Different Types of Clocks

Author: Clock Shop   Date Posted:4 May 2023 


Clocks are a handy device to measure the passage of time, and are considered amongst the oldest inventions. They effectively break time down most commonly into 24 hours per day, in increments of 60 minutes and 60 seconds, albeit other variations of clocks exist, such as tide clocks and moon dials. The advanced measuring system of breaking time down into 60 minute and 60 second increments dates back to ancient Sumeria, 4000 years ago. Prior to the development of the physical clock that we are familiar with today, earlier methods to track the time included a variety of processes & designs, from lunar calendars, sundials and hourglasses, to shadow clocks, water clocks and candle clocks; however these methods were not very accurate and could not tell the time to the minute. Over the last 700 years a number of significant technological advancements have ushered in a new era for timekeeping, including the invention of the pendulum and the verge escapement, with some more recent inventions including electricity, quartz batteries and LED/LCD digital displays. Today, a vast array of different types of clocks exist in a variety of styles to suit a number of tastes and budgets. We are truly spoiled in this day and age thanks to modern innovation and technology. We will look at some of the more well known types of clocks in more detail: 


Analogue Clocks

The most common type of analogue clock displays the passage of time with the use of physical hands (hour, minute & second) that move continuously around a clock dial, with numeral markings 1-12 around the dial that represent the corresponding hour. The position and angle of the hands indicates a specific time, which is broken down into a period of 12 hours. Analogue clocks exist in a variety of shapes and sizes and usually feature Arabic or Roman numerals around the dial, however some modern variations of the analogue clock omit numerals and instead feature dashes or artistic images instead. Some analogue clocks do not feature any markings whatsoever and instead rely on the positioning of the hands and what angle they’re at to indicate the time. Analogue clocks with clock faces date back hundreds of years. In fact, the term 'o'clock’ is a shortened version of “of the clock”, a saying that dates back to mechanical clocks of 15th century Europe. During this time it was common for people to reference the clock by saying “the time is 3 of the clock”, which was shortened to “3 o’ clock”.


Mechanical Clocks

Mechanical clocks have existed for many hundreds of years. The first relatively accurate mechanical clock was invented in medieval Europe in the 1300’s. The oldest surviving clock from this era still running today is the ‘faceless clock’, located at Salisbury Cathedral in the UK. This clock dates back to 1386, and has struck the time for 636 years (and counting), and has ticked more than 500 million times. Clocks such as the faceless clock remained the standard timekeeping method for over 300 years until the invention of the pendulum clock in the 1600’s which changed the course of timekeeping history forever. Read more about the pendulum clock here

Mechanical clocks are powered by either weights or springs, which in turn are attached to gears that power the hands. An oscillating mechanism (otherwise known as the balance wheel or pendulum) marks the passage of time by the controlled release of energy in the mainspring or weight, with an escapement that marks the beats. Each steady swing of the pendulum moves the escapement gear, allowing the gear train of the clock to advance by a certain amount, resulting in the movement of the hands to keep accurate time. Unlike modern clocks that rely on batteries or electricity, mechanical clocks don't depend on a power source or a battery to keep the time, and are required to be wound regularly (usually every 24 hours, 7 days, 14 days or 30 days) for accurate timekeeping. Mechanical clocks also require periodic oiling, cleaning and maintenance to ensure longevity of the timepiece. 


Cuckoo Clocks

Cuckoo clocks are a true cultural icon of the Black Forest in Germany. The first German cuckoo clock was crafted in the 1730s in the village of Schonwald, by a local clockmaker named Franz Anton Ketterer. Early 18th Century cuckoo clocks were crafted entirely from linden wood using locally sourced timber from the Black Forest. Early forms of the cuckoo clock had moving features such as dancers and animals, otherwise known as automata. The cuckoo call was developed by using twin bellows which directed air through small pipes, with a small bird that would appear through a door on the hour to call the time, and once every half hour. Amazingly, the same mechanism is still used today in most Black Forest cuckoo clocks, and linden wood is still sourced from the Black Forest for cuckoo clocks crafted today. The bird was based on the Cuculus Canorus, otherwise known as the common cuckoo with its distinctive coo-coo call. 

