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Chronology of Horology: How Timepieces Shaped Human History

We live and die by the clock. A meeting at 8:30 am, a phone call at 10am, lunch meeting at noon. We are tied to time.

But do you ever stop to think about how we got here? How did we got from glancing at a sundial to smart watches that determine our every move?

The study of timekeeping is called horology. In a sense, anyone who’s ever starred at the intricacies of a fully mechanical clock is a bit of a horologist. 

The fascination with timekeeping is really a fascination with human behavior itself. The more advanced the timepiece, the more advanced the society.

Here’s a look back at the clocks that made us the people we are today. A chronology of horology.

Sundials (1500-1300 BC)

A sundial is a time-keeping device that was used to measure time during 1500-1300 BC. This device used a shadow cast on a reference scale by the sun. When our planet turns on its axis, it looks like the sun moves from the east to west. 

Both the direction and height of the sun was used to make these time-keeping devices. Sundials were invented in all of the prominent cultures and were on the list of sophisticated and accurate devices.

Water Clocks (400 BC)

Water clocks are among the most ancient time-keeping devices. The exact date of their invention is not known. Also known as clepsydra, a water clock is a timepiece that helps you measure time with the help of a vessel. 

The flow of liquid into or out from this vessel lets you know what time it is.

The bowl-like outflow is a simple type of a water clock. According to the experts, water clocks were used in Egypt and Babylon in the 1600 BCE. 

Evidence also suggests that they were used in China and India as well. Some authors even claim that they were in use in China in 4000 BCE as well.

Burning Candles (980?)

The King of Wessex, Alfred the Great, used to measure time with the help of burning candles. The candles were marked with lines for the indication of the hours. However, experts say that this method of time-keeping was not very accurate. 

The first regulated horology machine was probably made in the 14th century.

Based on these “candle clocks”, the king used to allot time for his meals, studies and sleep. The candles were quite big and had marks on them.

Mechanical Clocks (1400s)

Horologists can’t say anything for sure about the appearance of mechanical clocks in Europe. The early mechanical clocks used to strike a bell once for each hour. But the dial was made part of the clock later.

Galileo Galilei’s pendulum clock (1583)

The contribution of the great polymath, Galileo Galilei, to horology depends upon his analysis of the motion of pendulum. He used the isochronic pendulum as a simple but precise escapement device. And this is what made him popular for his clockwork.

Over the next 50 years, the pendulum clock brought a revolution in the field of timekeeping, mechanics, astronomy and other fields of science.

Christiaan Huygens’ Pendulum Clock (1657)

The pendulum clock was the invention of Christiaan Huygens who was a Dutchman. According to many experts, it’s considered one of the antique or classic time-keeping instruments.

The pendulum clock was considered the most accurate device until the 1930’s when new devices were invented.

Marine chronometer (1759)

John Harrison was an English clockmaker and carpenter. He became popular for inventing a marine chronometer. This device helped people calculate longitude when they are at sea.

After this invention by John Harrison, the world witnesses a revolution in the field of navigation and sea travel over long distances. 

After the Sicily navel disaster in the 17th century, the problem of calculating longitude was considered so important that a reward of £20,000, which is equal to £2.89m today, was offered by the British Parliament under the Longitude Act.

Telegraph invention (1839)

In 1837, two great minders, William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone conducted the electric telegraph communication for the first time. 

The transmission was done between the Camden Town and London Euston. Cooke was in Camden town while Wheatstone was in London Euston.

Their audience included the honorable directors of the London and Birmingham Railway. The purpose of this experiment was to enhance the railway safety. The fact of the matter is that the impact of this experiment brought a revolution in the world. 

Wheatstone and Cooke became the founders of The Electric Telegraph Company. Later on, they developed a close relationship between the telegraphic networks and railway.

Time ball (1840s)

Also known as Time Ball, Ball Time or Timeball, this timekeeping device was used in 18th century. This device was a large, metal or wooden ball. It was dropped at pre-decided time in order to help navigators configure their marine chronometers. 

For navigators, it’s important to know the correct time to determine the longitude at sea.

Timekeeping devices have got a lot better over the past century. The time-keeping devices of today are extremely advanced. And the classic devices are no longer in common use, but can be found in museums.

