Jessop's Famous Street Clock

A San Diego Icon Since 1907

Historical Background

Joseph Jessop (1851 – 1932), a successful watchmaker from Lytham, England seeking a warmer climate, moved his family to the rapidly growing city of San Diego in 1890. Joseph opened his original watch repair and jewelry shop on F Street in Downtown San Diego.

Inspiration for the Clock

During a trip to Bern, Switzerland many years earlier, Joseph was impressed with all the public clocks displayed throughout Bern on buildings, towers, railroad stations, and streets. He made sketches of one clock in particular to study and this became the inspiration for his design of the Jessop’s street clock. Dimensions were changed and features were added until his plans for the clock were completed in 1904 and his vision became a reality.

Construction Begins

With Joseph’s design of both the clock movement and exterior in hand, the task of building the complex clock was given to an excellent, young machinist name Claude D. Ledger. He was a graduate of the Elgin Watch School Joseph had recently hired who was eager for the assignment.

A foundry was created behind the J. Jessop & Sons San Diego store where every part used in constructing the clock was meticulously hand manufactured. The clock is also adorned with 17 jewels of tourmaline, topaz, jade, and agate excavated from Mr. Jessop’s own local Mount Palomar mines and hand cut in his shop. This resulted in the most jeweled and finest precision made street clock in America – truly a one-of-a-kind!

Award Winning

The clock took 15 months to build and was completed in 1907. It was originally installed in front of the J Jessop & Sons jewelry store at 952 Fifth Avenue. That same year, during the Sacramento State Fair, the master clock movement was put on display and awarded a gold medal in its class. While on exhibit, the movement was not enclosed in glass. A child holding a small, wooden toy bear decided it would be fun to place it on the pendulum for a ride. He wedged the bear inside a small ring. When dislodging the bear proved too difficult, the bear was left behind to forever “ride” inside the clock’s movement and can still be seen there today.

Joseph Jessop

Wooden Toy Bear Takes a Ride

A tiny brass bell, which was a popular symbol of the California missions at that time, is also visible and was placed in the clock’s escapement during the Fair. San Diego in 1907 was still a small town and news soon spread far and wide about the beautiful, amazing, one of-a-kind clock. It became the city’s main attraction for tourists and residents alike.

A Century of Reliable Performance

The Jessop’s clock has run reliably for 100 years. Once in the early days, an out-of-control team of horses separated from the carriage and caused the wagon’s tongue to pierce the clock base, stopping the pendulum. A second time, the gravitational motion cause by an earthquake stopped the clock. The third time is said to have occurred on March 22, 1935, the same day the clock’s builder and sole caretaker, Claude Ledger, died. No mechanical failure was discovered. The last time was when another of the clock’s long time caretakers, Bill Wemer, died on April 13, 2009. Subsequently that year, the clock was completely cleaned, refurbished, and painted before being rededicated.

The Clock Stands Proudly

For 77 years, the clock stood proudly outside various J.Jessop & Sons locations in Downtown San Diego. Then in 1984, the clock was moved in time for the Grand Opening of Horton Plaza and the new Jessop Jeweler store within, where it remains today in the center’s promenade.

Landmark Status

In 1998, recognizing the historical significance and civic affection for this public icon, the San Diego Historical Resources Board honored the Jessop’s Street Clock by designating it San Diego Landmark #372.

« The legal ownership of the clock continues to remain in the Jessop Family.
However they share deeply in the feeling that affectionately and sentimentally
it belongs to the people of San Diego. It is hoped it will always remain so. »

             -Joseph E. Jessop
             Youngest son of Joseph Jessop, Clock Designer

1907 – Clock is installed at 952 Fifth Avenue

Award Winning Movement

Can you see the tiny brass bell placed in the clock during the 1907 Sacramento State Fair?

Historical Facts

  • Completed in 1907
  • Age as of 2016 – 109 years
  • Designed by Joseph Jessop with all parts hand manufactured at J. Jessop & Sons in Downtown San Diego
  • Hand built over a 15 month period by Claude D. Ledger, a machinist hired to build the clock and trained at the Elgin Watch School
  • Awarded a gold medal for its movement at the Sacramento State Fair in 1907
  • Designated San Diego Historical Landmark #372 on December 9, 1998
  • Stationed at 3 different locations since it was constructed:
  • 952 Fifth Avenue (1907 – 1927)
  • 1041 Fifth Avenue (1927 – 1984)
  • Westfield Horton Plaza (1984 – present)

Physical Characteristics

  • Height above ground – 22 feet
  • Approximately 12 feet below street level needed to house the winding mechanism
  • Sits on an 18” high concrete base
  • Dome dimensions on each side – approximately 5 feet
  • Base dimensions on each side – approximately 2 feet
  • Pendulum weight – approximately 75 pounds
  • Clock displays 20 dials, including the time in 12 principle cities around the world in 1907 and, of course, San Diego

Clock Mechanics

  • Wound automatically by an electric motor approximately every 8 hours
  • Although a street clock, the movement is designed like a pocket watch with a spinning fly wheel. Joseph Jessop’s trade was as a watchmaker, after all.
  • Contains more than 300 moving parts
  • Most of the movement is gold-plated
  • Contains 17 jewels of tourmaline topaz, jade, and agate
  • Measures time by the hour, minute, and second
  • Indicates the month, date, and day of the week
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