Peter Stretch

Early colonial watch

Peter Stretch is one of the most important names in American horology and one of the first clock makers to immigrate to America. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1703 and the Stretch family of makers became renowned clockmakers for much of the century. This is the only known Stretch-signed watch and indicates that they additionally sold and repaired watches. It was very likely imported from England as a complete watch, ordered by Stretch to his desired quality finish for a wealthy customer. It is possible that the watch was finished in America, but there is no evidence to support it.

Very few American-signed watches exist from the early 18th century; I'm aware of three prior to 1750 John Wright, Samuel Bagnall and this watch by Peter Stretch.

The nicely finished gilded movement has a fusee and verge escapement, square baluster pillars and pierced and broad symmetrical balance table and foot. It is signed Petr Stretch Philadelphia on the movement and has no serial number. The silver champlevé dial is signed Stretch Philadelphia.

Peter Stretch Pocket Watch
Peter Stretch Pocket Watch

Full hallmarks (place of assay, silver content, date, and case maker or sponsor) on watches from this early period are rare. The inner pair case on this watch has only an incuse makers' mark: "ER" (double struck) with a (partial) coronet above for E. Renou of Southwark, registered in London in 1735. Priestley's reference for the entry is Grimwade, A.G. London Goldsmiths 1697 - 1837, Faber & Faber, 1976. The outer case is unmarked.

E. Renou Casemaker

ER Case Maker's Mark for E. Renou

Colonial Watch
Above: Samuel Bagnall, Boston. Below: Peter Stretch, Philadelphia

Dating this watch has been a topic of discussion since it first appeared at auction in 2018. For comparison purposes, the Samuel Bagnall movement (1741-42) is shown above the Stretch in this photograph. Both are similar in quality, size, layout, embellishments and engraving style. However, the Stretch watch has slightly sloped baluster pillars (not shown), a broader balance cock foot, and dual sets of index lines with five-minute markers on the dial. These and other observations and research point to manufacture in the 1730's.

Charles Canby Silversmith
H.R. Freeman Silversmith

Three watch papers found within the case. Two are from Charles Canby, Wilmington, Delaware and third is H.R. Freeman of West Chester, Pennsylvania. The Freeman watch paper has a repair date for 1862 giving evidence that the Stretch watch was still being used as a timekeeper well over 100 years after its manufacture.

Special thanks to the owner for providing permission to display this rare watch on colonialwatches.com

Additional References and recommended reading:

  • Lita Solis-Cohen, Discovery: A Peter Stretch Watch, Maine Antique Digest, November 2018

  • Donald Fennimore and Frank Hohmann II, Stretch, America's First Family of Clockmakers, The Henry Francis duPont Winterthur Museum, Inc. & Hohmann Holdings LLC, 2013

  • Philip Priestley, British Watchcase Gold & Silver Marks 1670 to 1970, National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors, 2018

  • Jay Robert Stiefel, The Cabinetmaker's Account: John Head's Record of Craft & Commerce in Colonial Philadelphia, 1718–1753, American Philosophical Society Press, 2019