Lepaute vs. Caron: Dispute 1753-54

Last updated on February 8, 2020

(English follows…)

J’ai écrit ce document chronologique (basé sur plusieurs sources) qui dresse un sommaire des interactions entre Jean-André Lepaute (1720-1788) et Pierre-Auguste Caron (1732-99) au sujet de l’invention de l’échappement “double-virgule” pour les montres. Lepaute avait tenté de s’approprier le rôle d’inventeur, ce qui avait été contesté par le jeune Caron (fils de l’horloger André-Charles Caron, et connu plus tard sous le nom de Beaumarchais). Caron avait fait appel à l’Académie Royale des Sciences qui avait étudié le dossier en profondeur, et s’était prononcé en faveur de Caron comme réel inventeur. Plusieurs lettres ouvertes entre Lepaute et Caron furent publiées dans le journal Mercure de France, ce qui fournit une perspective très intéressante sur cette dispute entre deux horlogers: Lepaute, horloger de renom et très réputé, et Caron, jeune apprenti qui défendait néanmoins très bien son point de vue. Plusieurs autres horlogers parisiens sont nommés ou impliqués dans l’affaire, et une table à la fin de ce document fournit certains détails sur eux.

I wrote this chronological document (in French, based on numerous sources) which summarizes interactions between Jean-André Lepaute (1720-1788) and Pierre-Auguste Caron (1732-99) dealing with the invention of the “double-virgule” escapement. Lepaute had tried to appropriate the role of inventor, which had been contested by young Caron (son of Parisian watchmaker André-Charles Caron, and better known later by the name Beaumarchais). Caron had called upon the Académie Royale des Sciences which had investigated the matter in depth, and concluded in favour of Caron as the true inventor. Many open letters between Lepaute and Caron were published in the newspaper Mercure de France, which offer a very interesting perspective on the the dispute between two watchmakers: Lepaute, of great renown and reputation, and Caron, a young apprentice who nevertheless defended his point of view very well. Many other Parisian watchmakers were named or involved in this affair, and a table at the end of the document provides some details about them.

2 Comments

  1. Rick said:

    Love the minutia of good historical quasi-legal wrangling. The personal anecdotes describing Lepaute’s interactions really gives insight in the “character”. All so politely too, as befits the time and status of some involved in pre-revolutionary French royal court. Well done!

    February 4, 2020
    Reply
    • Robert said:

      Glad a trained historian like you enjoyed reading the minutia of this exchange, which did take me quite a bit of time to put together from the various records. I find it interesting how such discords at that time were drawn out in the open, using the press (Mercure de France), much to the delight of the readers I am sure. I suppose in many ways it’s not much different today, except there are many other media for such public disagreements to be aired. And in this written exchange with Lepaute, Caron fils first demonstrated the kind of skills he would greatly use in his future life as courtier, financier, etc., as Beaumarchais. Thanks for commenting.

      February 4, 2020
      Reply

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