The early cuckoo clocks were all mechanical in design, many of which are still produced today in either 1 day or 8 day movements. The modern addition of a quartz battery movement has led to the development of battery cuckoo clocks in recent years- many which feature the same styles and carvings as their mechanical counterparts. All cuckoo clocks are crafted in various styles, including traditional style (that includes chalet or hand carved); and also in a range of new and modern designs. Carved clocks often feature well known designs that have existed for hundreds of years, including the famous ‘5 Leaf & Bird’, or ‘5 Leaf & Deer’, as well as the ‘Before The Hunt’ and ‘After the Hunt’ hunting designs. Chalet style cuckoo clocks on the other hand are often featured in the shape of alpine houses. They usually feature carvings and finely crafted details that represent life in the mountain regions of Europe (mainly around Southern Germany, The Black Forest, Switzerland and Austria). 

The complete process of creating a cuckoo clock from start to finish requires a team of specialised craftspeople- from woodcarvers to painters, internal mechanics workers, musical elements specialists, and assemblers who see each piece through the entire journey from start to the finished piece.


Grandfather clocks

A grandfather clock is a traditional timepiece that has existed for over 400 years, adopting mechanical time keeping methods that represent old worldly craftsmanship. Tall and free standing on average between 1.8 and 2.4 metres tall, these weight driven pendulum clocks are a true statement piece, a heirloom item that can be passed down through generations and loved just the same over hundreds of years. Whether it be hearing the quarterly hour Westminster chime that would chime, again and again, day and night; or simply watching a grandparent set the time on their own grandfather clock, grandfather clocks invoke a special feeling in many people, providing a link to a world long since passed. Grandfather clocks make the perfect heirloom item that can be passed down the generations, as long as they are cared for and serviced periodically.  


Traditional Clocks

Both elegant and timeless in design, traditional clocks add a touch of old world charm to any chosen space. Crafted with attention to detail, these elegant timepieces commonly feature impressive timber casings in walnut, cherry & brass, where the overall design style and craftsmanship hasn't changed much over the centuries. Many people prefer the classic style of a traditional clock to a modern timepiece and opt for these designs in the modern day. The field of horology involves work with clocks and timepieces, in many cases preserving older traditional clocks that are often hundreds of years old. 


Electric Clocks

An electric clock is a more modern invention, and refers to a clock that is powered by electricity rather than with the use of weights or a battery. These clocks usually run off a small electric motor. The earliest electric clocks were built around the mid 1800s however they did not become popular for almost another hundred years until the late 1890s when mains electric power became available. Electric clocks replaced mechanical clocks as the most popular clock in the 1930s when they began to surge in popularity, and largely used 120v AC power from the wall to operate. Electric clocks were the most popular clock during the first half of the 20th century, until the quartz clock overtook it in popularity in the latter half of the century.


Battery Clocks

In 1929, a significant contribution to the world of precision timekeeping was made with the invention of a battery clock. A quartz crystal was used for the first time, helping to maintain accuracy through its regular vibrations, oscillating at a frequency of 100,000 hertz. 

The battery inside a quartz clock was designed to send electricity to a quartz crystal via an electronic circuit, which in turn created vibrations around the timepiece, generating one electric pulse every 32,768 vibrations, or once a second. Due to these regular vibrations, battery clocks are considered very accurate and reliable, with a margin of error of only a few ten-thousandths of a second per day, equivalent to one second every 10 years. When compared to a mechanical clock, a battery clock is (almost) maintenance free. All that is required is to change the battery and occasionally the movement (the small black mechanism on the back of a clock which helps to keep the time). For more information on how to change a clock mechanism, click here


Digital Clocks

Another fairly modern invention is the digital clock, first patented in 1956 by D.E Protzmann in the United States. A digital clock displays the time in a digital format rather than in analogue form. Most digital clocks use a LCD or LED format display to show the numerals, making them useful tools at night time. Because digital clocks are commonly powered by electricity, they often need to be reset if the power is cut off. To avoid a situation like this, some modern models instead incorporate a backup battery to ensure the clock does not lose time completely. Digital clocks usually use the 50 or 60 hz oscillation of AC power, or a quartz crystal to accurately record the time. Most of the time digital clocks display the time in a 24 hour format, however many models also come with the option to change to a 12 hour format if preferred. Some even offer the indication of AM (ante-meridiem, meaning before noon), or PM (post-meridiem, meaning after noon). Digital clocks are quite small and inexpensive, and have been incorporated into a variety of devices to assist us in the modern era. Such devices include car consoles, ovens, computers, phones, televisions and microwaves to name a few. 