History of the Cuckoo Clock

Basically, a cuckoo clock is a pendulum-based clock. Every hour, a toy cuckoo comes out of the door of the clock producing the sound of the cuckoo to strike the hour. In some of these clocks, the bird moves its wings opening its beak. 

While in other models, only the body of the bird moves forward. It’s interesting to note that the same mechanism has been used in today’s cuckoo clocks since the 18th century. No variation has been seen so far.

The history of the cuckoo clock dates back to the era of the Black Forest region clocks. The two provinces of Baden and Wuerttemberg are located in the Black Forest region, Germany. In this region, winters are cold, dark and long. Often, the area gets a lot of snow in winter. 

During these cold months, outdoor activities such as agriculture and forestry were restricted. And that’s the reason, a cottage industry was started to produce clocks.

During that time, glass making was a classical craft. Clockmaking has an indirect relationship with glass making. In 1640 (the exact date is not known), a traveler came to the region with a Bohemian clock. 

It was run by three wheels on a continuous drive and a device that allowed the train to move forward. It also featured a folio, which was a balance bar.

Soon the residents of the region got the hang of making the clock using their own tools. They had a team of experts who specialized in making the frames, clockworks, gongs, chains, and painting the brass founding and dials. 

The manufacturers made their own styles and patterns. The components of their clocks can’t be used in the clocks made by other manufacturers. 

By the end of 17th century, the clock making became a profitable business and experts were expanded too far away regions such as Russia and many other parts of the world.

Franz Anton Ketterer

The cuckoo clock was probably invented in 1730, and the name of the inventor was Franz Anton Ketterer. He was quite popular in the Black Forest for making clocks. The sound of the cuckoo was added later on in the contemporary clocks. The wooden frame for the clock was made later on. 

The cuckoo clock made by Ketterer were driven by pine-shaped suspended weights. Ketterer made use of the church organ pipe to produce the sound of the cuckoo. He was so good at the clock-making that his invention became popular and the clock was being used as a reliable timepiece.

Modern Cuckoo Clocks

Nowadays, cuckoo clocks are available in a wide variety, which reflects the styles of clocks in that area. A significant feature of the old clocks is that they feature painted face-shield bearing roses and castles. 

These clocks were quite popular across Central Europe and southern Germany. The similar design can be seen on the sides of the barges.

After a few years, clocks with customized decoration were introduced in the market based on demand. For instance, “Swiss clocks” were quite common and most of them were made in Germany. 

Although Scandinavians liked octagonal or hexagonal faces, the Belgians and Dutch opted for porcelain or tin dials. On the other hand, clocks used in England were known as “Dutch” clocks, and they feature mahogany rims.

In the middle of 1800s, cuckoo clocks made it to the factories. Their production was not limited to cottage industry anymore. During that time, “chalet” or “hunting lodge” style clocks were on top of the list. 

The frame of clocks featured a lodge at the bottom and the dial over the clock roof. The animals and trees were above the dial.

Another popular style known as the “Surrerwerk” strikes the hour by producing the sound of hammers. Typically, this clock featured a pair of drivetrains. The first drive controlled the movement of a clock and the second was for actions and sounds.

The movements became stand as far as size, style, and material was concerned. In Europe, the movements are of steel and brass. But the US movements are of brass. Moreover, the dial numerals are painted in a beautiful German gothic style.

Today’s cuckoo clocks still have the suspended pinecone weights. Moreover, some big cuckoo clocks also featured barometers. They were made in the 19th century. These clocks had wooden frames, wooden carved cuckoo, and brass wheel works. The cuckoo moved forward to strike the hour.

During this 19th century, the traditional cuckoo clocks used the technology of the digital age. Manufacturers started using quartz clocks in some models. These locks produced a set of 12 different tones. 

Each hour had its own tune. Aside from this, these clocks featured an automatic shut off in order to silence the cuckoo for a preset number of hours. This feature was used in order to silent the clock at night so that the residents could have a peaceful sleep.

Cuckoo clock makers


Today, cuckoo clocks are made by many manufacturers. Each manufacturer is known by its design and attention to detail. The fact of the matter is most people buy a cuckoo clock from a manufacturer of their choice. Let’s know more about some of the most popular manufacturer.

Hönes

Hones clocks are on top of the list based on two factors: value and craftsmanship. These clocks were made in the German Black Forest region as well. So, they are classic clocks.

It’s important to note that Hones cuckoo clocks are not manufactured on a large scale, which means these clocks are known for their high-end quality. If you buy a Hones clock, your money goes into the pockets of the artisans who work day and night to make these clocks in their family-run firms.

So, you may be asking what makes these clocks different from those made by other manufacturers. One thing that clearly differentiates Hones clocks from the crowed is the sound quality and attention to detail. 

They feature smoother finish and crisper cuckoo. They can be found in Titisee-Neustadt. This is the “birth place” of these cuckoo clocks. Each unit is made by hand.

Rombach And Haas

In the center of Black Forest Region, Rombach and Haas deal in cuckoo clock. This manufacturer is known for its unique designs. Most people buy these cuckoo clocks to give them to their loved ones as a gift, as these make great gifts. 

The business is managed by Ingolf and Conny Haas, the 4th Gen owner. Although the original manufacturer is not there to manage the business, the quality is still the same. They have not compromised on the quality.

Rombach and Haas offers both traditional and modern cuckoo clocks. They have a wide variety of clocks to meet the needs of different types of users. That’s the reason the company has so many loyal customers. This manufacturer offers the best quality cuckoo clocks.

Hubert Herr

Hubert Herr clocks started making cuckoo clocks in the beginning of the 19th century. Although this is their 5th generation of operation, they have the same level of attention to detail as well as top-level craftsmanship. 

What make Hubert Herr stand out from the crowed is their eco-friendly production methods. Their production centers are located in the Black Forest region in Germany.

Another thing that makes Hubert Herr different from other manufacturers is that they make each part of the clock including internal components and outer casing. 

If you are into solid cuckoo clocks made of wood, know that Hubert Herr offers a large collection of clocks. So, you can choose any of the hand-carved clock based on your preferences. You have a big collection of styles to choose from.

Anton Schneider

Many manufacturers of cuckoo clock follow the same traditional craftsmanship tradition, and one of them is known as Anton Schneider. This manufacturer pays a great attention to detail when making its cuckoo clocks. 

If you look at any of their clocks, you will see how much detail they have put into each unit. The founder is Anton Schneider and the foundation of the factory dates back to 1848. Now, the factory is in its 6th generation of production, which is a proof of their popularity and reliability.

Adolf Herr

If you are looking for the highest quality cuckoo clocks, you may want to give a go to one made by Adolf Herr. This is also a 6th Generation manufacturer and is popular for its chalet style and classic cuckoo clocks. 

As far as authenticity is concerned, each unit has its own certificate of authenticity. The certificate speaks volumes about the quality of the products.

As far as the material of the clocks is concerned, all of the units are made using pure linden wood imported from the Black Forest region of Germany. Clocks made by this manufacturer will make you feel nostalgic because of their designs. 

When it comes to German artistry and craftsmanship, Adolf Herr is one of the top names on the list. Cuckoo clock making is a classic art. The manufacturing of these clocks started in the Black Forest region of Germany. 

And those manufacturers are still doing great as we can the same level of quality as it was during the 18th century. When you are going to buy a clock, it’s important that you consider the maker of the clock. You can consider these three big manufacturers before making a choice.

How Cuckoo Clock Is Made

Raw Materials


As you have already read above, wood is the most important raw material used in the making of cuckoo clocks. The reason is that wood is used to make the casing of the clock, which sets these clocks apart from other types of clocks out there as far as appearance is concerned.

Wood from the linden tree is used. These trees are found in Europe. Aside from linden wood, some of the housing components are made with walnut. However, fresh wood is not used. 

Skilled workers buy the wood and let it sit for at least two years. Based on the requirements of the artisan, the wood can be bought in logs or block-like lengths. The bark is usually removed.

What makes cuckoo clock different from other clocks is the cuckoo that comes out of it and the sounds it produces. Apart from the casing, the bellows and pipes are also made of wood. Music boxes are installed in the clocks that produce beautiful tunes.

As far the production of mechanical movements and the music boxes, they are made by subcontractors. Lead is used to make the leaf-like weight and the pinecone weights that you can see on the end of the clock pendulum. 

In metal foundries, melted lead alloy is poured in the metal molds. It’s interesting to note that the professionals in these foundries have a lot of experience in detailed metalwork.

