A marine chronometer is a precision timepiece that is carried on a ship and employed in the determination of the ship's position by celestial navigation. It is used to determine longitude by comparing Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the time at the current location found from observations of celestial bodies. When first developed in the 18th century, it was a major technical achievement, as accurate knowledge of the time over a long sea voyage is necessary for navigation, lacking electronic or communications aids. The first true chronometer was the life work of one man, John Harrison, spanning 31 years of persistent experimentation and testing that revolutionized naval (and later aerial) navigation and enabling the Age of Discovery and Colonialism to accelerate.
The term chronometer was coined from the Greek words χρόνος (chronos) (meaning time) and meter (meaning measure) in 1714 by Jeremy Thacker, an early competitor for the prize set by the Longitude Act in the same year.It has recently become more commonly used to describe watches tested and certified to meet certain precision standards. Timepieces made in Switzerland may display the word "certified chronometer" or "officially certified chronometer" only if certified by the COSC (Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute).
To determine a position on the Earth's surface, it is necessary and sufficient to know the latitude, longitude, and altitude. Altitude considerations can naturally be ignored for vessels operating at sea level. Until the mid-1750s, accurate navigation at sea out of sight of land was an unsolved problem due to the difficulty in calculating longitude. Navigators could determine their latitude by measuring the sun's angle at noon (i.e., when it reached its highest point in the sky, or culmination) or, in the Northern Hemisphere, to measure the angle of Polaris (the North Star) from the horizon (usually during twilight). To find their longitude, however, they needed a time standard that would work aboard a ship. Observation of regular celestial motions, such as Galileo's method based on observing Jupiter's natural satellites, was usually not possible at sea due to the ship's motion. The lunar distances method, initially proposed by Johannes Werner in 1514, was developed in parallel with the marine chronometer. The Dutch scientist Gemma Frisius was the first to propose the use of a chronometer to determine longitude in 1530.
The purpose of a chronometer is to measure accurately the time of a known fixed location, for example Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). This is particularly important for navigation. Knowing GMT at local noon allows a navigator to use the time difference between the ship's position and the Greenwich Meridian to determine the ship's longitude. As the Earth rotates at a regular rate, the time difference between the chronometer and the ship's local time can be used to calculate the longitude of the ship relative to the Greenwich Meridian (defined as 0°) using spherical trigonometry. In modern practice, a nautical almanac and trigonometric sight-reduction tables permit navigators to measure the Sun, Moon, visible planets, or any of 57 selected stars for navigation at any time that the horizon is visible.
The creation of a timepiece which would work reliably at sea was difficult. Until the 20th century, the best timekeepers were pendulum clocks, but both the rolling of a ship at sea and the up to 0.2% variations in the gravity of Earth made a simple gravity-based pendulum useless both in theory and in practice.
Christiaan Huygens, following his invention of the pendulum clock in 1656, made the first attempt at a marine chronometer in 1673 in France, under the sponsorship of Jean-Baptiste Colbert.In 1675, Huygens, who was receiving a pension from Louis XIV, invented a chronometer that employed a balance wheel and a spiral spring for regulation, instead of a pendulum, opening the way to marine chronometers and modern pocket watches and wristwatches. He obtained a patent for his invention from Colbert, but his clock remained imprecise at sea. Huygens' attempt in 1675 to obtain an English patent from Charles II stimulated Robert Hooke, who claimed to have conceived of a spring-driven clock years earlier, to attempt to produce one and patent it. During 1675 Huygens and Hooke each delivered two such devices to Charles, but none worked well and neither Huygens nor Hooke received an English patent. It was during this work that Hooke formulated what is known as Hooke's Law.
The first published use of the term was in 1684 in Arcanum Navarchicum, a theoretical work by Kiel professor Matthias Wasmuth. This was followed by a further theoretical description of a chronometer in works published by English scientist William Derham in 1713. Derham's principal work, Physico-theology, or a demonstration of the being and attributes of God from his works of creation, also proposed the use of vacuum sealing to ensure greater accuracy in the operation of clocks.Attempts to construct a working marine chronometer were begun by Jeremy Thacker in England in 1714, and by Henry Sully in France two years later. Sully published his work in 1726 with Une Horloge inventée et executée par M. Sulli, but neither his nor Thacker's models were able to resist the rolling of the seas and keep precise time while in shipboard conditions.
