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The Complete Cuckoo Clock Buyer’s Guide

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With so many models, styles and prices of cuckoo clocks, how do you begin a search for the right one? Reading this guide is a good place to start. We’ll be covering seven major points: quality, terminology, what you’re looking for in a clock,  price ranges, buying from the USA or Germany, and investment.

1. Quality

Are some clocks better than others? The answer is YES. But what exactly does “better” mean?  Personal tastes or preferences might, in a way, make one clock more appealing than another, depending on what you’re looking for. A particular size, color and certain features of a clock may be “better” for one person, but not for another. So, is there an objective standard by which everyone, regardless of their personal tastes, can use as a reliable measure of what a “better” cuckoo clock is? The answer again is YES. There is an objective standard of quality and authenticity.

In the southwestern corner of Germany is a region known as the Black Forest. It’s famous for producing exceptional clockwork and is a place where the art of clock making has been passed down from generation to generation. That tradition is more than 300 years old. So when you’re shopping for a cuckoo clock, consider buying one that comes from the German Black Forest.

guide-2-vds-black-forest-certifiedThere are a number of clock makers in the Black Forest region and ten of them are members of the VDS (Black Forest Clock Association). This organization was established in 2006 to uphold specific industry standards of clock production in the Black Forest region. Only clocks that meet those standards are permitted to bear the VDS certificate of approval*. The VDS has also established a worldwide network of quality service stations for the maintenance and repair of cuckoo clocks.

Please note: the absence of the  VDS certificate on any particular brand of cuckoo clock does not necessarily mean that the clock is not of high quality and authentic. But if you would like the assurance of the VDS endorsement, look for their certification seal.

  • Here are six of the most well known Black Forest cuckoo clock makers that are certified by the VDS:

Rombach and Haas (also known as Romba)
Anton Schneider
Hubert Herr
Hones
Hekas
August Schwer

To meet the demands of the marketplace, clock manufacturers of the Black Forest also produce high quality cuckoo clocks with quartz (battery operated) movements. Since one of the requirements for VDS certification is that a clock have a mechanical movement, quartz models do not carry the VDS certificate. More about quartz cuckoo clocks later in this article.

Knowing the standard of quality in cuckoo clocks makes for a good starting point in shopping. And knowing the name and functions of each basic cuckoo clock part is a good next step. If you’re not familiar with all of this, have a look at the section below. It will help you to better understand the features and descriptions of any clock you’re considering to buy.

 2. Terminology : Cuckoo Clock Parts – Here are brief explanations of the basic parts of a mechanical cuckoo clock:

  •  Movement – This is the working inside the clock that controls it and allows it to keep time. Mechanical movements are powered by weights; quartz are battery powered.
  • Figurines – These are the small carved or molded ornamental figures of people and/or  animals you see on some clocks. Some are animated and some are not.
  • Case – This is the exterior body of the clock which comes in many styles and sizes. The   case of a Black Forest clock is traditionally carved out of linden wood.
  • Pendulum – This is the swinging part below the clock case that controls the accuracy of a mechanical clock. It’s rhythmic motion is a favorite of clock enthusiasts.  The pendulum on a quartz powered cuckoo is for decorative purposes only.
  • Weights – These are usually shaped like pines cone and generate the power for a mechanical clock. Weights on quartz cuckoo clocks are for decorative purposes only.
  • Bellows – A device that pumps a puff of air into the musical pipe which makes the cuckoo sound. Each cuckoo clock has two bellows.
  • Pipes – Inside the clock case are two small musical pipes that alternately play the “cuc” and “koo” notes when air is pumped through them.
  • Shut-off Switch – A lever or switch on the side or bottom of the clock case that allows you to silence the cuckoo bird and/or music.

 

3. What are you looking for in a clock? Knowing the answers to the following four questions will help focus your cuckoo clock search:

  • Style & Design: Is there a size, style and coloration that you’d like for decorative and/or nostalgic reasons?
  • Convenience and Movements: Do you prefer to wind a clock or not? Do you want an automatic night shut-off or manual shut-off?
  • Music: Besides the cuckoo sound, some clocks also play music. Do you prefer just the cuckoo call, or music too?
  • Price: Do you have a price range in mind? If so, how does your budget “fit” after you’ve answered the questions above?

It may take some thought, planning and checking different clocks on the market for you to answer these four questions.

In the section below we’ve elaborated in detail on the four points above.

  • Style & Design – Over the years two cuckoo clock designs have remained the most popular: the Carved design and the Chalet design. The Shield and Contemporary designs are two other types that are also available. (See “Decorating With Clocks” if you need clock decorating tips).

