The history of Black Forest clocks - clock production in general

Today we are no longer able to determine exactly when the first Black Forest clock, the mother of all cuckoo clocks, was created. The period from 1670-1720 is often mentioned as the start of Black Forest clock production; other sources mention a time as early as 1640, or even 1629. What is certain is that the clock industry quickly expanded in the 18th century. At that time, the center of clock production was Furtwangen.

The preferred material to work with was wood at first - in part for legal reasons pertaining to the guilds - which was used for cases and mechanisms. The Black Forest was a region with a long tradition of great experience with wood, and additionally possessed a feel for products that brought the rural population a promising additional income. The beginnings of Black Forest clock artistry were rather pragmatic and rustic: An early precursor of today's clocks was the foliot clock, a rough wooden gear clock with an exposed mechanism, where an oscillating wooden pendulum kept the time. It only showed the hour, with a stone serving as the weight. These early Black Forest clocks had a 12-hour movement. Metal/brass later successively replaced the wooden movement parts.

The enterprising people of the Black Forest soon sold their clocks on international trade routes, used by the local glass industry. It was presumably these routes via which these first clocks from Bohemia or elsewhere arrived in the Black Forest carried in a wooden framework on the backs of people working as “glass carriers”, kicking off Black Forest clock production. The profession of glass carrier was very highly regarded, and, due to the costliness of the products, called for the highest levels of trustworthiness. Soon there were also clock carriers, who can still be found today on several cuckoo clocks as a decorative element, with their typical, high carrier frame on their backs. Black Forest clock sellers soon settled down along these routes throughout Europe, storing the clocks centrally and successfully distributing them through direct sales on site. Black Forest wooden clocks were inexpensive and reliable. More and more people could afford clocks, wall clocks of all kinds became an important everyday commodity, and the need grew by leaps and bounds.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the time needed to produce the handmade clocks was considerably reduced at the same time. The invention of the spindle drill and the gear profiling machine, as well as the emergence of specialists in side occupations made essential contributions to this. Case-makers, shield painters and chain-makers shared the work and rationalized and improved production processes in their areas. The number of clocks that could be produced per worker, per week, increased six-fold within 100 years. The most popular Black Forest clocks were not cuckoo clocks in the beginning, but instead lacquered shield clocks (shield clocks), which comprised approximately half of the total production.

The years 1800-1840 were the years of unlimited growth. Up to 600,000 clocks a year were produced and sold around the world. Increasingly frequent distribution and logistics problems were solved by wholesale companies. The individual clockmakers could not and no longer wanted to deal with these parts of the business. They were already fully busy dealing with the production of the requested clocks, which were increasingly extensive and thus more complicated. After the years of crisis and a great number of economic changes, production reached approx. 1.8 million clocks in 1870, and approximately 5.8 million clocks in 1905. In the year 1905, 50% of all clocks exported around the world came from the Black Forest. This increase in production could essentially be achieved with the small craft workshops being replaced by large clock factories.

After the two world wars, the heady flight of the Black Forest clock production collapsed and was never again able to achieve the overwhelming sales figures of earlier centuries. Plastic and quartz mechanisms additionally changed the world of clocks drastically starting in the 1970s. A change in trends can be observed nowadays. As part of a return to old traditions, handmade quality is once again in demand, and handcrafted clocks are also highly popular internationally. Particularly THE Black Forest clock par excellence, the cuckoo clock, is experiencing a revival around the world.

Other clocks of the Black Forest

In addition to the world-famous cuckoo clocks, there are other traditional Black Forest clocks, many of which you can also find in our shop.

  • The wooden gear clock already mentioned is the oldest known Black Forest clock, with a power reserve of 12 hours and only one clock hand.
  • In the 19th century, shield clocks / lacquered shield clocks appeared, which were often elaborately painted by specialized artists.
  • Small clocks from the late 18th century are called Jockele clocks, usually tiny Black Forest shield clocks with the dimensions of 6x6x8cm.
  • The Sorg clock, named after its inventor, is an even smaller wall clock that was created around 1820.
  • The familiar figurine clocks developed around approximately the same time as cuckoo clocks. People were crazy about their movable elements like dumpling eaters, farmers mowing with a scythe or animal figurines.
  • Flute or musical clocks were larger units, which were usually produced when ordered by the customer. These units were an impressive example of the inventive spirit and the artistic skill of the Black Forest people.
  • The elegant regulators were a very popular living-room clock from the late 19th century until the 1930s.
  • The Black Forest alarm clock with its metal casing and bell on top were the epitome of an alarm clock until 1930, and very popular around the world.

The radio-controlled clock still very popular at present was also first produced for the mass market in the Black Forest. Since 1970, Black Forest clockmakers have already been experimenting with wireless technology. The company Junghans launched the first radio-controlled wristwatch onto the market in 1990. The radio-controlled clock and the cuckoo clock - different siblings from the same origins.

For those who are interested, we recommend the following tip: A tour along the German Clock Route, which ambles through the Black Forest, along the centers of Black Forest clock production. Museums, workshops and clock factories provide informative glimpses into the history and everyday life of clock-making. One special feature is the German Clock Museum in Furtwangen. It is the most extensive museum of its kind and houses thousands of historical and other Black Forest clocks. Moreover, you can take an entertaining trip through the history of the measurement of time.

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