In 1714, the British government offered a longitude prize for a method of determining longitude at sea, with the awards ranging from £10,000 to £20,000 (£2 million to £4 million in 2021 terms) depending on accuracy. John Harrison, a Yorkshire carpenter, submitted a project in 1730, and in 1735 completed a clock based on a pair of counter-oscillating weighted beams connected by springs whose motion was not influenced by gravity or the motion of a ship. His first two sea timepieces H1 and H2 (completed in 1741) used this system, but he realised that they had a fundamental sensitivity to centrifugal force, which meant that they could never be accurate enough at sea. Construction of his third machine, designated H3, in 1759 included novel circular balances and the invention of the bi-metallic strip and caged roller bearings, inventions which are still widely used. However, H3's circular balances still proved too inaccurate and he eventually abandoned the large machines.
Harrison solved the precision problems with his much smaller H4 chronometer design in 1761. H4 looked much like a large five-inch (12 cm) diameter pocket watch. In 1761, Harrison submitted H4 for the £20,000 longitude prize. His design used a fast-beating balance wheel controlled by a temperature-compensated spiral spring. These features remained in use until stable electronic oscillators allowed very accurate portable timepieces to be made at affordable cost. In 1767, the Board of Longitude published a description of his work in The Principles of Mr. Harrison's time-keeper. A French expedition under Charles-François-César Le Tellier de Montmirail performed the first measurement of longitude using marine chronometers aboard Aurore in 1767.
In France, 1748, Pierre Le Roy invented the detent escapement characteristic of modern chronometers.In 1766, he created a revolutionary chronometer that incorporated a detent escapement, the temperature-compensated balance and the isochronous balance spring: Harrison showed the possibility of having a reliable chronometer at sea, but these developments by Le Roy are considered by Rupert Gould to be the foundation of the modern chronometer. Le Roy's innovations made the chronometer a much more accurate piece than had been anticipated.
Ferdinand Berthoud in France, as well as Thomas Mudge in Britain also successfully produced marine timekeepers.Although none were simple, they proved that Harrison's design was not the only answer to the problem. The greatest strides toward practicality came at the hands of Thomas Earnshaw and John Arnold, who in 1780 developed and patented simplified, detached, "spring detent" escapements, moved the temperature compensation to the balance, and improved the design and manufacturing of balance springs. This combination of innovations served as the basis of marine chronometers until the electronic era.
The new technology was initially so expensive that not all ships carried chronometers, as illustrated by the fateful last journey of the East Indiaman Arniston, shipwrecked with the loss of 372 lives.However, by 1825, the Royal Navy had begun routinely supplying its vessels with chronometers.
It was common for ships at the time to observe a time ball, such as the one at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, to check their chronometers before departing on a long voyage. Every day, ships would anchor briefly in the River Thames at Greenwich, waiting for the ball at the observatory to drop at precisely 1pm.This practice was in small part responsible for the subsequent adoption of Greenwich Mean Time as an international standard. (Time balls became redundant around 1920 with the introduction of radio time signals, which have themselves largely been superseded by GPS time.) In addition to setting their time before departing on a voyage, ship chronometers were also routinely checked for accuracy while at sea by carrying out lunar or solar observations. In typical use, the chronometer would be mounted in a sheltered location below decks to avoid damage and exposure to the elements. Mariners would use the chronometer to set a so-called hack watch, which would be carried on deck to make the astronomical observations. Though much less accurate (and expensive) than the chronometer, the hack watch would be satisfactory for a short period of time after setting it (i.e., long enough to make the observations).
Although industrial production methods began revolutionizing watchmaking in the middle of the 19th century, chronometer manufacture remained craft-based much longer. Around the turn of the 20th century, Swiss makers such as Ulysse Nardin made great strides toward incorporating modern production methods and using fully interchangeable parts, but it was only with the onset of World War II that the Hamilton Watch Company in the United States perfected the process of mass production, which enabled it to produce thousands of its Hamilton Model 21 and Model 22 chronometers of World War Two for the United States Navy & Army and other Allied navies. Despite Hamilton's success, chronometers made in the old way never disappeared from the marketplace during the era of mechanical timekeepers. Thomas Mercer Chronometers is among the companies that continue to make them.
Without their accuracy and the accuracy of the feats of navigation that marine chronometers enabled, it is arguable that the ascendancy of the Royal Navy, and by extension that of the British Empire, might not have occurred so overwhelmingly; the formation of the empire by wars and conquests of colonies abroad took place in a period in which British vessels had reliable navigation due to the chronometer, while their Portuguese, Dutch, and French opponents did not.For example: the French were well established in India and other places before Britain, but were defeated by naval forces in the Seven Years' War.
