Hit the big time

Bonhams sold this 1693 Thomas Tompion clock for £1.9 million, James Stratton of Bonhams
We talk to James Stratton of Bonhams auction house in London about the fascinating world of collectable clocks

Bonhams is the only international auction house to hold specialist sales of fine antique clocks, and for the past 30 years James Stratton has been the driving force behind the department. Here he gives us an insight into their appeal.

‘A clock is one of those rare things that allows us to hear the same sound our ancestors heard - when a 300-year-old clock ticks and strikes its bell on the hour, you know the same sound was heard by its original owner in 1724. It is a direct link to the past, played out for us twenty-four hours a day.’ Here, James answers some of the most common questions about buying and selling antique clocks.

What makes one clock more valuable than another?
There are numerous factors that come together to decide the auction price: the maker, size, case material, originality, rarity, condition and complications to the clock’s movement are just some. Having a famous former owner always adds something too.

Which clocks are most popular?
Clocks by makers from London or Paris tend to fetch the highest prices. Historically, this was where the most lucrative markets were, so they attracted the best makers. However, there are always exceptions - some provincial clockmakers were as good as any from the capitals.

What types of clocks are most popular at the moment?
Buyers are looking for quality and originality above all else. Large brass carriage clocks by English makers are particularly popular, as are marine chronometers (extremely accurate clocks that were used on ships) and 17thcentury bracket clocks (which would sit on a shelf or bracket). Some of the 18th-century clocks made for the Chinese market are highly sought after too.

How should I go about getting a valuation for my clock?
You can send pictures and any background information you have about the clock to the email address clocks@bonhams.com, and I will reply with a provisional auction valuation. Demand is constantly changing for different sorts of antique clocks, so it is a good idea to have a revaluation every five or ten years, particularly for insurance purposes. This is a free service.

I want to sell a clock but it no longer works, should I get it repaired and restored?
Probably not. Most of our buyers are enthusiasts who love to carry out the work themselves. If the clock has recently been restored by someone else, you’ve taken away their fun!

How do I send the clock to Bonhams for sale?
We have an extensive network in the UK and representatives in Europe and America. Our UK branches will transport the clock to London free of charge. In certain circumstances I can arrange to visit you at home, and might be able to transport the clock myself. Again, this is a free service.

My clock isn’t very old - could it still be worth selling?
Absolutely. Two modern brands that are keenly sought after are Patek Philippe and Jaeger-LeCoultre.

What is the most expensive clock you have sold?
In 1693 Thomas Tompion made a miniature clock for Queen Mary. It sold at auction in 1993 for £441,000, and in 2019 I sold it for £1,900,000.