Prix Gaïa 2015 – Jonathan Betts. History-Research category

The Gaïa prize jury wished to recognize the essential contribution made by Jonathan Betts to the history of time measurement, in particular in the field of British horology and marine chronometers.

Hailing from a family of watchmakers, Jonathan Betts trained at the British Horological Institute. Born in Suffolk on 29th January 1955, Jonathan Betts is Emeritus Curator at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich – National Maritime Museum (NMM). He is a respected expert on the first marine timepieces of John Harrison.


Jonathan Betts is a Curator Emeritus at Royal Museums, Greenwich. He was appointed Senior Horology Conservator in 1979, Senior Curator of Horology in 2000 and retired from full time employment in 2015. He is a Fellow, and Vice President of the British Horological Institute, Vice Chairman of the Antiquarian Horological Society, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, a Fellow of the International Institute for Conservation and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 1998 he was made a Huntington Fellow of the Mariners Museum, Virginia, for his cataloguing of the marine chronometer collection there. In 2014 he was Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers and is currently Deputy Master, as well as Curatorial Adviser to the Clockmakers Company Museum.

His research focuses on the history of clocks, watches and chronometers, with a particular interest in precision chronometry and its use in navigation, as well as in the determination of longitude at sea. We are indebted to him for his contribution to the museography of marine chronometers, as well as the clocks and unique pieces in the collection of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, including the four famous marine chronometers of John Harrison, and for bringing these into the public sphere.

Other freelance roles include being Horological Advisor to the National Trust of Great Britain, Advisor to the Harris (Belmont) Charity, and to the Wallace Collection (London). For many years he served on the Clocks Conservation Committee of the Council for the Care of Churches, and is the Clocks Adviser for the Diocese of Southwark, London. He has served for several years on the Clocks Vetting Committee of the British Antique Dealers Association (BADA) Fair in Chelsea, and is the Chairman of the Clocks Vetting Committee of Masterpiece Fair (London). He has been a Member of Committee of Honour of the Swiss Chronometer Trials (the Concours International de Chronometrie) since 2010.

Over the last 40 years he has given regular lectures on Horology and Conservation, organizing and speaking at the NMM conference Horological Conservation and Restoration in 1988. He has been a regular lecturer at West Dean College, at museum seminars and to horological and heritage groups. He has made regular radio and tv appearances speaking on horological matters and is a frequent correspondent in the horological press. He was Harrison and Gould adviser to the drama documentary film Longitude (Granada 2000), and provided the idea and some of the script for the highly successful last episode of the TV sit-com (UK), ‘Only Fools and Horses’, Time on their Hands, in 1996.

In 1989 he was awarded the National Maritime Museum's Callender Award, in 2002 the Clockmakers’ Company’s Harrison Gold Medal, in 2008 the BHI Barrett Silver Medal, in 2012 an MBE in the Queen’s Jubilee honours ‘For Services to Horology’, and the same year the Chinese BQ ‘Watch Culture’ award from the Beijing-based watch journal BQ. In 2013 he was awarded the Plowden Medal by the Royal Warrant Holder’s Association for his contribution to Horology Conservation.

He has just completed a catalogue of the collection of marine chronometers at the NMM, due to be published by Oxford University Press in 2016.

Publications (selection)

  • Thomas Mudge and the Double Mainspring System, Horological Journal Vol.125, No.3, September 1982, pp.21-24.
  • Problems in the Conservation of Clocks and Watches, The Conservator Vol.x, 1985, pp.36-44.
  • The National Trust Guide to Clocks, Octopus Books, London, 1985
  • Pagoda Style Turret Clocks, A Guide to Turret Clock Research, AHS, 1991, pp.43-49.
  • The Eighteenth Century Transits of Venus, The Voyages of Captain James Cook and the early development of the Marine Chronometer, Antiquarian Horology Vol.21, Autumn 1993, pp.60-69
  • Harrison, (biographical booklet) National Maritime Museum, 1993
  • Lord Polwarth's Travelling Clock, NACF Review, 1994, pp.119-120.
  • Cleaning & Lubrication, (Chapter) Conservation of Clocks and Watches, British Horological Institute, Upton, 1995 pp.25-33
  • Arnold & Earnshaw, The Practicable solution, The Quest For Longitude, Harvard, 1996, pp. 312-328
  • Josiah Emery, Watchmaker of Charing Cross, Antiquarian Horology (5 sequential Parts), from Vol.22, No.5, 1996.
  • The Double clocks by Daniel Quare, Antiquarian Horology No.1, Vol 24 (Spring 1998) pp. 30-35.
  • The Astronomical Longcase Clock by Edward Cockey, (Chapter) Edward Cockey... David Pollard, Bedeguar Books, 1998, pp. 85-97
  • In Step with Time (Chapter) ORO Collections Guide, NMM 1998, pp.26-43 Clockwork Globes (Chapter) Globes at Greenwich, OUP, 1999, pp. 59-67
  • The Growth of Modern Timekeeping (Chapter) Story of Time Catalogue of the NMM exhibition, Merrel Holberton 1999, pp.134-167.
  • Clocks and our Heritage, Tower Clocks, Council for the Care of Churches, London 1999, pp.7-20
  • Tompion’s Workmen’s Clocks Antiquarian Horology No.2, Vol.26 (June 2001) pp.165-174.
  • The Roadshow Chronometer (Thomas Mudge), Horological Journal, Vol.144, No.8, p276
  • Finding and Keeping Time, Precision Pendulum Clocks (Roberts), Schiffer, USA, 2003,pp. 9-13
  • The Regulators of Thomas Earnshaw, English Precision Pendulum Clocks (Roberts) Schiffer,USA, 2003, pp. 55-67
  • John Hyacinth de Magellan: Horological & Scientific Agent, Antiquarian Horology, Vol.27, No.5, Sept 2003, pp.509-517 + Vol.28, No.2, June 2004, pp.173-183.
  • Clocks and Watches (Chapter) The Manual of Housekeeping, The National Trust, London, 2005
  • Time Restored (Biography of R.T.Gould), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006.
  • Science and the Pendulum and The Significance of H4 (Chapters) in BHI 150, BHI, Upton, 2010
  • The Story of the Marine Chronometer, (Chapter) in Derek Pratt, Watchmaker, BHI, Upton, 2012
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