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Nautical Clocks: What Makes Them Different?

When you start looking at nautical clocks, you could be forgiven for thinking that they’re just like any other timepiece, aside from their distinctive brass casing and typically maritime appearance.

But you’d be wrong. In fact, the history of the development of the nautical clock is fascinating and one that made a big difference to our ability to navigate the world’s oceans.

It wasn’t until the 18th century that the first marine chronometer was developed. The challenge, according to Robb Report, had long been finding longitude while at sea. Determining latitude was relatively easy because sailors could use the stars. But there were no fixed references that would allow them to calculate longitude so easily.

What’s more, any portable timepiece that was developed needed to be able to be wound without stopping, and had to stay accurate even in challenging sea conditions and through fluctuating temperatures.

It took English clockmaker John Harrison 30 years to create his pocket-sized watch H4, which was a breakthrough for maritime navigation.

You can actually see some of Harrison’s experimental maritime timekeepers on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Following Harrison’s efforts, other watchmakers such as John Arnold and Thomas Earnshaw created marine chronometers in their now more familiar form – housed in wooden boxes and fitted with gimbal mountings to keep them in position. These designs proved more popular than Harrison’s pocket-sized device.

Of course, these days GPS and digital technology has taken over from these early navigation aids. But if you’re looking for a gift for a sailing enthusiast, a traditional marine chronometer could be ideal.

Take a look at our range of marine navigation equipment in the UK if you need some more inspiration.

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