When you start shopping for a new mantel clock, you’ll quickly find that there are many styles, models and price ranges from which to choose. How do you sort through so many achoices? This guide will help you do just that. We’ll be covering five major points: terminology, construction materials, features, pricing, manufacturer’s warranty and investment. (Note: The scope of this article will cover new mantel clocks only).
Knowing the name and function of each basic clock part is a good first step. If you’re new to mantel clocks, the section below will help you to better understand the features and descriptions of any clock you’re considering to buy.
1. Terminology: Mantel Clock Parts – Here are brief explanations on the basic parts of a mantel clock:
- Movement – This is the working inside the clock that controls it and allows it to keep time. Mechanical key wound movements are powered by spring tension; quartz are battery powered.
- Chime – This is the melody a clock plays. Depending on the model, a mantel clock plays one, two or three different melodies every hour or quarter hour; the numbers “4/4″ designate a quarter hour chimer. A single or double bell or gong strike is sometimes referred to as a “chime”. So if you see a clock described as a chiming model, check to confirm that it’s referring to its musical melody or to a strike.
- Gong/Bell – A single or double strike on a bell or gong signals the changing of the hour and half hour.
- Case – This is the exterior casing which forms the body of the clock and houses the clock’s interior workings. The case can be decorative or plain.
- Shut-off Switch – A lever or switch on the back of the clock case that allows the chime to be silenced.
- Key Wound – This refers to mechanical mantel clocks that require hand winding with the use of a key.
- Face – The clock face displays the time using Roman or Arabic numerals and moving hands.
Now, here’s some clarification about clock terminology: since mantel clocks are often used to beautify table tops and book shelfs, they’re also referred to as as “shelf clocks” or “table clocks”. Lastly, although Anniversary clocks are also used on shelves and tables, they’re not commonly referred to as “mantel clocks”.
2. Construction Materials: The kind of materials new mantel clocks cases are made of can vary greatly. Most use one or more of the following materials: solid wood, glass (clear and stained), crystal, wrought iron, china, stainless steel, brushed steel or aluminum, polished nickel or brass, plastic, forged brass and wood composite. Dials are usually made of metal and some are enamel. Low quality mantel clocks may have dials made of materials other than metal and enamel.
3. Features: what are you looking for in a clock? It might take some thought and planning before you can answer the questions below, but knowing the answers will help focus your mantel 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? How about volume control?
- Music: Besides hourly and quarter hour strikes, some mantel clocks also play music. Do you prefer the simple strike, or some music as well to liven things up? How about sound shut-off and volume control?
- Price: Do you have a price range in mind? If so, how does your budget “fit” after you’ve answered the questions above?
In the section below we’ve elaborated on the four points above.
- Style & Design – Mantel clocks come in traditional and contemporary designs. Some also feature pendulums. For helpful decorating tips see our extensive article about “Decorating With Clocks”.
Here is a list of mantel clock designs:
Tambour – This is the most common traditional design. It has a very distinctive shape resembling the curves on the back of a camel.
Bracket – This traditional design has a more or less square shaped case. During the 17th and 18th centuries when most of these clocks had pendulums, they were hung on the wall with a bracket to allow the pendulum to swing freely; hence the name “bracket clock”.
Carriage – When bumpy horse drawn carriages were one of the main means of travel in the 19th century, this sturdy, traditional design came about. Carriage style clocks are smaller than other mantel clocks and convenient to read only at close distances, such as on a desk or night table.
Steeple – In 1845, Elias Ingraham, a cabinet maker was commissioned to design and build a new style of clock case. It was modeled after traditional Gothic styles of architecture popular in America during the 19th century. Sternreiter Clocks is currently manufacturing, in limited production, a faithful replica of the Steeple clock.
Contemporary – Beyond the traditional “old world” designs are the modern and designer styled mantel clocks. Their cases are often made with only modest amounts or wood, or no wood at all (left photos).
Skeleton – This design (photo on right) features a clock movement – gears and all – that’s viewable from the exterior of the clock. Skeleton designs are found in both traditional and contemporary mantel clocks.
- Convenience & Movements – Mantel clocks are generally offered with two types of movements: mechanical key-wound and battery operated quartz. Your personal preference and daily schedule will tell you which movement might work best for you. Shut-off and volume control options are also something to consider.
