"Pocket Sundial"
Belgium, early 19th Century
10cm closed
Brass, silver chasing

 

As Europe became increasingly caught up in commerce and trade there was a growing need for accurate timepieces. Since miniature mechanical clockworks were frustratingly unreliable, watchmakers fell back on an older method of timekeeping, and suddenly pocket and wrist sundials were all the rage. The "Railroad" model shown here had no moving parts other than the flip-up gnomon and was consequently quite durable as well as extremely accurate. The Swiss company Time Rex marketed them under the slogan: "Takes a stunning and keeps on sunning." Later improvements allowed the use of these clever devices even at night, with a streetlight, gas lamp or even a patent cigar lighter as a source of illumination.

Models were available for both gentlemen and ladies, although the gnomons on the latter were so small that the sundials were regarded more as jewelry items than timepieces, especially when liberally studded with precious stones.

 

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