Survivors of Time: P. Orr & Sons - Timekeepers of Madras since 1849
by ADAM HARRIS
Early in my watch collecting career my mentor Marcus Hardy, an “English Gentleman,” taught me a great deal and sold me most of the “greats” in my collection. I will always be deeply indebted to him.
One of those magnificent timepieces was a 1938 Rolex “P. Orr & Sons—Madras & Rangoon.” I did not realize the horological importance at the time, but I’ve always loved the watch with its nice history.
The Hindu newspaper in 2011 printed an article about the company (click here).
“Two brothers, Peter and Alexander Orr, arrived in Madras in 1843 from Scotland. Alexander was a lawyer, while Peter was a watch and chronometer maker. After selling ice at four annas per pound (‘anna’ was a currency formerly used in India and equal to 1/16 of a Rupee), they joined the watchmakers, George Gordon & Co. They took over the business after the retirement of Gordon in 1849 and turned around the fortunes of the fledgling company until it became an institution in Madras.
The iconic building housing P. Orr and Sons was commissioned by Peter Orr in 1879. It was built by the then consulting architect to the Government of Madras, Robert Chisholm, in a mix of Indo-Saracenic and the Byzantine styles, characterized by its elegant archways and tall roofs. The three-faced clock tower which used to be connected to the Madras Observatory is still in perfect working condition.
Apart from watches, P. Orr and Sons had a flourishing business in gold, diamonds and silverware, especially known for their ‘Swami’ jewellery which was popular in the West. Diamonds had become one of its more lucrative business ventures by the late 1880s with an illustrious list of patrons that included the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Prince of Wales.”
My latest acquisition is a 1920s Borgel cased P. Orr & Sons—Madras & Rangoon silver wristwatch. The dial is white enamel with a red 12 and original (faded) lume. The dial is marked “Regimental” with the famous retailer’s name “P. Orr & Sons—Madras & Rangoon.” The 15J movement is made by Invicta, who in 1900 traded with India. Specializing in “military” pieces, Invicta trademarked names such as Invincible, Military, Marine, Commonwealth, and Regimental.
The case is silver with a Swiss hallmark and FB (Francois Borgel) trademark—ot the original 1891 Francois patent but the later Charles Rothen (who worked for Louisa Borgel) patent No CH88223 granted in February 1921. It’s a two-piece case, but the movement is not screwed into the case, making it far easier to make. The stem extends outside the case so it does not require pin-set.
A "superbalance" patented by Wilsdorf (Rolex)
An early advertisement from P. Orr & Sons.
Marcus Hardy, mentor and friend
The Hindu (newspaper) December 2011
David Boettcher, author of Watch & Clock Bulletin articles about Francois Borgel and the company.