Bras en L'air Pocket Watch, c. 1825
Some clocks are famous for having moving figures of people or animals, but watches sometimes had moving figures of their own. On this example, the arms of the Roman soldier serve as the hands of the watch. Normally, his arms rest at his sides, but when the watch pendant is pressed down, his arms spring up to show the current time. His left arm points to the hour, and his right arm points to the minute. The soldier also provides the second hand: his head turns back and forth in time with the balance wheel (the equivalent of a clock's pendulum).
The name "bras en l'air" refers to a whole genre of watches made in the late eighteenth century and into the first half of the nineteenth century. It literally means "arms in the air". The central figure was not always a soldier; it could be a female figure, or some combination of several figures. In this case, the Roman soldier looks somewhat out of place with the much later country scene painted on the dial behind him.
Donated by Dr. Robert Ravel, NAWCC #2568
October 21, 2005
Copyright © 2005 National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors