Basic Biographical Details

Name: James Cromar Watt
Born: 4 July 1862
Died: 19 November 1940
Bio Notes: James Cromar Watt was born in Aberdeen on 14 July 1862, the only son of Alexander, an advocate's clerk and his wife Ann Hardy, a schoolteacher and the daughter of a watch and clockmaker. He was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School from 1875 until he was articled in October 1879 to city architect William Smith and his son John, who were then in partnership as W & J Smith, in whose office he embarked on a programme of measured drawings and rubbings at Dunblane Cathedral and King's College Chapel. These brought an award which enabled him to make a study tour of Belgium and Germany in May-June 1886. He remained with William Smith until April 1887 when he moved to London as assistant to Professor George Aitchison. In March 1888 he left to spend four months in northern Italy, returning in July to enter the RA Schools and assist in the office of Roumieu & Aitchison, the practice of George Aitchison's younger brother, Alfred. He won the Tite Prize in January 1890, enabling him to set off on another extended study tour that April, this time spending fourteen months in Italy and Sicily. On his return he rejoined the firm of W & J Smith in Aberdeen as assistant. He passed the qualifying exam in March 1892 and was admitted ARIBA on 13 June of that year, his proposers being his studio master Richard Phene Spiers, Aitchison and John Macvicar Anderson.

In 1893 Watt embarked on a study tour of Athens and other Greek cities, his studies being published as 'Examples of Greek and Pompeian Decorative Work' in 1897. In the course of his travels he appears to have begun dealing in works of art and taking a particular interest in ancient precious metalwork, which probably had its origin in his early experience in his grandfather's workshop. By 1896 he had resigned his associateship to concentrate exclusively on work in precious metals, developing particular skills in the ancient techniques of gold granulation and translucent foiled enamelling. His work was exhibited at Turin in 1902 and was extensively illustrated in the 'Art Journal' from that year. Some of his pieces were strongly influenced by the metalwork of Phoebe Traquair and some of it was designed in association with the painter and stained glass artist, Douglas Strachan.

Watt was engaged on secret government work during the First World War, the nature of which was never disclosed. He did not return to jewellery-making after the War apparently because of failing eyesight, devoting most of his energies to the completion of the tomb of Bishop Elphinstone by Harry Wilson, a friend since at least 1905, the University conferring on him the degree of LLD in 1931.

Watt never married, living alone in a house in Dee Street, Aberdeen. Although never a rich man, he was throughout his adult life an important collector of ancient ceramics and precious metal artefacts, particularly from China and the Far East. He died as a result of a street accident on 19 November 1940, his collections being divided between Aberdeen Art Gallery and the Royal Scottish Museum.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this :
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 221, Victoria Street, Aberdeen, ScotlandPrivate1892 *  
Item 2 of 29, Cowley Street, Dean's Yard, Westminster, London, EnglandPrivate1892 *  

* earliest date known from documented sources.

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 5W & J SmithOctober 1879c. 1885Apprentice 
Item 2 of 5W & J Smithc. 1885April 1887Assistant 
Item 3 of 5George AitchisonApril 1887March 1888Assistant 
Item 4 of 5Roumieu & AitchisonJuly 1888April 1890Assistant 
Item 5 of 5W & J SmithJune 1891(?)1893(?)Assistant 


RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 3George Aitchison13 June 1892for Associateship
Item 2 of 3John Macvicar Anderson13 June 1892for Associateship
Item 3 of 3Richard Phené Spiers13 June 1892for Associateship

Buildings and Designs

This was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 1After 1918King's College Chapel, Elphinstone tomb  AberdeenScotland 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this :
Item 1 of 2Rew, Christine2000James Cromar Watt, Aberdeen Architect and Designerv5Journal of the Scottish Society for Art History, pp29-36 
Item 2 of 2Scottish Biographies1938  E J Thurston (pub.) 

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this :
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 3Aberdeen University Review1940   
Item 2 of 3Aberdeen University Review1992   
Item 3 of 3Builder6 December 1940  Obituary - p556

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this :
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 1RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Nomination Papers A v11 p143 (microfiche 51/B6)