Arnold, John

SUBJECT AREA: Horology
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b. 1735/6 Bodmin (?), Cornwall, England
d. 25 August 1799 Eltham, London, England
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English clock, watch, and chronometer maker who invented the isochronous helical balance spring and an improved form of detached detent escapement.
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John Arnold was apprenticed to his father, a watchmaker, and then worked as an itinerant journeyman in the Low Countries and, later, in England. He settled in London in 1762 and rapidly established his reputation at Court by presenting George III with a miniature repeating watch mounted in a ring. He later abandoned the security of the Court for a more precarious living developing his chronometers, with some financial assistance from the Board of Longitude. Symbolically, in 1771 he moved from the vicinity of the Court at St James's to John Adam Street, which was close to the premises of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures \& Commerce.
By the time Arnold became interested in chronometry, Harrison had already demonstrated that longitude could be determined by means of a timekeeper, and the need was for a simpler instrument that could be sold at an affordable price for universal use at sea. Le Roy had shown that it was possible to dispense with a remontoire by using a detached escapement with an isochronous balance; Arnold was obviously thinking along the same lines, although he may not have been aware of Le Roy's work. By 1772 Arnold had developed his detached escapement, a pivoted detent which was quite different from that used on the European continent, and three years later he took out a patent for a compensation balance and a helical balance spring (Arnold used the spring in torsion and not in tension as Harrison had done). His compensation balance was similar in principle to that described by Le Roy and used riveted bimetallic strips to alter the radius of gyration of the balance by moving small weights radially. Although the helical balance spring was not completely isochronous it was a great improvement on the spiral spring, and in a later patent (1782) he showed how it could be made more truly isochronous by shaping the ends. In this form it was used universally in marine chronometers.
Although Arnold's chronometers performed well, their long-term stability was less satisfactory because of the deterioration of the oil on the pivot of the detent. In his patent of 1782 he eliminated this defect by replacing the pivot with a spring, producing the spring detent escapement. This was also done independendy at about the same time by Berthoud and Earnshaw, although Earnshaw claimed vehemently that Arnold had plagiarized his work. Ironically it was Earnshaw's design that was finally adopted, although he had merely replaced Arnold's pivoted detent with a spring, while Arnold had completely redesigned the escapement. Earnshaw also improved the compensation balance by fusing the steel to the brass to form the bimetallic element, and it was in this form that it began to be used universally for chronometers and high-grade watches.
As a result of the efforts of Arnold and Earnshaw, the marine chronometer emerged in what was essentially its final form by the end of the eighteenth century. The standardization of the design in England enabled it to be produced economically; whereas Larcum Kendall was paid £500 to copy Harrison's fourth timekeeper, Arnold was able to sell his chronometers for less than one-fifth of that amount. This combination of price and quality led to Britain's domination of the chronometer market during the nineteenth century.
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Bibliography
30 December 1775, "Timekeepers", British patent no. 1,113.
2 May 1782, "A new escapement, and also a balance to compensate the effects arising from heat and cold in pocket chronometers, and for incurving the ends of the helical spring…", British patent no. 1,382.
Further Reading
R.T.Gould, 1923, The Marine Chronometer: Its History and Development, London; reprinted 1960, Holland Press (provides an overview).
V.Mercer, 1972, John Arnold \& Son Chronometer Makers 1726–1843, London.
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Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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