Constantin-Louis Detouche

Constantin-Louis Detouche (1810-1889) born in Paris on 10th October 1810, he was the son of clockmaker Georges Detouche. He ran his father’s business until 1830 when he moved to 158-160 rue St. Martin, where he sold precision clocks, scientific instruments and jewellery.

The Maison Detouche was perhaps the most important French horological firm of its day, and won many distinctions and awards. At the 1862 Exposition de Nîmes, where Detouche received a gold medal, his firm was described as follows: “Horology was represented with dignity at the Nîmes exhibition. Above all, we shall cite the House of Detouche de Paris, founded in 1803; its business has increased annually and now retails in France and abroad more than 3 million francs worth of goods. In this figure horology, from precision items to those for domestic use represent more than 1,200,000 francs. M. Detouche has already received the most prestigious awards; I will just mention: the gold medal at the Exposition Universelle d’Horlogerie at Besançon in 1860, and the gold medal in London in 1862. He was awarded La Croix de la Légion d’Honneur for his contribution toward the progress in horology…, the Croix de Dannebrog was awarded to him by the King of Denmark for his electric clock. … The jury noted secondly a rocaille style regulator in gilt bronze of a remarkable taste, measuring 1m, 90;…The turnstiles placed at the exhibition and considered indispensable in France and abroad are also the invention of M. Detouche. All of the items shown by this company are to be noted for their modest prices, their elegance, their rich ornamentation and precision, and their skilled workmanship. The jury awards to M. Detouche a diplôme d’honneur.” (“Revue Chronométrique, 8th year, vol. IV, June 1862 – June 1863, “Exposition de Nîmes”, Paris, 1862, pp. 605-609). Detouche was appointed official clockmaker to Emperor Napoleon III.

As an ingenious mechanic and creative inventor, Detouche registered many patents. One, dated 30th December 1844, was for a new type of alarm clock with mobile keys. From 1845 to 1859 Detouche’s foreman was Jacques-François Houdin (1783-1860). The father-in-law of the inventor, horologist and magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin (1805-71) Houdin came from Blois but moved to Paris at the request of Abraham-Louis Breguet. Houdin’s work was remarkable, and he contributed to the reputation of the Detouche firm. Houdin created and perfected special escapements and compensating pendulums for regulators and astronomical clocks, while also improving machinery used for making wheels and pinions.

The Maison Detouche took part in the London Exhibition of 1851, displaying a several precision pieces, including regulators and chronometers; they were awarded a Prize Medal. Among their exhibits was an exceptional astronomical gilt brass wall regulator. The following year Detouche patented a pendulum suspension system, an electro-magnetic clock (along with F. Brisbard-Gobert), and a new striking mechanism (with Houdin). In 1855 Detouche took part in the Paris Universal Exhibition, where he received a gold medal. That same year he donated a master clock with electro-mechanical escapement and a receiver clock (shown at the 1855 Paris Universal Exhibition) as well as a collection of six complex demonstration escapements to the Paris Conservatoire Impérial des Arts et Métiers.

In May 1856 he and Houdin took out a patent for an electric dial for use on gas lanterns. Very popular, his electrical clocks were owned by such illustrious figures as Paul Casimir Garnier and Napoleon III. Detouche took part in the Exhibition of Besançon in 1860, where he obtained a gold medal. That success was followed by gold medals obtained at the 1862 Universal Exhibition in London and the 1863 Exposition générale of Nîmes, where he also won gold medals. In April 1864 Detouche registered a patent (with Chéradame) for the nocturnal lighting of clock dials. In 1866 he patented an alarm clock with a spherical case and a mechanism for use in so-called mystery clocks.

Among Detouche’s other creations, one notes two large astronomical regulators bearing indications of the days, months and dates, sunrise and sunset time, the equation of time, moonrise and moonset, lunar phases and age, barometer and thermometer, and the time in several cities, displayed on fourteen subsidiary dials. One of these regulators long stood at the corner of the rue Saint-Martin and the rue de Rivoli; it is now housed in the François-Paul Journe SA Manufacture in Geneva. Other important pieces include an “Ephéméridal” regulator, which at midnight shows the planets’ daily positions, and an 1851 astronomic clock indicating the date, day, month of the year, equation of time and the times of sunset and sunrise.

Detouche’s success allowed him to buy land and build a house in Villemomble (east of Paris) in 1850. He became mayor of Villemomble, modernising the town, improving its water supply, and purchasing a small château that he made into the town hall and school. In recognition of Detouche’s services the French government made him a Knight of the Legion of Honour. Villemomble honoured their clockmaker-mayor with an imposing mausoleum in the town cemetery, and a street named after him.