Tagalong Timepieces

Before mobile phones, travel clocks were the go-to for high rollers on the road — and they’re still moving in today’s market.

April 2, 2024  |  Joshua Hendren

The travel clock — a timepiece purpose-built for adventure — harkens back to a golden era of luxury travel. These small, durable objets are traditionally fitted with a leather case and sliding or hinge mechanism to protect the dial when on the move. They were the ideal companions for long voyages aboard ocean liners or vacations that stretched over months.

These nostalgic designs “serve as both a functional accessory and a beautiful, often very personal object which accompanies the owner on their travels,” according to Henry Bailey, head of the jewelry department at Christie’s London. The auction house has sold a number of travel clocks since its founding in 1766.

Fast-forward to today, and travel clocks are experiencing quite the renaissance on the secondhand market. Those from the Art Deco era and into the mid-20th century — before the invention of modern alarm clocks and mobile phones — are in highest demand. “Popular examples we have sold have come from the main jewelry and watchmaking houses, such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Movado,” Bailey reports.

Van Cleef & Arpels ruby and gold travel clock.
(Christie’s Images Ltd., 2024)

It’s not just vintage editions that customers are seeking, either. Several companies have focused on giving the travel clock a contemporary twist. Louis Vuitton has housed a golden brass version in its signature monogrammed canvas trunk, and Swiss maison Chopard has drawn inspiration from Italy’s Mille Miglia car race to create a racing-inspired table version.

“Buyers today of these clocks are wide-ranging,” says Bailey. “There is demand for vintage examples in great condition, which collectors use either as decorative objects or as an alternative to the mobile phone by their bedside.”

Travel clock timeline

300 BCE
Already in this century, small solar clocks would accompany Roman scholars and armies so they could estimate the remaining time before nightfall.

On all of French King Louis XI’s journeys, an officer would have the job of accompanying a clock that struck the hour. It would sit in a protective chest carried by a horse.

Traveling timepieces gave rise to the carriage clock, which peaked during this century.

Jaeger-LeCoultre launched the Ados and Indos travel clocks, available with or without an alarm function.

Louis Vuitton put out the Tambour Moon Dual Time, a GMT travel clock that fits into a monogrammed canvas trunk.

Main image: Cartier Ermeto enamel and gold travel clock. (Christie’s Images Ltd. 2024)

This article is from the March-April 2024 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.

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