Guide-2-river-city-cuckoo-clock-md841-16Carved DesignFresh air scenes of nature or hunting are the motif of this type which is also known as the “traditional” design. The clock case is usually square shaped with intricate carvings surrounding it. Originally the carved style clock was designed to look like the residence of a 19th-century German railroad guardhouse. Over time Black Forest clock makers livened it up with rich a variety of ornamentation such as leaves, sometimes colorfully painted, vines, birds, deer and other animals. Some models feature a Swiss music box playing folk songs and dancing figurines. The carved design comes in both quartz and mechanical models.

guide-2--anton-schneider-cuckoo-clock-1686-91Chalet Design Chalet clocks look just like a brightly colored miniature chalet and come in three varieties: the Black Forest chalet, the Swiss chalet and the Bavarian chalet. These depict charming scenes of every day country life and come in both quartz and mechanical models. The mechanical models usually feature the merry theatrics of spinning  figurines that dance to traditional folk songs.  The melodies are played by a Swiss music box that’s built into the movement. And it’s not uncommon for animated wood choppers, animals, beer drinkers and water wheels to play their part in the “show”. Many chalets clocks have handmade, hand laid shingles on the roof.

guide-2--rombach-and-haas-cuckoo-clock-3402

Other Designs – A less popular traditional design with a mechanical movement is the “Shield” cuckoo clock. It’s face is usually flat and has a colorfully painted surface. (photo on left). Another design is the Contemporary (Modern Art) with clear and simple lines (photo below). It comes in both quartz and mechanical models.

         guide-2--rombach-and-haas-cuckoo-clock-sl15-1

  •  Convenience and Movements – Your personal preference and daily schedule will tell you which type of cuckoo clock movement could be the most convenient one for you. Shut-off options are also something to think about. Here are the three movement types:

1-Day Wind – This is a mechanical movement that’s powered by weights and needs to be wound every day. If you enjoy frequent interaction with your clock, then consider a 1-day wind movement.

8-Day Wind –  This is also a mechanical movement powered by weights and needs to be wound every 8 days.  Clocks with this movement are more expensive than 1-day clocks due to their having a larger movement; they also tend to be more intricately crafted. You can recognize a clock with 8 day movement by the larger weights.

Quartz –  A quartz movement is battery-powered and has no mechanical parts. If you like the no-fuss approach of no winding, then consider a quartz movement.  Although mechanical movements keep excellent time with minor periodic adjustments, they’re not as accurate as quartz movements. (Note: weights, chains and a swinging pendulums featured on quartz cuckoo clocks are for decorative purposes only).

Shut-off Switch –  Almost all mechanical and quartz cuckoo clocks have a manual shut-off switch. Some clocks feature an automatic night time shut-off setting, a very handy thing if you tend to forget to shut your clock at night.

  • The Music — There are two ways a cuckoo clock produces music: mechanically and electronically.

Mechanically – Mechanical cuckoo clocks (those with a 1-day or 8-day movement) contain a Swiss music box inside of the clock case. Right after the cuckoo bird announces the time, the music begins and plays on the hour in an eight-day clock, and on the hour and half hour in a 1-day clock. Musical cuckoo clocks usually play the German folksongs “The Happy Wanderer” and “Edelweiss”; some beer drinker models play the songs “In Munich Stands A Court Brew House Drink” and Little Brothers Drink.”

With most all musical models, things get pretty lively when the music begins, as dancers dance, wood choppers chop and beer drinkers drink…not to mention the moving water wheels and other nearby forest creatures. The number of notes the music boxes plays can vary between 18 and 36, and the more tones, the better the sound will usually be. You can recognize a musical cuckoo clocks by a third weight which powers the music.

Electronically – Unlike the 1-day and 8-day mechanical movements, the music (and cuckoo call) in a quartz movement is electronically simulated. Quartz clocks usually play music every hour and have up to 12 different melodies.

About the Cuckoo Sound – Larger size bellows in a mechanical clock will produce a deeper pitched cuckoo call than smaller size bellows.

  • Price Determiners – The cost of a new cuckoo clock can range from less than a hundred dollars to thousands. The price depends on the factors below. A general rule of pricing is that the more craftsmanship,  features and quality a clock has, the higher the price will be.

Country of Origin: Authentic, hand-carved Black Forest cuckoo clocks will cost more than mass produced replicas made in other countries.

Movement Type: Clocks with 8-day movements tend to cost a little more than those with 1-day movements. Quartz movements are least expensive.

