If you’re running out of ideas for gifts this Christmas or struggling to find the perfect present for someone who has everything, have you thought about choosing a clock for Christmas? 
Clocks have taken many forms over the centuries. From the days of sundials and water clocks used by the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks and the Babylonians to today’s modern electronic clocks, they have a fascinating history. 
There are so many different types of clock and timepieces today, giving you plenty of choice when choosing a clock as a gift this Christmas. 

A brief history of the clock 

Before the clocks we know today were created, the sundial was invented by the Egyptians, which used the position of the sun to indicate the time of day. Later came water clocks, also from the Egyptians, which used two different levels of water in two containers marked to tell the time. 
However, it was the Greeks that took the clock a step further when they divided the year into months and days. They took the days and divided them into hours, minutes and seconds, then again in 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. Why 12? That’s because there are 12 moon cycles in a year. 
It wasn’t until 1656 when the first pendulum clock was developed by Christian Huygens, a Dutch scientist, although many would argue that Galileo Galilei invented it first. Actually, in spite of the fact that he designed it, it was never built. Huygens used a ‘natural’ period of oscillation mechanism, but just a year later, he built the balance wheel and spring assembly, which is still used in some wristwatches today. 
The mechanical clock continued to evolve, with William Clement in the UK using an anchor/recoil escapement that had less impact on the perpetual pendulum motion. From the 18th century, clocks continued to evolve. The electrostatic clock of 1815 was the forerunner to the electric clock of 1840, which was used in later pendulum clocks before an electromagnetic mechanism took over. 
By the 1950s, the atomic clock had been invented and represented the most accurate timekeeper. They are the base mechanism for just about every clock and watch built today. 

The different types of clocks 

Carriage clocks 

Originating from France, carriage clocks are designed to be moved around the house and can be taken on journeys away from home. They were made in brass cases, known as a Pendule D’ Officier, and later the glass-panelled clock case was developed. 

Mantel clocks 

often having a pendulum mechanism, they are designed to sit on mantelpieces and become part of a home’s interior. Mantel clocks come in several styles, fitted within a wood case or on a backplate, and some can have a visible oscillating balance. The French design is usually more flamboyant than English varieties, encompassing floral details and can even be in the form of statues, but they can also be quite plain, architectural or ornate. 

Table/bracket clocks 

Usually bigger than mantel clocks; earlier designs had a pendulum and verge escapement mechanism. Later versions had a hairspring balance and are spring driven, i.e. they have to be wound up on a regular basis to tighten the spring. Again, they can be in cases that are either quite plain or more elaborate with engravings. They may also have additional functions, like the moon phases and calendar dates. 

Wall clocks 

They are what they say, clocks that are mounted on walls. Today’s type of wall clock was developed in the 17th century, but there are many varieties. The most well-known is the Vienna wall clock which is weight-driven, but the white dial clock also called the ‘railway’ or ‘school’ clock, is also popular. Although they started out in quite plain cases, wall clocks developed, and more quality woods were used, like walnut and ebony. 

Longcase clocks 

When pendulum clocks were invented, the mechanism and pendulum were short but over time, when second pendulums were included, the need for a taller case. The second pendulum, which is the one you see hanging down from the clock face inside the cabinet, is one metre long and swings in one-second intervals. Primarily known as the ‘grandfather’ clock, the actual clock mechanism was often bought and put into a tall case. Some mechanisms keep time, while others need to be wound up regularly to remain accurate. Like many clocks that are incorporated in cases, sometimes they are quite plain, whilst others are in more decorative, carved cases. 

Turret clocks 

This type of clock is designed to sit inside a turret, church tower or other public spaces, like Big Ben, and has a hammer that strikes a bell at intervals. The early versions didn’t always have a clock face, but later turret clocks had a dial. 

Choosing a clock for Christmas 

A clock can make a wonderful Christmas gift, whether it is a more modern table or mantel clock or an antique grandfather or wall clock. When choosing a clock, consider the home it is going into and where it is likely to be situated. 
For example, grandfather (longcase) clocks take up quite a bit of space and will need a large hall or room. Most Victorian wall clocks are encased in elaborate, carved wood cases, and some have short pendulums. 
Mantel and table clocks are a better option as they are smaller and more adaptable to today’s interiors. Brass carriage clocks are often popular; some are fully enclosed in a brass case, while others have glass panels so you can see the mechanism working, including short pendulums. 
You can also find mantel and table clocks that are incorporated into a statue, like our Art Deco Alsatian dog sitting on a marble platform. Whatever type of clock you choose, you can be sure it will be a much-loved gift for years. 
Melorium Clocks & Antiques is a family-run business specialising in antique clocks, furniture and collectables. We have a wide range of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian longcase clocks, mantle clocks, wall clocks and table clocks with French and English mechanisms. We also offer clock servicing and repair by our highly experienced horologist. We even consider those restoration jobs that no one else will touch. So, whether you’re looking for a beautiful clock as a gift, to grace a mantelpiece in your home, or have a family heirloom that’s in need of some loving care, contact us today for expert advice. 
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