The prestigious firm of J.W. Benson was one of the most respected watch makers in London during the second half of the 19th Century and was one of very few early wristwatch houses that was English, rather than Swiss, owned.
The business was originally set up by brothers James William Benson and Samuel Suckley Benson who advertised themselves as watchmakers, gold and silversmiths of Cornhill in the City of London. As well as manufacturing their own watches and jewellery, they were also importers and retailers dealing in fine diamonds, gold and silver ware. After just eight years the partnership was dissolved in 1855 and J.W. Benson carried on alone. He took on additional premises at 33 Ludgate Hill and as the business grew, he added no. 34 next door. By the 1860’s he was advertising his large and richly stocked shop with adjoining workshop specialising not only in the manufacture of watches and clocks but also in their repair. He began to participate in both national and international expositions including London in 1862, Paris in 1867 and the Inventions Exhibition of 1885 at which he unveiled the ‘Patent Dust and Damp Excluding Band for Watches’.
In 1872 a shop was opened on Bond Street which was followed by one in the Royal Exchange in 1890 as well as a new steam powered factory in La Belle Sauvage Yard, close to the premises in Ludgate Hill. In 1878 J.W. Benson died leaving his sons Alfred and Arthur to continue the business. The following year they were awarded a Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria to which they would add those of the Prince of Wales and the Kings of Siam and Denmark. Whilst best known for their timepieces, the firm also sold jewellery and by the 1880s were incorporating platinum into their gold and diamond set jewels. In 1888 they launched ‘The “88” Jewellery’ collection with pieces such as brooches, bracelets and cufflinks all featuring two overlapping and entwined figure of eight motifs. These were advertised as the perfect wedding or anniversary gift and displayed alongside their regular stock of diamond pendants, novelty brooches and stick pins.
In 1889 the company took over the firm of Hunt & Roskell and continued successfully until WWII when their factory was bombed and they ceased manufacturing. However they continued as retailers for many years, with adverts from the late 1950s showing beautiful selections of diamond and gem-set rings for sale at the Bond Street store. They were eventually bought out by Mappin & Webb in the 1980s. Today they are best remembered for their watches and a J.W. Benson timepiece is a collectable item from a wonderful period in the history of British horology.