Le Roy, Pierre

SUBJECT AREA: Horology
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b. 24 November 1717 Paris, France
d. 25 August 1785 Viry-sur-Orge, France
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French horologist who invented the detached détente escapement and the compensation balance.
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Le Roy was born into a distinguished horological family: his father, Julien, was Clockmaker to the King. Pierre became Master in 1737 and continued to work with his father, taking over the business when his father died in 1759. However, he seems to have left the commercial side of the business to others so that he could concentrate on developing the marine chronometer. Unlike John Harrison, he believed that the solution lay in detaching the escapement from the balance, and in 1748 he submitted a proposal for the first detached escapement to the Académie des Sciences in Paris. He also differed from Harrison in his method of temperature compensation, which acted directly on the balance by altering its radius of gyration. This was achieved either by mounting thermometers on the balance or by using bimetallic strips which effectively reduced the diameter of the balance as the temperature rose (with refinements, this later became the standard method of temperature compensation in watches and chronometers). Le Roy had already discovered that for every spiral balance spring there was a particular length at which it would be isochronous, and this method of temperature compensation did not destroy that isochronism by altering the length, as other methods did. These innovations were incorporated in a chronometer with an improved detached escapement which he presented to Louis XV in 1766 and described in a memoir to the Académie des Sciences. This instrument contained the three essential elements of all subsequent chronometers: an isochronous balance spring, a detached escapement and a balance with temperature compensation. Its performance was similar to that of Harrison's fourth timepiece, and Le Roy was awarded prizes by the Académie des Sciences for the chronometer and for his memoir. However, his work was never fully appreciated in France, where he was over-shadowed by his rival Ferdinand Berthoud. When Berthoud was awarded the coveted title of Horloger de la Marine, Le Roy became disillusioned and shortly afterwards gave up chronometry and retired to the country.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Horloger du Roi 1760.
Bibliography
1748, "Echappement à détente", Histoire et mémoires de l'Académie Royale des Sciences.
1770, Mémoire sur la meilleure manière de mesurer le temps en mer, Paris.
Further Reading
R.T.Gould, 1923, The Marine Chronometer: Its History and Development, London; reprinted 1960, Holland Press (still the standard work on the subject).
DV

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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