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Bronnikov unique wooden pocket watches

For the first time, a wooden clock was mentioned in the press in connection with the preparations for the provincial exhibition of industrial and agricultural products in 1837. The zemstvo council invited the city’s artisans, including the sixty-year-old skillful turner Ivan Tikhonovich Bronnikov and his son Semyon, to prepare the exhibits. The father replied that he was “not in a position to do anything”, and the son would do “something small thing”.

Three months later, Semyon Bronnikov showed a “little thing” at the exhibition – his first wooden pocket watch. At that time, the mechanism that counted the time was not yet available to everyone. And here – wooden, in a small size, regularly counting minutes – the clock amazed contemporaries!
Semen Bronnikov's wooden watch
These original watches, together with the Makarov boxes, were purchased by the heir to the royal throne, the future Tsar Alexander II, who was in Vyatka at that time.

Inspired by success, the Vyatka tradesman Semyon Ivanovich Bronnikov leaves other activities and improves his watchmaking skills. In Vyatka and Moscow, he exhibits not only watches, but also skillfully made cufflinks, caskets, and medallions.

In 1867, the Ministry of the Interior, having heard about the outlandish watch, placed an order for two pairs.

A month and a half later, the Bronnikovs (two of his sons, Nikolai and Mikhail, are now working with Semyon Ivanovich) sent the watch to St. Petersburg.

To create the mechanism, the Bronnikovs use various types of wood: walnut, honeysuckle, palm, hardened bamboo; the case and case are made of burl, the dial is decorated with inserts of mother-of-pearl and bone. In the “Memorial book of the Vyatka province” for 1870, they write about them: “Watches are mostly made on orders from different parts of Russia, and often there are dozens of orders … One must be surprised at the art of the old man Bronnikov and his two sons, who are almost still turning primitive tools with grace the smallest accessories of watches, they do not have a decent lathe … ”

Vyatka (now Kirov), where the fairy-tale craftsmen Bronnikovs come from, is a forest land where wood is still the main building material. Burlap fishing was born in this area in the 18th century. Kapovye outgrowths “only in this region attracted the attention of resourceful inhabitants,” wrote M. Ya. Kittary, a professor at Kazan University, in the 19th century. Cap was used for making dishes, caskets, smoking pipes, handles for knives.

What is a cap? It is believed that the word “cap” is ancient Slavic and means “head”. At first glance, the burl on the tree really resembles the shape of a human head. It can be found on the branches and trunks of old trees. The value of the build-up of the master was determined by the pattern on the cut – unique in each instance. The burl lends itself well to processing, does not warp, does not crack, does not swell, does not shrink, and is so strong that once in the Sloboda district they made mallet hammers from it.

Cap is a very valuable ornamental material. In 1837, up to fifty rubles were paid for a twenty-pound burl growth, the same amount a thoroughbred bull was valued at an agricultural exhibition. Birch burl wood, according to experts, is the most beautiful in terms of pattern and color.

Burlap fishing arose in a small town near Vyatka – Slobodskoy. Joiner Grigory Makarov from the first quarter of the nineteenth century began to make caskets and snuff boxes from burl for wealthy customers. The use of burl allowed Makarov to make boxes with lids, on wooden hinges, like those of Scottish craftsmen.

This entry, as it were, comments on the extraordinary skill of watchmakers, because their products did not exceed four centimeters in diameter and cost more than gold.
Wooden watch
Semyon Ivanovich Bronnikov had seven sons. Thanks to his art, he was able to give them an education, some even university.

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The Bronnikov watchmakers’ highest rise to fame was the World Exhibition of 1873 in Vienna. Nikolai and Mikhail, who inherited high skill from their father, showed their art there. They sometimes worked with four hands on one clock, and they did it separately, as evidenced by the inscriptions on the inside of the bottom cover. Unfortunately, not every watch has an author’s signature. Already the Bronnikov brothers began to insert into some mechanisms for greater durability not a palm, as before, but a metal spring.

At the same time, another master from the family of famous watchmakers was gaining strength – the grandson of Semyon Bronnikov, the son of Mikhail – Nikolai. In 1902, he exhibited burl watches at the All-Russian Exhibition in St. Petersburg.

Three generations of the Bronnikovs created these unique products that have no analogues in the world folk art.

Moreover, each mechanism, each watch was unique.

We visited exhibitions in Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, St. Petersburg, and became participants in exhibitions in Vienna and Paris. And everywhere – diplomas, medals.

Needless to say, the wooden clock, in a small size, regularly counting minutes amazed contemporaries. And even a hundred years later, at the World Exhibition “Expo 67” in Montreal, Semyon Ivanovich’s wooden pocket watch delighted the public. And some of the Bronnikovs’ watches, made, according to the master, to the whole world as a miracle, are still running, and after all, one and a half hundred years have passed.

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