The most complete international collection of marine chronometers, including Harrison's H1 to H4, is at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, in London, UK.
The crucial problem was to find a resonator that remained unaffected by the changing conditions met by a ship at sea. The balance wheel, harnessed to a spring, solved most of the problems associated with the ship's motion. Unfortunately, the elasticity of most balance spring materials changes relative to temperature. To compensate for ever-changing spring strength, the majority of chronometer balances used bi-metallic strips to move small weights toward and away from the centre of oscillation, thus altering the period of the balance to match the changing force of the spring. The balance spring problem was solved with a nickel-steel alloy named Elinvar for its invariable elasticity at normal temperatures. The inventor was Charles Édouard Guillaume, who won the 1920 Nobel Prize for physics in recognition for his metallurgical work.
The escapement serves two purposes. First, it allows the train to advance fractionally and record the balance's oscillations. At the same time, it supplies minute amounts of energy to counter tiny losses from friction, thus maintaining the momentum of the oscillating balance. The escapement is the part that ticks. Since the natural resonance of an oscillating balance serves as the heart of a chronometer, chronometer escapements are designed to interfere with the balance as little as possible. There are many constant-force and detached escapement designs, but the most common are the spring detent and pivoted detent. In both of these, a small detent locks the escape wheel and allows the balance to swing completely free of interference except for a brief moment at the centre of oscillation, when it is least susceptible to outside influences. At the centre of oscillation, a roller on the balance staff momentarily displaces the detent, allowing one tooth of the escape wheel to pass. The escape wheel tooth then imparts its energy on a second roller on the balance staff. Since the escape wheel turns in only one direction, the balance receives impulse in only one direction. On the return oscillation, a passing spring on the tip of the detent allows the unlocking roller on the staff to move by without displacing the detent. The weakest link of any mechanical timekeeper is the escapement's lubrication. When the oil thickens through age or temperature or dissipates through humidity or evaporation, the rate will change, sometimes dramatically as the balance motion decreases through higher friction in the escapement. A detent escapement has a strong advantage over other escapements as it needs no lubrication. An impulse from the escape wheel to the impulse roller is nearly dead-beat, meaning little sliding action needing lubrication. Chronometer escape wheels and passing springs are typically gold due to the metal's lower slide friction over brass and steel.
Chronometers often included other innovations to increase their efficiency and precision. Hard stones such as ruby and sapphire were often used as jewel bearings to decrease friction and wear of the pivots and escapement. Diamond was often used as the cap stone for the lower balance staff pivot to prevent wear from years of the heavy balance turning on the small pivot end. Until the end of mechanical chronometer production in the third quarter of the 20th century, makers continued to experiment with things like ball bearings and chrome-plated pivots.
Marine chronometers always contain a maintaining power which keeps the chronometer going while it is being wound, and a power reserve to indicate how long the chronometer will continue to run without being wound. Marine chronometers are the most accurate portable mechanical clocks ever made, achieving a precision of around a 0.1 second per day or less than one minute per year[ citation needed ]. This is accurate enough to locate a ship's position within 1–2 miles (2–3 km) after a month's sea voyage.
In strictly horological terms, "rating" a chronometer means that prior to the instrument entering service, the average rate of gaining or losing per day is observed and recorded on a rating certificate which accompanies the instrument. This daily rate is used in the field to correct the time indicated by the instrument to get an accurate time reading. Even the best-made chronometer with the finest temperature compensation etc. exhibits two types of error, (1) random and (2) consistent. The quality of design and manufacture of the instrument keeps the random errors small. In principle, the consistent errors should be amenable to elimination by adjustment, but in practice it is not possible to make the adjustment so precisely that this error is completely eliminated, so the technique of rating is used. The rate will also change while the instrument is in service due to e.g. thickening of the oil, so on long expeditions the instrument's rate would be periodically checked against accurate time determined by astronomical observations.
Ships and boats commonly use electronic aids to navigation, mostly the Global Navigation Satellite Systems. However celestial navigation, which requires the use of a precise chronometer, is still a requirement for certain international mariner certifications such as Officer in Charge of Navigational Watch, and Master and Chief Mate deck officers,and supplements offshore yachtmasters on long-distance private cruising yachts. Modern marine chronometers can be based on quartz clocks that are corrected periodically by GPS signals or radio time signals (see radio clock). These quartz chronometers are not always the most accurate quartz clocks when no signal is received, and their signals can be lost or blocked. However, there are quartz movements, even in wrist watches such as the Omega Marine Chronometer, that are accurate to within 5 or 20 seconds per year. At least one quartz chronometer made for advanced navigation utilizes multiple quartz crystals which are corrected by a computer using an average value, in addition to GPS time signal corrections.
