Pendulum Clocks

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Pendulum Clocks


While some might be prone to calling pendulum clocks “ticking time bombs”—which is to say, relics with rapidly evaporating shelf-lifes—vintage pendulum clocks are actually proving to have more staying power than one might think. Consisting of a variety of antique wall clocks possessing pendulum timekeeping mechanisms, pendulum clocks superseded far more primitive time trackers like the hourglass and the sundial. While timepieces for the sake of timekeeping may have circulated out of relevance, a tall pendulum clock can still be an alluring asset in a room of less vertically-inclined furniture.

Generally, pendulum clocks are the epitome of distinguished design, falling into the now-heirloom style categories that ruled the 18th and 19th centuries, including Rococo, Neoclassical, Chippendale, and Gustavian. The mid 20th century also saw a redux of the pendulum clock, with designers best known for their tables and chairs, trying their hand at the pendulum clock trend. George Nelson and Arthur Umanoff were both Mid-Century Modernists who designed striking modern pendulum clocks.

When it comes to finding a befitting location for your pendulum clock, first consider those abbreviated walls that dog nearly every home. In instances where even a console or even demilune table presents too much girth, a slender pendulum clock can wind up a win. To prevent your wall clock with pendulum from skewing too antiquated-looking, consider juxtaposing a traditional model with more modern surrounds. This can be a Georgian clock plunked opposite an acrylic dining set, or a Neoclassical grandfather clock layered in front of a convivial Baroque wallpaper in a melange of eye-catching hues.

The History of the Pendulum Clock

Often prematurely credited to Galileo, the pendulum clock was actually invented in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens a Dutch physicist and inventor. In 1637, Galileo put much of the framework for the pendulum clock into motion when he discovered that a pendulum, or a long, swinging rod, always takes the same amount of time to complete a full swing. Deducting that a pendulum that took one second to carry out a swing could be rigged to a weight of some sort which would activate upon sixty swings, Galileo hypothesized about the first pendulum clock.

As it would turn out, pendulum clocks would need a bit more finessing to get ticking. Floor and wall clocks with pendulums must be perfectly level and stationary to avoid clipping or extending the pendulum swing, thereby creating inaccuracies. To prevent effects on the pendulum, Huygens implemented internal mechanisms that worked to keep the pendulum stable at all times. As might be expected, crafting traditional wall clocks with pendulums was an incredibly arduous process that required the utmost care. Until clock part factories took hold, all pendulum clocks were handmade. Richly ornamented pendulum clocks were a point of pride for most who owned them, and they soon became known as a status symbol of the wealthy.

Caring for Pendulum Clocks

As any clock aficionado will tell you, it takes quite a bit of dedication to truly become “clock wise.” But for those who simply fancy a few tips to keep their timepiece ticking promptly, a few basics can go a long way. The first trick for an on-point ticker? Avoid housing your clock in an excessively hot or humid location, like near a radiator or fireplace. While not a clincher, it’s also not recommended that you place your antique pendulum in direct sunlight. Because antique clocks are eternally in operation, it’s also sage to give their internal mechanisms thorough oiling once a year or so. Do employ caution; however. Over-oiling can gum up essential gears.

3 Pendulum Clocks to Know

Cuckoo Clock

To the uninitiated, the cuckoo clock can seem like the kind of campy relic that has gone from kitschy to just plain baffling. What could they have been thinking, stuffing a small symphonic songbird into the attic of a house-shaped clock decorated with all the audacity of a gingerbread abode? But when deployed as part of a gallery wall or as an isolated accent on a richly-hued wall, a cuckoo pendulum clock can actually look both artsy and adventurous. Use one anywhere you might think to integrate a touch of Black Forest magic (for those who didn’t know, the cuckoo clock is a German pendulum clock originating in Germany’s otherworldly Black Forest region, which extends from Freiberg to Baden-Baden), and don’t be shy about cloaking a less-notable cuckoo clock in matte paint. Whereas brown can look drab, a black cuckoo clock can look effortlessly elevated.

Grandfather Clock

Aptly named when you consider how often a tall, free-standing grandfather clock could be mistaken for a human form, the grandfather clock took its name from an 1876 song by songwriter, Henry Clay Work, entitled “Grandfather Clock.” The song was inspired by a trip to the George Hotel in North Yorkshire, where Work was informed that a pendulum clock was inhabited by a ghostly grandfather spirit. Grandfather clocks are generally distinguished by towering, tall form, and roman numeral face work, and general debonair airs. It’s generally accepted that the first grandfather clock—then called a longcase clock—was created in 1680 by British clockmaker William Clement.

Mantel Clock

Featuring an attractive bell curve shape, mantle clocks are among the smallest examples of pendulum clocks. Also called table clocks, mantle clocks were designed to be a kind capstone on a fireplace mantle. Given that the mantel can be a notoriously tricky ledge to outfit, mantel clocks are the kind of made-to-order decor that remove the guesswork. If you love the look of a mantel clock, but find options a bit thin, consider keying in terms like “tambour clock” or “table clock.” Both should yield a decent crop of shapely headed clocks.