Music: A mechanical musical movement increases the cost – so does the number of melodies and notes in each melody.

Amount and Intricacy of Carvings: The deeper and more detailed the carvings are, the higher the cost.

Wood vs. Plastic Parts: Clocks with wood cuckoos, figurines, dials and hands cost more than those with plastic ones.

Size of the Case: Larger clocks usually cost more than smaller ones.

Figurines and Ornaments: Quantity, size and whether or not they are hand carved, hand painted and animated will effect the cost.

Night Shut-off / Sound Shut-off: Mechanical clocks with shut-off settings cost more.

4. Price Ranges: These are general price ranges based on the cuckoo clock brands offered for sale on our website as of the date this article was published.

MUSICAL
1-Day  – $300 to $750
8-Day  – $600 to $3000 & up
Quartz  – $130 to $495

NON-MUSICAL
1-Day – $150 to $1070
8-Day – $260 to $2,000

5. Buying: USA or Germany?

Since Black Forest cuckoo clocks are made in Germany, it might seem logical to purchase one directly from a dealer located in Germany. Here are some important things to consider before you make a buying decision:

1. Imported goods are subject to a duty of at least 5% of the purchase price, and you may have to fill out paperwork as well.

2. If your clock is defective or doesn’t meet your expectations and you want to return it, it will have to be packed and shipped back to Germany. You may have to pay for the shipping expense, depending on the reason for your return. Export documents would also have to be filled out.

3. Some cuckoo clock brands offer a more comprehensive warranty if the clock is purchased from a merchant located in the USA.

4. If the price offered by the German dealer is lower than the USA dealer’s prices, determine the amount you’ll save and weigh that against points 1 to 3 above. Then ask yourself: is it worth it?

6. A Better Investment

Mechanical clocks are a better long-term value and are more likely to become collector’s items than quartz clocks. Why? One reason is that centuries of clock making history and development are alive KW-2-invest-www.theboardgamefamily.comand well inside each clock. These are embodied in the workings of its gears, escapement and all of its intricate mechanics and craftsmanship. History, detail, and human labor are important factors that add to the value and appeal of not just collectibles, but to heirlooms as well. So if you’re looking for a clock that you can pass on to your grandchildren, think “mechanical”.

 

Closing Thoughts

We hope this guide will help you to make the best buying decision. If you need extra help in setting up your new mechanical cuckoo clock when it arrives, check our illustrated article: “How To Setup A Cuckoo Clock”. With proper maintenance and care, your new clock should last for generations and become a cherished heirloom. Click here to view our large selection of Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks.

For a further discussion on mechanical wall clocks and quartz wall clocks see: Pendulum Wall Clocks: Key Wound or Quartz?

Photos :

TOP:  Group of Cuckoo Clocks

Photos # 1 – Black Forest Clock Association – VDS Certificate

Photos # 2 – Craved Cuckoo Clock by River City #MD841-16

Photos # 3 – Chalet Cuckoo Clock by Anton Schneider #8T1686-9

Photos # 4 – Shield Style Cuckoo Clock by Rombach and Haas # 3402

Photos # 5 – Contemporary (Modern Art) Cuckoo Clock by Rombach and Haas #SL15-1

Photos # 6Hourglass and Money – effectivesoftwaredesign.com

The Street Clock: A Revival of “Everybody’s Clock”

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Some would say that tradition has no place in modern times, or if it does, it’s a minor place. But what’s happening along the walkways of our towns and cities, small and big, tells something different. A street clock revival is under way.

street-2-9(3x)Federal-Street-electrictime.comStreet clocks have been around since the mid-1800’s when the railroads were being built all across America.  When the railroad came, so did the street clock. The reason was more than coincidence. People needed to check the arrival and departure times of the trains coming in and out of the new stations. Not everyone carried a personal timepiece, so the street clock became ‘everybody’s clock,’ a community clock that everyone could see and use.

 

Before long, jewelers and other merchants began to erect these clocks outside their shops to make it easy for travelers who used the public clock to stay on time with the train schedules. And since the store’s name was put on or around the face of the clock, it also promoted the merchant. The street clock wasn’t considered to be signage so, it was immune to the bylaws that disallowed commercial signs on sidewalks. The arrangement was beneficial for everyone.

street-2content.lib.washington.edu-perm-req-call

 The street clock went on to become the fad of the 19th century. By the late 1800’s, even cities of the West, who at first couldn’t afford to transport the clocks from the East, had graced dozens of their streets with the prestige and practicality of a street clock. Then, for a variety of reasons, interest in the street clock had begun to wane and its popularity fell away…until recently.

street-#2-wildcardwalks.co.uk

Now, after a long absence, they’re showing up around golf courses, college campuses, parks and town squares bringing with them a sense of tradition, charm, intimacy and community.

