A fine mahogany case tall clock with break arch bonnet and a genuine vitreous enamel dial signed "Frans, de la Balle / London."  YY-34

Francis de LA Balle is listed in Brian Loomes’ “Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World” as working in London in 1743 and also in 1755. Damon Di Mauro, a researcher and contributor to the NAWCC’s Bulletin suggests that he may have been of Huguenot extraction, coming from a Wallonie (now Belgium) clockmaking family. The dating clues provided by the case form and this very unusual choice dial form suggest that de LA Balle was at work from the 1760s through the 1780s. By the time he had set up shop, the city of London had been the leading center of clockmaking for more than 75 years. As a result, clocks made there were of the latest style or fashion and often of the best quality.

Tall case clocks that feature vitreous enamel dials are very difficult to find in the marketplace. This would have been a new dial form experimented with as early as the mid-1750s. Along with the later development of painted iron dials, it was a substitute or replacement for the expensive composite brass dial form. These new dial formats offered the advantages of being much easier to read and allowed the introduction of colors. We suspect that very few of these vitreous enamel dials were made, and even fewer have survived due to their fragile nature. Manufacturing this type of dial requires a complex and time-consuming process. The vitreous dial was constructed from glass powder that was fused onto a copper base at high temperatures. This process requires at least two separate firings before the painted decoration can be applied. Once decorated, the dial was again re-fired at a low temperature. All of this was supported by a brass frame or substructure. The very nature of these dials being enamel would put them at significant risk due to their large size. Due to their smaller size requirements, a more widespread application for this dial form was used on pocket watches and the occasional use on bracket clocks of the period. A small number of tall clocks are known to us that feature this dial form. Four of these are signed by the London Clockmakers Samuel Toulmin and James Upjohn. Another example is known as signed by a Sheffield clockmaker, Thomas Andrews.

This is a very attractive example. This case exhibits terrific figured mahogany wood selections throughout its construction. The mahogany color is rich and warm and is pleasing to look over. The base is supported on four slightly compressed ogee bracket feet designed with a gentle flare. The lower base moldings are stepped and transition in an orderly fashion up to the base section. Here, a figured panel is centered and framed with applied molding. The framing is nicely shaped and features double round corners. This panel’s structure is constructed with vertically grained strips of wood joined together with a miter. The base section transitions up into the waist with molding. The waist is long and is fitted with a large, full-size waist door. This door is rectangularly shaped, and it is also trimmed with an applied molding. Through this door, one can access the drive weights and the brass-covered pendulum bob. The front corners of the waist are inset with fluted quarter columns that terminate in brass quarter capitals and bases. The waist section transitions to the hood with a second flared molding. The bonnet or hood is a break arch form. This double molding design is separated by a blind or solid wood frieze. The large cove molding is deeply carved. The break in the center provides space for a finial plinth. The center finial is mounted atop this location. Two additional brass ball and spiked finials are mounted on the outside corners of the hood. Wooden stopped, and fluted bonnet columns visually support the arched molding. These are mounted in brass capitals. The top capitals are Corinthian form. The lower capitals are a Doric shape. The bonnet door is arched and fitted with glass. It opens to access the dial.

As is the London tradition, five turned pillars or posts support the two large cast brass plates. Hardened steel shafts support the polished steel pinions and the brass gearing. The works incorporate a recoil escapement and a rack and snail striking arrangement. This clock strikes each hour on a bell mounted above the works. The winding drums are grooved to accept the weight cords in an orderly fashion. All of this is powered by two brass-sleeved weights. The movement is secured to a wooden seatboard that sits on the rails of the case. The pendulum hangs behind the mechanism from a bridge. A brass-faced lead bob is at the bottom of a metal rod.

This clock was made circa 1775 and stands approximately 7 feet 8 inches tall (92). This clock is 19 inches wide and 10.5 inches deep at the feet.

This clock is inventory number YY-34.

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