Carriage Clocks: Enduring Classics

Carriage Clocks: Enduring Classics
by Matthew Roberts

Carriage clocks are a relic of horology’s bygone days. These clocks were primarily produced from the beginning of the 19th century to around 1930; before the wristwatch became commercially available. However, this was a time where people were traveling more often than they had in centuries past – and these people needed to be able to tell the time.

The first traveling clocks were made in the 1400s, with the carriage clock being a more sophisticated version of these clocks.

The first carriage clock as we know it was made for Napoleon Bonaparte by A.L. Breguet in 1798. Not only did this clock tell the time, but also featured a calendar and a temperature display. For this time, this was a great technological feat – and before long, the carriage clock caught on in a big way.

A carriage clock is typically rectangular and features glass, porcelain or enamel sides. A carriage clock is characterized by its top-mounted handle for portability. There were also some carriage clocks made which featured rounded tops and a chain handle (these models were made by Breguet, among others).

Carriage clocks were really a sign of status when they were popular. They were specially made for the upper class, who were the only ones who could afford to travel often, and to take such luxuries with them.

The fact that carriage clocks were created for a wealthy clientele meant that they were made both for beauty as well as durability. These clocks had to have springs which could go for long periods of time before needing to be wound.

The spring mechanisms used in carriage clocks were the same as those used in any other style of clock made at the time, other than the size. The basic workings of the spring were the same as in a pocket watch produced in that era.

Breguet eventually hit upon the idea of easing the winding mechanism for users by using a piston which would wind the clock rather than the pull-cord commonly in use at the time.

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Carriage clocks would generally feature a brass coating with covers for the face of either metal or glass to protect the face and the internal mechanisms. Glass was a preferred material for the cover, as it made reading the clock while in transit easier.

Also, many carriage clocks came in leather or leather-covered wood carrying cases. These often had open or glass-covered sides so that the clock was protected, but could still be read. Unfortunately, these outer cases are rare now, most of them having decayed with time and use.

Since they were made for wealthy patrons, carriage clocks were sometimes very ornate. They often had adornments on the outside, and the face of the clock was sometimes painted with scenes, or set with precious metals or stones.

After awhile, some carriage clocks took on an intriguing new look. Some of them were made with all the sides made of glass. This gave a person the ability to see into the workings of the clock. The entire face of the clock also began to be used, allowing room for more dials and information to be presented to the holder.

By the 1830’s carriage clocks were such a popular item that they were exported worldwide. However, these mass produced carriage clocks were far simpler in design than were those custom made for affluent clients.

Within a century, however, carriage clocks began to fall out of favor. The wristwatch had been introduced and was widely adopted for their convenience and lower price.

However, carriage clocks are still around and are even manufactured today. These clocks are produced with the same kind of craftsmanship as they were centuries ago; these clocks are truly built to last and look wonderful in any home.

These new carriage clocks come in a wide range of materials and styles. You can find simple, yet elegantly designed carriage clocks which are very inexpensive or models which are inlaid with precious metals and gems which cost thousands.

A well designed carriage clock is a thing of beauty which you’ll want to display proudly on the mantel instead of traveling with. They make wonderful gifts for special occasions and are something which will be cherished and become a prominent feature in the recipient’s home.

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