Design


According to the history of the cuckoo clock, the manufacturers consider the tradition while designing and its various components. They have developed various styles of forest scenes and chalets for the cuckoo bird. 

Besides, the clock has some models of animals and villagers that create a beautiful “environment”.

Since people are into the traditional style of cuckoo clocks, we probably won’t see modern styles and lines of these clocks. 

However, the inclusion of digital features adds a variety of bird songs and music produced by the clock. But the popularity of traditional models is still on the rise.

The Manufacturing Process


Stage #1: Wood workers play their role during the first stage of cuckoo clock making. The first thing the artisans do is get the wood pieces they need and then they cut them into their desired shapes and lengths. 

At this stage, many hand tools and hand machines are used, such as measuring tools, rasps, files and saws. The cabinet or box-shaped case for the cuckoo clock is made using all these tools.

Since the outer frame of the clock requires a good deal of effort and attention, this decorative part is not made without a design on paper. What craftsmen do is collect stencils on the basis of drawings. 

The stencil sets are made for blocks of specific sizes. The stencils are also chosen based on the style and size of the clock to be made.

The wood workers make the designs on the pieces of wood. Next, they crave and shape the frame. Once this stage is done, they leave both the case and the frame to dry. This may take a few days. They don’t move on to the next stage unless the pieces have dried out.

Stage #2: As soon as the case and the frame are dried, the workmen start assembling the pieces. First of all, they mount the movement in the strong case. During the era of first generation of manufacturers, the carving and assembly was probably done in the same village. 

They handmade and assembled the internal components of the clock. Nowadays, they don’t usually make these parts on their own. Instead, they buy them from the market. 

They are already assembled; all they have to do is install the components in the case and fix them in place with wooden fasteners and screws.

Stage #3: The sound production devices are connected on upper section of the clock. Some of these devices include bellows and pipes. Drive chain extensions or attachments are attached to the metal cams/pins and wire hooks that “turn on” the cuckoo and other moving doors and figures.

The cuckoo bird is attached to the bellows operation, while the other figures get activated by the strike movement. The music box is activated by a third movement. The weight chains and pendulum are attached to the movement. On the other hand, the lead weights are connected to ends of the chain.

Stage #4: The packing of the assembled clock is done with extreme care in order to ensure that the moving parts and fragile framework don’t get damaged. For shipping and distribution, each box of the clock is packaged in strong cartons.

Quality Control

For quality assurance, the product is checked in two steps. Since each unit is handcrafted, there is no chance that the product will not meet the quality standards. In fact, quality is the sign of an expert craftsman. 

As with other handcrafted products, high experienced and trained professionals won’t risk their reputation. Therefore, they make the clocks with utmost care. During the final quality control stage, experts examine each unit from all angles. And then they conduct a trial operation to ensure the product works fine.

Byproducts/Waste


The manufacturing process of cuckoo clocks doesn’t produce any waste or byproducts. The waste is so minimal that it can’t even be take into consideration. There is a small amount of wood shavings and scraps left behind as a high level of care is taken during the whole process. 

Aside from this, the manufacturer can’t afford to waste a lot of wood as the cost of the wood is so high.

The Future of Cuckoo Clocks

In the Black forest region and the Europe, new variations of cuckoo clocks are quite popular. In the USA, most families own cuckoo clocks that were ornamented in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. In America, there is a market for clocks that are representation of the traditions of the manufacturing of these clocks.

Nowadays, cuckoo clocks also fall under the category of popular antiques. For instance, hand-made units that can be traced back to the old times have a great importance in the eyes of collectors. 

Besides, antique hunters are interested in factory-made clocks as well. Clocks that date back to 1850s are also give special importance, especially they are associated with top manufactures of that time, such as Junghans, Kienzle, Winterhalder & Hofmeier, and so on. 

Usually, the antique market also boosts the sales of today’s cuckoo clocks as they are quite affordable.

Although some of the modern cuckoo clocks feature digital components and quartz movements, clocks that feature the classic mechanical movement have their own charm. 

When combined with rustic style and carved wood, the sound of the clock will bring a smile to your face. Without any doubt, we can’t help praise the craftsmanship of the manufactures of these cuckoo clocks. 

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