Mechanical Key Wound Movement – These generally need to be wound once a week, even though they’re called “8-day clocks.” There are also 14-day and 31-day movements, although these are less common. Mechanical mantel clocks are wound by turning a key that’s inserted into a winding hole on the dial, and can be recognized by the presence of one, two or three holes. The middle hole winds the spring that powers the timekeeping of the clock. The right hole (as you face the clock) powers the chimes, and the left hole powers the strikes. So, if a key-wound mantel clock has just two winding holes, it doesn’t play a chiming melody. If there’s only one hole, then it strikes the time only.
One last point about a key wound movement–let’s not forget about having fun. A mechanical clock can give you a special kind of satisfaction; not only do you hear the perky clicking sound as the key turns, but you can feel the sensation in your fingers of the gears winding. When you wind the clock, you’re somehow “connecting” with the workings inside of it, even though you’re on the outside of it. Key winding is a pastime that most clock owners look forward to.
Quartz Movement – This is battery powered. If you like the no-fuss approach of no winding, you might consider a quartz movement. Although mechanical movements keep excellent time with minor periodic adjustments, they’re not as accurate as quartz movements, which can keep precise time to within fractions of a second per month.
Shut-off and Volume Control Options – Almost all mechanical and quartz cuckoo clocks have an automatic night time chime shut-off, a handy thing if you tend to forget to shut your clock at night.
Maintenance – Mechanical key wound clocks require regular cleaning and oiling. (see ‘What You Need to Know About Oiling and Cleaning Your Clock’). If you like the convenience of a maintenance free clock that needs only the batteries replaced every few years and want to save money on routine maintenance costs, then a quartz clock might be for you.
- The Music – Do you like to hear a sonorous melody throughout the day? Or do you prefer the simple strike of a bell? Most musical models (ones that play a melody) feature an optional shut-off setting to silence the music. Non-musical models are also available.
There are two ways a mantel clock produces music: mechanically and electronically:
Mechanically – Most mechanical key wound mantel clocks feature one, two or three melodies created by hammers striking on metal rods or brass bells. These mechanical sounds produce richer tone than the digitally simulated sounds of a quartz movement. The most common chime is the traditional Westminster. However, the more elaborate and expensive models feature the triple chimes of the Westminster, Whittington and St. Michael. Other forms of chimes include the two-tone bim-bam melody, the passing bell strike and the hour strike.
Electronically – Unlike 8-day mechanical movements, the chimes and bell strikes in a quartz movement are electronically simulated. Most, but not all, quartz mantel clocks usually play two melodies and chime every quarter hour.
4. Price Determiners
So now that you’ve read the previous section on mantel clock features, and know more about the different designs, movement types, convenience aspects and music, you probably have a good idea about what features you’d like in a new mantel clock.
The next question to answer is: how does your budget “fit” into that idea? Usually, the more features a product has, the higher will be the cost. So if your budget isn’t robust enough to handle all of the features you want, it comes down to prioritizing which features are important to you.
Higher quality mantel clocks will have a manufacturer’s warranty. The duration of coverage ranges from 1 to 5 years, depending on the brand and the start date of coverage can begin from the date of purchase or the date of manufacture.
Mechanical clocks have 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 and 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”.
We hope this guide will help you make the best buying decision. With proper maintenance and care, your new mantel clock should last for generations and become a cherished heirloom. Click here to view our large selection of Mantel Clocks.
Photo #1 – Hermle Amelia tambour style mantel clocks in cherry and oak
Photo #2 – Man reading a book – williamsonac.com
Photo #3 – Mantel clock on a book shelf
Photo #4 – Hermle tambour style mantel clock
Photo #5 – Hermle bracket style mantel clocks
Photo #6 – Sternreiter carriage style mantel clock
Photo #7 – Sternreiter steeple style mantel clock
Photo #8 – Hermle contemporary mantel clocks
Photo #9 – Hermle skeleton style mantel clock
Photo #10 – Hermle mantel clock and key
Photo #11 – Charlie Chaplain clock maintenance – moma.org
Photo #12 – Sheet music – knickoftimeinteriors.blogspot.com
Photo #13 – Cash register – financialramblings.com
Photo #14 – Hourglass and money – effectivesoftwaredesign.com