To be in step with today’s revival, street clock manufacturers have increased their production to meet the need. We asked Brandy Morris, Marketing Director of Electric Time, a manufacturer of street and tower clocks, for her comments. “There is a revival of street clocks in the past 20 years and it’s very strong. People want to focus on their communities and the feeling of the neighborhood store, and the street clock just embodies that movement. It gives people a meeting place and an identity to their town. People recognize that the old clocks had disappeared for one reason or another, some deteriorated, some got hit by a truck, some fell prey to the widening of streets, and they want the traditional “main street” spirit back.” she said.

street-2clock-electrictime.comNow, it’s the “Main Street” way. Urban planners, developers and preservationists have made the street clock part of a fresh approach that respects the beauty and ergonomics of community spaces. And among the design elements used in the effort, like brick and mortar walkways, street lamps, trees, sidewalk benches and planting strips, there is strong consensus that the street clock imparts a certain character and distinction to the mix that is uniquely its own. Made with a cast aluminum pedestal base, a street clock weighs about 300 to 1500 pounds and stands 8 feet to as high as 25 feet tall. In a way it’s like a building– it has a constancy and stability to it that anchors a neighborhood.

 

It’s remarkable that the street clock, more than any other piece of “street furniture”, can elicit a special sense of warmth and community among the citizens of a town or city. street2-flowers-1927-davidcobbcraig.blogspot.comPerhaps it’s because the things that draw us together as human beings are often the things that we all share in common. Food and recreation are excellent examples; we all know how social gatherings so often occur around them. Time is another example of something we all share in common, and few of us ever go through our day without needing to know what time it is. A street clock draws us together; it gives us a rendezvous spot and gathering place for friends, families, sweethearts and colleagues.

So, who said tradition has no place in modern times? It certainly does. The revival of the street clock is proof of that. And if we happen to be in the vicinity of our town’s street clock, we know that anyone else who’s out and about, might also, just as we are, be looking at ‘everybody’s clock.’

Photo Credits:

Photo #1 – archboston.org

Photo # 2 – Museum of History and Industry, Seattle

Photo # 3 – wildcardwalks.co.uk

Photo # 4 – archboston.org

Photo # 5 – davidcobbcraig.blogspot.com

How to Set Up a Cuckoo Clock

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Are they all the same? Well…yes and no. Mechanical cuckoo clocks come in a variety of brands, designs, features and price ranges. But what it takes to set one up is basically the same for all; so these instructions should work well for whatever brand you may have. Also, detailed manufacturer setup and maintenance instructions are included with every cuckoo clock  we ship. You can also download them from our website  – just click the “Instructions” tab at the bottom of the product’s detail page.

Below is a diagram showing the parts of the mechanical cuckoo clock that we’ll be talking about in this article.

SETUP-#2-FIRST

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now let’s  get started:

1. Unpack the box

Gently hold the clock by the frame to remove it from the carton. Be sure not to pull on any of the decorative parts or figurines. Then remove all of the other parts such as the weights, pendulum, crest and assorted smaller pieces (if your clock has these). Sometimes within a box, at the bottom, is another box with the weights and/or pendulum.

You’ll notice a small packet of chains wrapped in paper at the bottom of the clock; for now leave them wrapped. Unwrap all the other pieces. It’s a good idea to save the original box and all packing material for future use.

2. Attach the Headboard and/or Other Ornaments

setup-#2-crestIf the model you’ve purchased has a headboard and/or other small pieces, now is a good time to attach them. They mount by various means of pins, clips, pegs and screws, depending on your  model. Mounting them is simple, but if you need help, details are included in the manufacturer’s printed instructions that come with the clock. You can also download printable versions of their instructions from any cuckoo clock product detail page on our website – just click the “Instructions” tab at the bottom of the page.

3. Open the Back Panel

Lay the clock face down on a flat surface. setup-#2-clips-bellowsOpen the latches on the back panel and remove the panel. The inside mechanism with all of its wires will now be exposed so be careful not to bend any of them as you proceed.

 

 

4. Remove Safety Material Inside the Clock

Cuckoo clocks are packed and prepped very carefully before they’re shipped. Some parts are secured with extra safety materials to ensure that the clock arrives undamaged, setup-#2-papergongand these need to be removed before setting up your clock. On the back of the panel, you’ll see a gong coil with a strip of paper under it (photo on right). Remove the paper (some clocks have cardboard). On each one of the two bellows you’ll see a wire clip–remove both of them (photo above on left, 3a & 3b). Some cuckoo clock models have rubber bands and Styrofoam which also must be removed.

