Born in the Winter: Black Forest Clock Making

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When  time, incentive, and patience come together, something great can happen. And it did. The tradition of Black Forest clock making began with those three ingredients, some farmers, and the craft of wooden gear clock making, back in the last half of the 17th century.

 

During the long winter months when sowing, tending, and reaping were at a standstill, the farmers had plenty of time on their hands. And in that pause, a need was filled.

How? In the Black Forest, it was customary for a farmer’s oldest son to inherit the farm–-the younger son or sons were given only a small parcel of the farm. That created a need. Looking for additional ways to earn their living–here’s where the incentive comes in–some of the younger sons began crafting wooden clocks during the winter months to supplement their income. There were also cottagers and poorer farm families who took up the craft.

Clock making was a likely choice for their new venture, as linden wood was abundant in the region. The wood was soft enough to carve, yet hard enough to support the structure, and there were plenty of rivers and streams to power the lumber mills. The rocks that were used to power most of the weight-driven “Waaguhr” clocks, as they were called, were also in abundance.

Now for the patience: Farmers know that seeds grow at their own rate, and that mother nature can’t be rushed. Farmers know how to wait. Knowing how to be patient prepared them well to be clock makers. For long hours they could sit at their benches using their skill,Wood-Gears#2-uh.edu inventiveness, and the simplest of tools. The movements of the clocks, including the gears, were all made of wood. Without the benefit of electric-powered jigsaws, they had to hand-cut, file and shape every tooth on each gear, one at a time, carefully, slowly and precisely.

How many gear teeth did the average Waaguhr have and how long do you think it took to make such a clock? Based on our research, we estimate that the movement had, more or less, 140 to 150 gear teeth among its three gear wheels. As for how much time it took to make one of these timepieces…we can only guess! But the winters were long, and it was good that they were.

When spring came it was time to, so to say, “harvest” the clocks and bring them to market. The farmers gathered them up, and had traveling clock peddlers find eager homes for them. These were the first, the simple Waaguhr clocks, which were followed some decades later by the immensely popular cuckoo clock. Artisan clock makers steadily developed their own styles in the designs of the cuckoo clocks, and the Black Forest gained a worldwide reputation for producing timepieces of great beauty and craftsmanship. What had begun as a small cottage industry, in the pause of winter, grew and flourished throughout the region and beyond. In time, the clock making tradition of the Black Forest gained worldwide recognition.

So, great things did happen…when time, incentive, and patience came together.

Below is the “Hohenzollern”, a 17th century replica by Rombach and Haas. Click here for more details.

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Photo credits:

Photo # 1 – Potato Planters by Jean-François Millet – hoocher.com

Photo # 2 – 17th century replica of a Waaguhr style wall clock – uh.edu

Photo # 3 – 17th century replica  ” Hohenzollern” – Waaguhr style clock by Rombach and Haas

 

 

The Hohenzollern Rock Clock by Rombach and Haas

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For a time, it was chocolate cakes, glass products, and lumber for which the Black Forest of Germany was best  known. But in 1640 that began to change. It was the “Waaguhr” clock that did it, the first affordable mechanical clock for the new and growing middle class of the European society. Waaghur-#2-Rombach-7640People were taking up a trade in the new industries. Farmers became millers, bakers, and craftsmen of all kinds, and they began to buy, sell, and trade with other middle class tradesmen. The Waaguhr helped them keep better track of the starting and stopping time for the breads they baked, the grains they milled, and the products they crafted. (Photo: Rombach and Haas antique reproduction Waaguhr style clock.)

Before the invention of the Waaguhr, people had estimated the passage of time by using the sun’s position, unless they lived close enough to a church clock tower to hear its bells ring at special times during the day. Some may have used candle clocks or flipped over their hourglasses. But when the Waaguhr came along, it must have been a big relief for them, for it was easier to know when to take their breads out of the ovens and to time all their other tasks.

The clock went over big in spite of one shortcoming, its accuracy. Having a movement made of all wood instead of metal parts had a lot to do with its lack of precision. By today’s standards, losing, let’s say, fifteen minutes a day, would be unacceptable. But think of it, compared to how people had been measuring the time, the new and affordable Waaguhr was a great and practical convenience, even if it wasn’t perfectly accurate.

Not only did this clock make life easier, but it also added eye-catching interest to any home and shop. Why? Because of what powered the clock’s 12 hour, weight-driven movement–and that was usually a heavy rock. Some clocks, had a glass vile filled with pebbles or sand, instead of a rock. Adding to the Waaguhr’s unusual appearance was its curious looking yoke-shaped balance which continuously twisted back and forth. (Waaguhr means “Foliot”, which is the name of the type of movement of the clock.)

Over time it became known that the Black Forest had more to offer the world than delicious chocolate cakes, lumber, and glass products. The production of the Waaguhr began the tradition of Black Forest clock making, a tradition that just kept on growing and growing.

