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Articles from CLOCKS (10 Articles)

Many of the materials, techniques and tools of horology have not changed in 200 years
Many of the materials, techniques and tools of horology have not changed in 200 years

BaselWorld 2016: Exposing the untold story of clocks

In the horology sphere, watches typically take centre stage but MARTIN FOSTER says clocks and the associated machinery and tools also deserve attention.

The present turmoil in the watch industry seems to have sucked all the oxygen out of informed discussion and so it’s somewhat easy to become distracted from horology’s other worthy players, including clocks and the vast support industries in machinery and tools. One may ask: Who are the preeminent makers of very fine traditional mechanical clocks today?

We can draw on the exhibitors at BaselWorld for answers. The numbers are telling; fewer than 5 per cent of BaselWorld exhibitors list clocks among their products and only a small handful of these are genuine makers of quality, high-end clocks.

This article will take a closer look at four of these, noting the slightly different comparative design emphasis, price points and markets of each. The common thread is quality – as high as it is possible to get in the knowledge, science and practice of the clockmaker’s art.

Like the informed buyer of mechanical watches, today’s clock enthusiast seeks a deeper look into the mechanical details and to be fascinated by the microcosm of interacting clock wheels and the interaction of engineering and aesthetic design.

Many of the materials used, the techniques involved and the tools of production have not changed materially in 200 years and we can note here that today these clocks are still largely handmade. Of course, some processes are semi-automated such as the milling of wheel teeth; however, there always were tools that aided the craftsman by automation, perhaps not so accurate and sophisticated but in wide use just the same.

While high-end watches are priced on the basis of what the market will pay, fine clocks are priced on the basis of hours spent patiently at the bench by skilled artisans and thus represent superb value for money. The fact is that when the market for watches wavers, brands can moderate prices but when the buyers for clocks disappear the makers are lucky to stay in business – these are the stark realities faced by clockmakers.

Some makers have survived for quite some time, albeit rather tenuously.

Sinclair Harding
Robert Bray visiting in Qatar setting up an H1 replica clock
Robert Bray visiting in Qatar setting up an H1 replica clock

Sinclair Harding, for example, was founded as a clock repair business by Mike Harding and Bill Sinclair in Cheltenham, UK in 1967. Sinclair retired from the business a few years later and Harding continued until 1995 when he sold the business to Robert Bray, who relocated to West Yorkshire.

Sinclair Harding has reached several ‘specialisation’ milestones, including the production of a ¾-sized representation of John Harrison's H1 Sea Clock – a formidable undertaking that began in 1999 – as well as the acquisition of dedicated machinery and skills relevant to the quality of the clocks produced.

In 2014, Bray acquired the business that had been making Sinclair Harding’s fusee chains and integrated this into the clock production. The addition must make Sinclair Harding about the most complete clock-making company in the world today.

Bray is a fellow and a vice president of the British Horological Institute and a member of the internationally prestigious Académie Horologère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI).


Matthias Naeschke
Sebastian Naeschke at the assembly bench
Sebastian Naeschke at the assembly bench

Matthias Naeschke is a highly-skilled clockmaker, technical designer and church musician with heart and soul at a level setting him apart even in the exclusive enclave of high clockmaking.

Naeschke started in 1984 by building organ clocks in a small atelier in his private home. Thus he was the first organist artisan in 150 years to study the art and revive the craft of the organ clockmaker.

Today, Naeschke and his workshop specialists are the only makers of new organ clocks in the world. Philosophically he says: “Mechanical perfection is possible by machine but exquisite craftsmanship is the only free pathway to achieve the ultimate prerogative of creative excellence.”

Naeschke is one of the foundation members of AHCI where he became a member in 1986.

He has now retired, handing the reins to clockmaker son Sebastian who is steeped in the industry training and family values of the quality products that the business produces.

Set apart from the busy traffic and far away from the hectic bustle of the big cities, Naeschke's ‘Haus Rose’ workshop is situated high above the Eyach Valley in the small medieval town of Haigerloch in Southern Germany.

The business’ clock production is miniscule by commercial standards but this ensures buyers are unlikely to see two identical Naeschke clocks in the same hemisphere.


Erwin Sattler
Sattler's Lunaris Mosaic is composed of countless miniature mosaic tiles

In 1958, Erwin Sattler founded the superbly equipped Bavarian clock works that still bears his name.

The company has developed into a mature clockmaking manufacturer combining state-of-the-art technologies and centuries-old traditional craftsmanship. Most parts are now manufactured in-house in small-batch series, allowing opportunities for buyers to customise.

For nearly 60 years, Erwin Sattler has delivered the highest standards of quality and has been developing and making timepieces of lasting quality.

In the mid-1980s, Sattler’s daughter, Stephanie Sattler-Rick, assumed financial control and the clockmaker, Richard Müller, joined the management as technical manager.

Sattler retired in 2002 and handed over to Sattler-Rick and Müller as co-owners.

Today, the precision clocks of the Erwin Sattler factory, produced in small batches, are reckoned as among the best in the world.

We should do our best to support these rare clockmaking companies as the current global instability is not helpful to these exclusive artisans. Quiet, stable markets provide the lifeblood of these centuries old traditional mechanical arts.


Kieninger's Cal. RS012

Joseph Kieninger made the first entry in his cash book on 1 June 1912 and only one year later this Black Forest clockmaker had employed 18 workers.

Of his eight children, son Wilhelm’s masterpiece, constructed in 1930 at the clockmaker school in Schwenningen, Germany, became the cornerstone for the current H-series – the lead product of the house, which is still produced today. The invention of this movement for grandfather clocks made Kieninger the specialists for movements with quarter chime.

After experiencing some financial difficulties in 1990, the Kieninger company was sold to the American company Howard Miller at the end of 1993.

This family-owned business from Michigan is the world’s largest manufacturer of mechanical clocks and itself a major consumer of Kieninger’s movements. All Howard Miller mechanical floor-standing clocks use quality Kieninger movements made in the Black Forest region.

Today, Kieninger presents the full scope of its clock movement technology and a style spectrum from classic to contemporary in a worldwide collection of floor, wall and table clocks.

Martin Foster

Martin Foster is a freelance journalist and Jeweller’s resident watch ‘guru’. Based in Sydney, Martin attends major international exhibitions covering the watch and timepieces categories.

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