Also, make sure that the wire with the looped or U-shaped end goes through the slot on the bottom of the clock case. Later you’ll hang the pendulum on that wire. Next, put the panel back by fitting its bottom edge into the groove at the bottom of the clock case, then close the top edge and latch.

5. Hang the Clock

setup-#2-nail-wallIf there is no stud in the wall where you plan to drive the nail, install a wallboard anchor (molly bolt) or a heavy duty fastener of the correct type for your wall. It should be set at an angle of about 45 degrees. When you install the screw, make sure it protrudes far enough from the wall to engage the clock securely. For maximum running time hang your clock about 6 feet high. Running time for your clock will be one full day or eight full days, depending on its mechanism. If the clock isn’t mounted high enough, the weights will touch the floor and shorten the expected run time. It won’t damage the clock but will require that you to wind it more often.

Make sure the clock is flush with the wall and not leaning forward and that it’s 100% horizontal. Never hang a cuckoo clock over a heater or above a fire place or in drafty areas. Also, areas with excessive humidity and dust, and temperatures below 40 degrees may damage your cuckoo clock.

6. Unpack the Chains

setup-#2-chains-pouchUnwrap the small packet of chains at the bottom of the clock and remove the retaining wire. Smooth out knots in the chains and let them fall freely to the floor. If at any time the clock is taken off the wall, be sure to keep it in an upright position to prevent the chains from sliding off the inside sprocket wheels.

setup-#2+1-pull-chains

 

7. Hang the Weights and Pendulum

Next, hang the weights on the brass hooks (left photo: see 7b) and attach the pendulum on to the wire loop (see 7a) that’s hanging through the slot at the bottom of the clock.

NOTE: Before you wind your clock (step #11) we recommend first completing steps 8, 9 and 10.

 

 

 

 

8. Unlock the Cuckoo Door

On the front of the clock there is a small wire latch at the edge of the cuckoo door–turn it to the left to unlocksetup-#2-cuckoo-open-door the door (photo below on left). Then put the pendulum in motion by gently setup-#2-cuckoo-doorpushing it to one side.

 

 

 

 

9. Level the Clock With Your Ears

Yes, it’s your ears and not your eyes that will tell you if the clock is horizontally perfect. Just listen to the rhythm of the tick tock. It should be even and sound like this: “tick….tock….tick….tock….tick….tock”, and not like this: “tick-tock….tick-tock….tick-tock….tick-tock.” If the rhythm is uneven, carefully adjust the horizontal position of the clock by pivoting it to the left or right until the rhythm becomes even. When you’ve found this “sweet spot” you may want to place a light pencil mark on the wall along the edge of the clock for reference in case the clock is accidentally moved.

10. Set the Time

To set the time, move the minute hand (long hand) counter clock-wise. Do not move the hour hand (short hand). If you prefer to move the minute hand clock-wise instead, you can, but you’ll have to wait for the bird to cuckoo and/or the music to finish playing at every hour and/or half hour until the hands reach the correct time. Be sure that the “silent” switch or lever is in the correct “on” position. You’ll be able to tell if it’s on if you hear a “click” before each hour.

11. Wind the Clock

To wind your clock, pull down on the free ends (ring ends) of the chains that don’t have weights on them. This will raise the weights to the base of the clock. Don’t be tempted to help lift the weights up with your hands. Always pull the chains slowly and evenly and avoid roughness. Be sure to never pull the weights themselves, as this could damage the chains or ratchet mechanism. Once the weight reaches the top, your cuckoo clock is fully wound.

12. Regulate the Time

The pendulum is what regulates the time. If your clock runs fast, gently slide the pendulum leaf or disc downwards. If the clock runs slow, slide the pendulum-disc upwards. setup-#2-pendulum-bobSome clocks have a threaded adjuster at the bottom of the pendulum. Turn the adjuster to the right if the clock is too slow or to the left if it’s too fast. Moving the pendulum leaf or disc about 1/16″ results in a change of about 2 minutes per day. After each pendulum adjustment set your clock using an accurate time source.

 

And Finally…

Here’s where instructions are no longer needed. That’s because the next step comes so naturally…and that’s simply to enjoy your new cuckoo clock! Thanks so much for reading our article. If you’ve enjoyed it or have any questions, please post your comment.

 

Image Credits: River City Clocks – rivercityclocks.com