A clock is a device used to measure, verify, keep, and indicate time. The clock is one of the oldest human inventions, meeting the need to measure intervals of time shorter than the natural units: the day, the lunar month, and the year. Devices operating on several physical processes have been used over the millennia.
John Harrison was a self-educated English carpenter and clockmaker who invented the marine chronometer, a long-sought-after device for solving the problem of calculating longitude while at sea.
A pendulum clock is a clock that uses a pendulum, a swinging weight, as its timekeeping element. The advantage of a pendulum for timekeeping is that it is a harmonic oscillator: It swings back and forth in a precise time interval dependent on its length, and resists swinging at other rates. From its invention in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens, inspired by Galileo Galilei, until the 1930s, the pendulum clock was the world's most precise timekeeper, accounting for its widespread use. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, pendulum clocks in homes, factories, offices, and railroad stations served as primary time standards for scheduling daily life, work shifts, and public transportation. Their greater accuracy allowed for the faster pace of life which was necessary for the Industrial Revolution. The home pendulum clock was replaced by less-expensive, synchronous, electric clocks in the 1930s and '40s. Pendulum clocks are now kept mostly for their decorative and antique value.
A pendulum is a weight suspended from a pivot so that it can swing freely. When a pendulum is displaced sideways from its resting, equilibrium position, it is subject to a restoring force due to gravity that will accelerate it back toward the equilibrium position. When released, the restoring force acting on the pendulum's mass causes it to oscillate about the equilibrium position, swinging back and forth. The time for one complete cycle, a left swing and a right swing, is called the period. The period depends on the length of the pendulum and also to a slight degree on the amplitude, the width of the pendulum's swing.
The longitude rewards were the system of inducement prizes offered by the British government for a simple and practical method for the precise determination of a ship's longitude at sea. The rewards, established through an Act of Parliament in 1714, were administered by the Board of Longitude.
Celestial navigation, also known as astronavigation, is the ancient and continuing modern practice of position fixing using stars and other celestial bodies that enables a navigator to accurately determine his or her actual current physical position in space without having to rely solely on estimated positional calculations, commonly known as "dead reckoning", made in the absence of GPS or other similar modern electronic or digital means.
The grasshopper escapement is a low-friction escapement for pendulum clocks invented by British clockmaker John Harrison around 1722. An escapement, part of every mechanical clock, is the mechanism that gives the clock's pendulum periodic pushes to keep it swinging, and each swing releases the clock's gears to move forward by a fixed amount, thus moving the hands forward at a steady rate. The grasshopper escapement was used in a few regulator clocks built during Harrison's time, and a few others over the years, but has never seen wide use. The term "grasshopper" in this connection, apparently from the kicking action of the pallets, first appears in the Horological Journal in the late 19th century.
An escapement is a mechanical linkage in mechanical watches and clocks that gives impulses to the timekeeping element and periodically releases the gear train to move forward, advancing the clock's hands. The impulse action transfers energy to the clock's timekeeping element to replace the energy lost to friction during its cycle and keep the timekeeper oscillating. The escapement is driven by force from a coiled spring or a suspended weight, transmitted through the timepiece's gear train. Each swing of the pendulum or balance wheel releases a tooth of the escapement's escape wheel, allowing the clock's gear train to advance or "escape" by a fixed amount. This regular periodic advancement moves the clock's hands forward at a steady rate. At the same time, the tooth gives the timekeeping element a push, before another tooth catches on the escapement's pallet, returning the escapement to its "locked" state. The sudden stopping of the escapement's tooth is what generates the characteristic "ticking" sound heard in operating mechanical clocks and watches. The first mechanical escapement, the verge escapement, was invented in medieval Europe during the 13th century, and was the crucial innovation which led to the development of the mechanical clock. The design of the escapement has a large effect on a timepiece's accuracy, and improvements in escapement design drove improvements in time measurement during the era of mechanical timekeeping from the 13th through the 19th century.
The vergeescapement is the earliest known type of mechanical escapement, the mechanism in a mechanical clock that controls its rate by allowing the gear train to advance at regular intervals or 'ticks'. Its origin is unknown. Verge escapements were used from the late 13th century until the mid 19th century in clocks and pocketwatches. The name verge comes from the Latin virga, meaning stick or rod.
