The Mysteries of Time

Timepieces that stopped history

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April 2024

Timepieces that stopped history

The work of Swiss author and photographer Luc Debraine is currently exhibited at Watches and Wonders and the subject of a fascinating book. All around the world, he has captured images of fifty watches that stopped – each marking a moment in history. A preview.


rom Venice to Arles, with a detour to the bottom of the Atlantic, Swiss author and photographer Luc Debraine has captured images of fifty watches that stopped – each marking a moment in history. He was kind enough to share five of his new book’s photos with us, along with his reflections. They will certainly whet your appetite for the rest of the collection, published by Editions Noir sur Blanc.

Dresden, air raid, 13 February 1945. Midnight.

This travel watch, dating from 1740, was housed in the mathematics and physics room of the Zwinger complex in Dresden. It was damaged in the devastating fire bombing campaign launched by the Allied air forces on 13 February 1945. Since then it has remained imprisoned inside its melted metal casing, forever motionless.

Novaya Zemlya, midwinter, 3 December 1596, 2 am.

This Gothic clock was part of the expedition led by Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz who, towards the end of the 16th century, set out to discover the Northeast Passage. Trapped in the ice, the crew were forced to spend the winter on the island of Novaya Zemlya. This clock was the only way they were able to tell day from night. Sadly, one night, the clock froze solid. It was discovered three centuries later and now lives in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Titanic, shipwreck, 15 April 1912, 6.08 am.

This pocket watch belonged to Albert Wirz, a young farmer from the Zurich Oberland region. He boarded the Titanic in 1912, hoping to settle in Wisconsin. After the Titanic sank his body was recovered and his personal effects were sent to his family in Switzerland. This watch went to the archives of his hometown of Uster.

The flooding of Lake Resia, 1950, 6.30 am.

The bell tower of the Romanesque church of Curon Venosta is still visible above the waters of Lake Resia in the South Tyrol region of northern Italy. After the construction of a dam In 1950, the village and the valley in which it sat were flooded. According to local legend, the bells can still be heard when the lake freezes over. From the north shore the clock appears to read half-past six, but it is in fact a deep gouge in the stone.

Château de Chillon, Switzerland, mechanical fault, summer 2017, 4.55 am.

The great clock of the Château de Chillon gave up the ghost in 2017. One of the earliest mechanisms of its kind in the Canton of Vaud, it was installed in the 16th century by the Bernese occupier to cement his dominance. If you can control time, you can control minds. Because of the high cost of repair, it remains silent. Indeed, this photo was taken during the Covid-19 lockdown, when many things fell silent.

Les Garde-Temps by Luc Debraine, with a preface by Etienne Klein
Editions Noir sur Blanc | 124 pages | 29 €

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