For centuries, people have felt the need to measure the units of the day by some means, and early examples of timepieces include sundials, candle clocks, incense clocks, water clocks and hourglasses. Mechanical clocks were first used in Mediaeval Europe, mostly in church towers where they called the faithful for church attendance or prayers. Eventually clocks became sophisticated enough to measure and strike the hour and then the quarter hour, but were incapable of measuringany smaller unit.
In 1656 the Dutch astronomer Christian Huygens built the first successful pendulum clock, the most accurate clock to date, and in 1670 English clockmaker William Clement realised that a longer pendulum gave a more accurate reading, and invented the longcase or grandfather clock. From that point, the clockmaking industry flourished and other notable milestones include lantern clocks, carriage clocks, mantel clocks, pocket watches and wrist watches. Lantern clocks, named for their lantern shape, were the first clocks widely used in private homes and were popular in the 17th century. Bracket clocks (portable clocks designed to be placed on a shelf or bracket on the wall) and mantel clocks were popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, with mantel clocks in particular becoming increasingly ornate, often featuring gilt figures or cases. Mantel clocks were still popular in the 19th century, but had become noticeably plainer.
Clocks are a perennial favourite with collectors, with age, condition and rarity being key factors in determining price. It’s common to find examples that have been over-restored or 'cannibalised’, putting the movement of one clock into the case of another, so authenticity is also important.
Early examples, particularly those featuring contemporary innovations such as repeater clocks or self-winding watches command a premium. Also popular are classic designs, such as the iconic Swiss railway wall clock, invented in 1944.
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