Regulator Wall Clocks

A regulator clock is defined as a weight driven clock that is regulated by a swinging pendulum. This type of clock was invented in the late 1700’s to improve the accuracy of spring wound clocks. Regulator wall clocks are available in both striking and chiming weight driven models, as well as highly precise clocks that do not make a sound. Some models are both weight and spring wound, so the weight delivers constant power to the pendulum to keep the time, whilst the chimes and strike are operated by springs. This type requires winding using a key in the dial, with the weights suspended from a carriage that moves on a cable, which gets wound once a week. 

Mechanical weight driven regulators are beautiful clocks that are often larger in size, offering a statement piece to any chosen space, similar to that of a grandfather clock or floor standing clock without taking up as much space.


Mantel & Table Clocks

Another style of clock that has existed for hundreds of years is the mantel clock. These clocks are designed to sit on a table or mantel piece, often to be displayed as a feature item in a room. First developed in France in the 1750s, mantel clocks were hugely popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. These earlier styles were mechanical in design, with many battery clocks becoming available in the modern day. One popular style of mantel clock is the tambour style, otherwise known as the Napoleon Hat clock. This unique shaped clock is still very popular today. Many more modern styles of table clock display exposed gears and shifting mechanics in the clocks, otherwise known as a skeleton clock. These timepieces are truly breathtaking as you watch the gears move slowly and come to appreciate the intricate details and craftsmanship that goes into each clock build. 


Modern Clocks

When it comes to adding personality and flair to your desired space, few things can deliver the same level of impact as a modern clock. Whether the purpose is to make a bold visual statement; or to fill an empty space on a blank wall; or simply just to create an elegant way to tell the time, modern wall clock designs lend themselves perfectly to spaces of all kinds. Modern clocks are contemporary, artistic and unique in design and are usually battery operated. 


Alarm clocks

The first alarm clock was invented in America in 1787 by Levi Hutchins, however this design was never patented. It was a simple design of a small clock that rang once a day at 4:00am to wake Levi up for work. In today's busy society, alarm clocks are a necessity for most people who have busy lifestyles to keep up with. The primary function of an alarm clock is to alert or awaken people up at a particular time, or to set a reminder for another reason such as an upcoming flight, or to track food cooking. Alarm clocks are generally smaller in size than a standard wall clock and are usually designed to be placed on a bedside table or on a stand. They are available in both analogue and digital formats, with illuminated LCD displays, in sleek contemporary designs that keep in line with the modern world we live in today. Many alarm clocks come in a smaller travel size that offers a handy companion whilst on the road. Alarm clocks offer a range of features and specifications to suit the user, from illuminated numerals and custom alarm sounds, to completely silent models that do not tick at all. 


Wrist Watches

In the modern world of today, there are more smartphones and personal devices available across the globe than we have ever seen before. With so many devices to tell us the time, traditional watches no longer have the spotlight as a classic timepiece. But this doesn't mean they've disappeared or become redundant. Nowadays watches mean even more to us than just telling us the time. They represent a story; an artistic statement piece; a fashionable piece of jewellery; and a prized collectable. There are a huge range of watches available to suit every style, from Swiss made watches, to pocket watches, outdoor watches, sports watches, automatic watches, skeleton watches and fashionable watches for both women and men. 


What’s Your Clock?

There is truly a plethora of different styles of clocks available in the modern world to choose from. They are designed for different rooms and settings, with the primary purpose of telling the time, but also adding to the decor of a chosen space ultimately with the goal of improving the style in a particular way. 

No matter what style of clock you are searching for, Clock Shop offers the largest range of clocks in Australia in a variety of decorative styles and colours to enhance the ambience of any room of the house. Choosing the right clock can make all the difference when completing the look and feel of a particular space. Whether you are searching for the traditional charm of a mechanical clock, grandfather clock or authentic carved cuckoo clock; or whether you are instead looking for something more modern and artistic in design, Clock Shop has something to suit all tastes.


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