Julien Le Roy France, 1686-1759

Julien and his eldest son, Pierre Le Roy both played a major role in the development of French horology. The standard of which, during Louis XIV's reign had fallen below that of the English, however Julien Le Roy was to alter this disparity. Through his friend, Henry Sully (1680-1728) he had met many English craftsmen working in France and was sufficiently inspired to emulate their skill. Soon other French makers followed his example thus raising the status and standard of French watch and clockmaking and increasingly undermining the English supremacy.


Julien can be considered as the first of a great line of horologists. He was born in Tours, France; in 1699 he was apprenticed to the Parisian, Alexander Le Bon and in 1713 was made a master clockmaker. In 1739 he was appointed 'Horologer du Roi', with lodgings at the Louvre. He created some extremely fine clocks for Louis XV such as a clock with case in Boulle marquetry for the Palais de Fontainebleau. His clock and watch cases were varied but generally in keeping with rococo ornament. Some clocks were surrounded by porcelain figures in a floral arbour. He employed some of the finest craftsmen for the decoration of work, such as the firm of Boulle or the enamellers Huauds who painted the cases of some of his pocket watches, examples of which can be found at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Guildhall, London. Le Roy also commissioned the famous caster and chiseller, Jacques Caffieri (1673-1755) to create ornamental frames, for example a cartel clock in a gilt bronze case, 1745-9 (J. P. Getty Museum, California). Another Le Roy cartel clock and a travelling clock can be seen at the National Museum of Stockholm. Le Roy's innovations were many, among them he devised a new horizontal layout for turret clocks. He also made new types of repeater watches and adopted George Graham's (1673-1751) cylinder escapement which led to the reduction of a watch's thickness, further developed by Jean-Antoine Lepine (1720-1814) and Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823). Le Roy, like both Lepine and Breguet introduced an era of unsurpassed craftsmanship and ingenuity coupled with high finish.


His son, Pierre Le Roy continued the tradition of excellence and with Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807), was a pioneer in the development of the French chronometer. Pierre was also one of the first to create a successful marine time keeper. He gained his mastership in 1737, and suceeded his father as clockmaker to Louis XV. In 1748 he presented the Academic Royale des Sciences with an innovatory instrument for keeping time at sea and in 1766 presented Louis XV with his final and revised solution. The instrument, now in the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, Paris is considered the most perfect and important in the history of horology; for though John Harrison had already produced a successful marine timekeeper, Le Roy's proved to be of more lasting value. Following the death of Pierre Le Roy, 1785 other family members ran the firm, including his brother, Jean-Baptiste with whom he shared lodgings in the Louvre. Among other notable members was Basile-Charles Le Roy (master clockmaker, 1788-1825), clockmaker to Napoleon, Madame Mere, the King of Westphalia, Princess Pauline and Due de Bourbon. The firm of Le Roy are still in business and as clockmakers to the Paris Observatory aspire to maintain the same standard set by their former members, Julien and his son, Pierre Le Roy.


Copyright by Richard Redding Antiques Ltd.