum, Lexington, Massachusetts Symposium Sponsred by Clock & Watch Collectors Honors Willis Michael,"  Jeanne Schinto, Maine Antique Digest, November 2006.


Old Clocks and Watches and Their Makers, F. J. Britten (E. & F. Spon, Limited:  London), 1922, pp. 413, 418-422.


Huygens’ Legacy:  The Golden Age of the Pendulum Clocks,  Hans van den Ende, (Fromanteel Ldt.:  Castle Town, Isle of Man), 2004.