A balance wheel, or balance, is the timekeeping device used in mechanical watches and small clocks, analogous to the pendulum in a pendulum clock. It is a weighted wheel that rotates back and forth, being returned toward its center position by a spiral torsion spring, known as the balance spring or hairspring. It is driven by the escapement, which transforms the rotating motion of the watch gear train into impulses delivered to the balance wheel. Each swing of the wheel allows the gear train to advance a set amount, moving the hands forward. The balance wheel and hairspring together form a harmonic oscillator, which due to resonance oscillates preferentially at a certain rate, its resonant frequency or 'beat', and resists oscillating at other rates. The combination of the mass of the balance wheel and the elasticity of the spring keep the time between each oscillation or ‘tick’ very constant, accounting for its nearly universal use as the timekeeper in mechanical watches to the present. From its invention in the 14th century until tuning fork and quartz movements became available in the 1960s, virtually every portable timekeeping device used some form of balance wheel.
Thomas Earnshaw was an English watchmaker who, following John Arnold's earlier work, further simplified the process of marine chronometer production, making them available to the general public. He is also known for his improvements to the transit clock at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in London and his invention of a chronometer escapement and a form of bimetallic compensation balance.
John Arnold was an English watchmaker and inventor.
A balance spring, or hairspring, is a spring attached to the balance wheel in mechanical timepieces. It causes the balance wheel to oscillate with a resonant frequency when the timepiece is running, which controls the speed at which the wheels of the timepiece turn, thus the rate of movement of the hands. A regulator lever is often fitted, which can be used to alter the free length of the spring and thereby adjust the rate of the timepiece.
The history of watches began in 16th-century Europe, where watches evolved from portable spring-driven clocks, which first appeared in the 15th century.
In mechanical horology, a remontoire is a small secondary source of power, a weight or spring, which runs the timekeeping mechanism and is itself periodically rewound by the timepiece's main power source, such as a mainspring. It was used in a few precision clocks and watches to place the source of power closer to the escapement, thereby increasing the accuracy by evening out variations in drive force caused by unevenness of the friction in the geartrain. In spring-driven precision clocks, a gravity remontoire is sometimes used to replace the uneven force delivered by the mainspring running down by the more constant force of gravity acting on a weight. In turret clocks, it serves to separate the large forces needed to drive the hands from the modest forces needed to drive the escapement which keeps the pendulum swinging. A remontoire should not be confused with a maintaining power spring, which is used only to keep the timepiece going while it is being wound.
A chronometer is a specific type of mechanical timepiece. In Switzerland, only timepieces certified by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) may use the word certified chronometer or officially certified chronometer on them. Outside Switzerland, equivalent bodies, such as the Japan Chronometer Inspection Institute, have in the past certified timepieces to the same internationally recognised standards, although use of the term has not always been strictly controlled.
The history of longitude is a record of the effort, by astronomers, cartographers and navigators over the centuries, to discover a means of determining longitude.
The history of timekeeping devices dates back to when ancient civilizations first observed astronomical bodies as they moved across the sky. Devices and methods for keeping time have since then improved through a long series of new inventions and ideas. Sundials and water clocks originated from ancient Egypt, and were later used by the Babylonians, the Greeks and the Chinese; medieval Islamic water clocks were unrivalled in their sophistication until the mid-14th century. Incense clocks, which may have been invented in India, were being used in China by the 6th century. The hourglass, one of the few reliable methods of measuring time at sea, was a European invention and does not seem to have been used in China before the mid-16th century.
Pierre Le Roy (1717–1785) was a French clockmaker. He was the inventor of the detent escapement, the temperature-compensated balance and the isochronous balance spring. His developments are considered as the foundation of the modern precision clock. Le Roy was born in Paris, eldest son of Julien Le Roy, a clockmaker to Louis XV who had worked with Henry Sully, in which place Pierre Le Roy succeeded his father. He had three brothers: Jean-Baptiste Le Roy (1720-1800), a physicist; Julien-David Le Roy (1724–1803), an architect; and Charles Le Roy (1726–1779), a physician and encyclopédiste.
The timeline of time measurement inventions is a chronological list of particularly important or significant technological inventions relating to timekeeping devices and their inventors, where known.
Dismissing other solutions to the longitude problem, Thacker wrote "In a word, I am satisfied that my Reader begins to think that the Phonometers, Pyrometers, Selenometers, Heliometers and all the Meters are not worthy to be compared to my Chronometer"
Chronometers were not regularly supplied to the Royal Navy until about 1825
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