04 Gaia2016 Roger Smith Histoire et Recherche

Prix Gaïa 2016 – Roger Smith. History-Research category

Roger Smith's research mainly focusses on the watchmaking world of 18th-century London and his work is characterised by his in-depth research on Anglo-Swiss exchanges and his expert knowledge of timepieces.

By Joel Grandjean

Republished under the kind permission of the Gaïa Prize

According to the official presentation «The jury of the Gaïa Prize paid tribute to Roger Smith for his major contribution to our knowledge of the watchmaking world of 18th-century London and Anglo-Swiss exchanges through his expert knowledge of timepieces».

Roger Smith

Roger Smith's career

After reading History at King's College London and International Relations at the London School of Economics, Roger Smith followed an unconventional career as a historian. He went on to research the world of the manufacture and sale of luxury goods in the Age of Enlightenment, focussing on watchmaking and the transfer of technical knowledge. He conducted in-depth research in the Anglo-Swiss watchmaking firm Vulliamy of London, active in the second half of the 18th century; at the same time, he worked on a major study of entrepreneur James Cox (1723-1800) and his competitors in the trade in clocks and watches from Europe to Asia. Focussing his research on the frequent exchanges of ideas and migration of craftsmen between Switzerland and England, Roger Smith's work has made a remarkable contribution to our understanding of the Pan-European context which characterised the manufacture of timepieces in that era. His work is thus an essential reference for any specialist in the history of 18th-century watchmaking; in recognition of this, in spring 2013, the University of Neuchâtel invited him as a guest speaker to give a series of lectures entitled "Manufacturers and Merchants: making and exporting clocks and other luxury goods in the 18th century". 

Roger Smith's research artfully combines his expert knowledge of the archival sources and his exceptional technical and aesthetic watchmaking expertise. A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London since 2006, this dual approach has led to his collaboration with many prestigious museums in London (the Victoria and Albert Museum; the British Museum; the Science Museum), and with auction houses, acting as an expert and adviser. Notably, he participated in the exhibition "SingSong: Treasures from the Forbidden City" at the Museum Speelklok, Utrecht in 2010-2011. Roger Smith has recently finished co-editing a publication entitled "The Life and Travels of James Upjohn" (the London clockmaker who lived from 1722-1795). 

Publications (a sample)


SMITH, Roger, «James’s Cox Silver Swan. An eighteenth century automaton in the Bowes Museum», Artéfact. Techniques, histoire et sciences humaines.

SMITH, Roger, «James Cox’s foreign workers: eighteenth century entrepreneurs and the international migration of technical skills», in: Penser la technique au 18e siècle, actes de la journée d’Auvernier, Fondation Maison Borel, 30 mars 2012, éd. par Rossella Baldi et Laurent Tissot, Neuchâtel: Alphil.

To read or re-read

2016 - SMITH, Roger and LEOPOLD, John (ed. by), The Life and Travels  of James Upjohn, London: Antiquarian Horological Society.

2013 - SMITH, Roger, «The export of clocks and similar luxury goods from Britain to China in the eighteenth century», in Yuan Ming Yuan. Qing Emperor's Splendid Gardens. Bright Images Design Co., Taiwan, 2013, pp. 23-27.

2008 - SMITH, Roger, «The sing-song Trade. Exporting clocks to China in the Eighteenth Century», Antiquarian Horology, March, p. 629-658.

2007 - SMITH, Roger and LEDGER, A.P., Benjamin Vulliamy and the Derby Porcelain Manufactory. 1784-1795, Derby: Derby Porcelain Archive Research, vol. 3.

2006 - SMITH Roger, «Mid-eighteenth Century Craftsmen Gray & Vulliamy Outworkers and Suppliers c. 1760», Antiquarian Horology, vol. 29, n. 3, p. 348-358.

2005 - SMITH, Roger and ZEK, Yuna, «Hermitage Peacock. How an Eighteenth century automata reached St. Petersbourg», Antiquarian Horology, vol 28, no 6, p. 699-715.

2004 - SMITH, Roger, «The Swiss Connection. International Networks in some Eighteenth-Century Luxury Trades», Journal of Design History, vol. 17, n. 2, p. 123-139.

2000 - SMITH, Roger, «James Cox (c.1723-1800): A Revised Biography», The Burlington Magazine, vol. 142, n. 1167, p. 353-361.

1998 - SMITH, Roger, «The Devil Tavern Group», Antiquarian Horology, vol. 24, n. 5, p. 427.

1997 - SMITH, Roger, Thompson, David, «Vulliamy Musical Clocks», Antiquarian Horology, vol. 22, n. 1, p. 66.

1996 - SMITH, Roger, «Fire At Thwaites,», Antiquarian Horology, vol. 23, n. 2, p. 172

1995 - SMITH Roger and THOMSON, David, «Two Vulliamy Watches with Royal Associations», Antiquarian Horology, vol. 22, n. 3, p. 230.

1993 - SMITH, Roger, «Vulliamy Clock Numbering», Antiquarian Horology, vol. 21, n. 5, p. 427.

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