PortandTerminal.com, March 29, 2020
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – If you are a serious collector of maritime objects then it’s a sure bet that you have come across ship’s clocks made by Sestrel.
Sestrel clocks are a widely sought after item by maritime collectors and rightly so. Beautiful, rugged and functional – the chrome and brass clocks were designed for seagoing duty during both wartime and peacetime. They also are still reasonably affordable, so if you are interested in collecting maritime items then they might just be for you.
Sestrel was a brand name of clock made by an English company called Henry Browne and Son Ltd. The company specialized in making aviation and nautical compasses, clocks and dials. During World War 2 the company manufactured compasses for aircraft notably, Spitfires, Tiger moths and Concorde.
The company’s founder, Henry Browne, was born in Lewis, Sussex in 1842 and died in Barking, England in 1935. The company he founded was a well respected English instrument maker that had been making and selling fine quality compasses, ship’s clocks, inclinometers, sextants, and chandlery items for over 140 years.
While the company went through a boom period in the 1970s it collapsed in the 1980s due to the popularity of cheaper plastic compasses over traditional brass and chrome ones.
Maritime war nerds that we are, our favorite item by the company are the Sestrel wartime radio room clocks. Here’s an example of one we found (and purchased) at an antique shop in Halifax, Nova Scotia for just $US 300.
Note the two segments on the clock’s face that are in red. Those are there to remind the radio operator that twice an hour, they had to observe radio silence.
After the sinking of Titanic, the Radio Act 1912 was enacted, requiring 24-hour watches at sea. This led to clocks with this type of design. Ship radio operators had to maintain “silent periods” when they would not transmit and instead, listen for distress calls.
This allowed any station with distress, urgent or safety traffic the best chance of being heard at that time, even if they were at some distance from other stations, operating on reduced battery power or perhaps reduced antenna efficiency, as for example from a dismasted vessel.
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