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Pioneering watch ring invention of Caron in 1754

Caron is described as one of the most fascinating figures of his century by leading historians who also claim that his life was as rich in adventure as any novel.

He can be labelled as an inventor and an entrepreneur, a musician and a dramatist, a family man and social reformer, a diplomat and a confidant of two kings of France.

He was the son of Parisian master watchmaker André Charles Caron who was the son of Daniel Caron, also a watchmaker. Pierre-Augustin followed family tradition and started an apprenticeship at his father’s workshop in Paris when he was thirteen years old. At that time a watchmaker had to acquire mastery after eight years of apprenticeship to be allowed to open a workshop in Paris.

The mechanical art of watchmaking required more than manual skill: understanding of astronomy, taste, artistic sensibilities and precision. One can picture the young Pierre-Augustin at his bench with his magnifying glass placed into the corner of his eye whilst using a jeweller’s file and tweezers.

Back then watchmaking had reached its highest degree of refinement. Nevertheless, these exquisite works of arts didn’t tell time correctly, often running more than a half hour ahead. Pierre-Augustin Caron who was just 19 years old decided to solve this problem and achieved an escapement that revolutionized watchmaking and rendered timepieces slim and readable.

During his extensive research which took him almost one year, Pierre-Augustin was excited to show his findings to M. Le Paute, His Majesty’s watchmaker. Le Paute congratulated the young Caron on his ground breaking innovation. But soon afterwards Le Paute published a notice in the “Mercure de France” in September 1753 in which he claimed Caron’s invention as his own. Le Paute however was known for this kind of foul play but was in a powerful position. Pierre-Augustin spread the news of his misfortune and left a memorandum with the Academy of Sciences in which he describes his escapement and handed over a sealed box containing all the pieces on which he had worked during his research.

Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais

The young Caron said during this time: “The evil deed is done, what good lamenting my imprudence? Better to seek a way of defending myself.”

Caron pleaded to the court to hear both sides in open debate which was granted and therefore, Caron and Le Paute were both heard and cross-examined. In a very clever move, Pierre-Augustin circulated in Paris a letter “on the subject of a discovery that sire Le Paute wanted to seize from me”.

Additionally, Caron sent a response to the “Mercure de France” regarding the previous published note. His actions lead to a helpful response from the people and that would put pressure on the judges as the young Caron won over the public opinion.

Two commissioners which were appointed by the Academy of Sciences ruled in favour of Caron and in February 1754 the Academy officially confirmed the result.

Caron’s clever press campaign assured him immense publicity. The innovation was the talk of the town and got him spoken of in high places, even at Versailles. Pierre-Augustin was invited to Versailles in summer 1754 and King Louis XV ordered several watches from Caron who created a fob watch for the sovereign, a miniaturized watch in a ring setting for the Madame de Pompadour and a small pendulum clock for Madame Victoire. The Monarch was so delighted with the miniature watch on a ring that he also ordered one for himself. All the court nobles started to give him their watch orders and with the tender age of 22, Pierre-Augustin Caron received the highly prestigious title of “horologist to the king”.

The young Caron however wasn’t intoxicated with his sudden success. He kept striving for more and being a pioneering watchmaker wasn’t the end of his incredible colourful career.

Check back to our BLOG and continue our journey through history when we reveal more about Pierre-Augustin Caron. In the meantime you can have a look at our watch ring collection.

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