So, sit down and relax German-style with a piece of chocolate cake, a glass of schnapps,  and a Waaguhr style clock hanging on your wall. Check out an antique reproduction model of the Waagur clock on our website. Be sure to also see our related article “Born in the Winter: Black Forest Clock Making”.

See this video of how the foliot works. (The clock shown in this clip is for demonstration purposes only).

 Photo:  Waaguhr style antique reproduction wall clock – Hohenzollern #7640 by Rombach and Haas

 

Master Level Carving: Christophe Cuckoo Clocks

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At just five years of age, as a fifth generational worker, Christophe Herr began carving clocks in the family’s clock shop. For ten years, he sat next to his father and grandfather, three generations of clock makers in one room working side by side. LIttle Christophe learned well. Today in southwestern Germany, he stands as a master craftsman at his worktable, renewing the old techniques of Black Forest carving and refinishing.

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The quality of Christophe’s work today is a lot like the cuckoo clocks of
the last half of the nineteenth century, the clocks that made the Black Forest famous. It’s the degree of detail, the beauty of the carving  and the complexity of the design that raise his modern timepieces to the same artistic level of the Wehrle and Beha clocks, for which connoisseurs are now paying in the range of ten thousand dollars each.

Christophe’s clocks embody both delicacy and power and are set apart from all the other modern day brands. Recently, I spoke with Dolf Kemper, the USA distributor of Christophe clocks, “if you compare a Christophe cuckoo clock to another well known brand,” he said, “it’s like comparing the difference between a Bentley and Mercedes. Both cars are high quality, but the Bentley is at the top. If you’re looking to buy a new carved cuckoo clock and want the top one percent in artistry, it would be a Christophe. Of course the price is higher due to the extra time and effort it takes to make one.” The above photo shows the incredible detail of the 8399S model, now in production, and will be available late this summer. Call for details.

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Just how much time is extra time? Well, each masterpiece takes about six months to finish. It’s all done the unhurried, old-fashioned way. No sprayed-on finishes for these clocks; each one has an authentic hand-rubbed, antique wax finish. This is an extremely labor intensive process, and it takes several days and several hand applications to complete just this part. Another reason for the lengthy production time is Christophe’s “one-man-one-clock” approach. He believes strongly that the best results come when only one person carves the entire clock. “When one person makes a clock, not a line of people, it always looks special,” Christophe said. That’s why he does all the woodworking himself, from the beginning to the end.


You can see what we mean in this behind-the-scenes video below.
Take a tour of the Christophe shop and watch a master clock maker in action.

And be sure to check out the Christophe Cuckoo Clocks on our website.

 

References:

Christophe Interview: smithjournal.com.au

Photo #1 – Christophe Cuckoo Clock –  The Hart and Hound Model

Photo # 2- Christophe Gothic Design Cuckoo Clock

Guide-2-smithsonianmag.com-cuckoo-clocks

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.

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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.

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  •  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 Long-Lived Cuckoo

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BLOG#2-rh8264webbig_289x433Three centuries is a long time, long enough for things to come in and out of style many times over. But if I were to tell you that there’s a unique product, that after three centuries is still going strong, could you guess what that was? If you know your clock history then you may know that it’s none other than the beloved Black Forest cuckoo clock. What’s the reason for its continual popularity?  It’s a combination of things: whimsical charm, kinetic experience and a relationship that can start from the very first day you bring the cuckoo into your home.

But there is one more reason: it’s the German clock making tradition of the Black Forest. For generations cuckoo clocks have been made by craftsmen of that region with a consistent high level of workmanship. These clock smiths are masters at what they do and they love their craft. The passion they put into their work shows in the long lived quality of their clocks and in the abundant variety of their designs.BLOG#2-Modern-Cuckoo-rhbb1111 In recent years a lot more choices in decorative styles have emerged, but the cuckoo clock has traveled through time in mostly an unchanged state. It’s anchored in tradition and keeps going strong.

To preserve this tradition of clock making the Black Forest Clock Association was founded in 2006. After I viewed their video (below), being an artist and technician myself,  I had so much more appreciation for the works of these craftsmen. This “bird’s eye” video tour takes you right into the heart of Black Forest cuckoo clock factories and workshops of Rombach & Haas and Christophe. There are lots of great closeup shots. You’ll see movements and clock cases being assembled, jig saws cutting templates, wood carvers carving their designs, painting, staining, varnishing and the making of pipes, clock dials and figurines.

So take the tour. I hope you enjoy it! Also, you can click here to find out about The Clock Route Of The Black Forest.

 

Photo and Video Credits:

Photo #1 – Rombach and Haas Filigree Cuckoo Clock

Photo #2 – Rombach and Haas Bamboo Cuckoo Clock

Video – Black Forest Clock Association