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Big Time: Swinging Sensation

James D. Malcolmson

Modern clocks are as rich in technical detail as watches, and certainly richer in history. Yet they lag behind in popularity. The most avid aficionados of these highly accurate objets, unlike many watch collectors, often want to appreciate the beauty of precision mechanics without the distraction of fashion. Yet because mechanical complexity can itself be a fashionable design component in many pendulum clocks, watch collectors are now appreciating these large, aesthetically striking pieces as never before, and are acquiring them for in-home installation.

With its slow swings and its temperature-compensating nickel-and-iron rod (corresponding in function to the spiral hairspring found in watches), the pendulum design is easy to appreciate. The care with which clockmakers build these pieces becomes evident during installation, as technicians adjust their inner workings to the particular barometric pressure range of the location.

There are some highly talented individuals working in the pendulum field, including Philippe Wurtz (617.864.1163, www.philippe-wurtz.com). This independent French clockmaker enjoys a reputation for virtuosity that rivals those of some of the biggest names in watchmaking. Wurtz specializes in long-power-reserve clocks that require winding only once every few months, or once a year. (His Sarlat pendulum clock is shown at left.) Using precise gearing and special low-friction coatings and bearings, Wurtz has equipped some of his pieces with a long-center second hand, which is highly unusual in clocks of this type. Wurtz’s technical prowess is most apparent, however, in those pieces he equips with a vacuum-regulated chamber to provide consistent air density for the pendulum.

Erwin Sattler, a 51-year-old company based in Gräfelfing, Germany, is one of the best-known names in precision clockmaking. It crafts 12 complete movement calibers from start to finish for its core line of wall clocks. After successfully integrating a Sattler clock with a watch-winder assembly, the company now caters to those interested in expanding their collections beyond personal timepieces. Sattler now makes a host of interesting horological objets, among them a gimballed marine chronometer that displays time on its top surface. At the same time, a spindle-shaped underside indicates a vessel’s angle of heel. It is perfect for use on a sailing yacht, or even in an older home that leans.

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Photo by Cordero Studios/ www.corderostudios.com
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