Despite the technology around us almost making clocks more of a visual attraction than a vital timepiece, many of us appreciate the intricacies of clocks, how they work and their incredibly accurate timekeeping. At The Clock Clinic, we have spent years gazing upon the inner workings of a beautiful longcase clock or investigating how antique mantel clocks for the living room can mesmerize with their stunning appearance and dutiful accuracy. How these feats of classic engineering have stood the test of time gives us a sense of nostalgia, a sense of pride and an appreciation for the horologists and innovators who set the benchmark for timekeeping long before digital technology put itself at the forefront. In this edition of our blog, we take a look at the mechanical clocks we love and how they work.

What makes a mechanical clock mechanical?

Mechanical clocks are made from a host of components that all keep time ticking by. Without them, the accuracy, the chimes, or the gentle ticking would not exist.

The power source

With mechanical clocks, power stems from within, no need for electricity to power your timepiece, instead, energy is derived from a variety of sources. For the most part, this would either be via springs or weights. The springs store energy once wound up and release it to power the clock. If the clock is weight-powered, gravity takes control as the weights slowly descend allowing the clock to be powered.

The escapement mechanism

You can think of the escapement as the heart of the clock. It cleverly works to allow the stored energy from the springs or weights to be slowly released in measured intervals. Giving it a closer look, you’ll see it consists of a pallet and a wheel which interact with each other to control the movement of the gear train.

The gear train

The gear train that is controlled by the escapement is made from a series of interconnecting gears. The gear train will transmit the energy from the power source to the clock’s hands. Each gear moves at a different speed ensuring the clock’s accuracy.

 

In some mechanical clocks, you will also see the presence of a pendulum.

How does a mechanical clock function?

Each of the components has a vital role in ensuring accuracy and the correct functioning of the clock. One faulty piece will stop the mechanical clock from working.

Releasing energy

As the power source releases energy, it transmits it through the gear train to the escapement mechanism. This will be the same whether the clock is powered via a wound spring or raised weights.

Escapement action

The escapement wheel rotates, engaging with the pallet. This causes intermittent movement. This ensures the flow of energy is regulated and as a result controls the speed the hands move around the clock.

Gear train movement

The movement of the escape wheel enables the gear train to be driven. Each gear will work with the next, creating a fusion of cogs working together. With this interlocking system of wheels, energy is passed onto the clocks’ hands enabling them to move.

Timekeeping

If your mechanical clock features a pendulum, it offers more than just a hypnotizing visual attraction. It actually helps keep the clock accurate. The oscillations, or swinging, of it regulate the escapement mechanism with the length of the pendulum swing determining the accuracy. This can be adjusted by raising or lowering the pendulum as required.

How to keep a mechanical clock accurate and maintained

Mechanical clocks are, as we mentioned earlier, feats of engineering. The small parts all have a role to play in making sure that time is told correctly and accurately.  Each gear within the gear train must be cut with precision to ensure friction is reduced and smooth operation guaranteed. In addition, the escapement mechanism needs to be calibrated to perfection to allow the exact amount of power to be released when it should be.

This can be hard to do by yourself if you encounter a problem, so it is often best to find an expert horologist who appreciates and understands the precision engineering that goes into the creation of a mechanical clock.

Regular maintenance

Mechanical clocks are filled with so many small parts. It can be very easy for dirt or dust to hinder the performance of just one and then lead your clock to become faulty. This is why frequent clock servicing is vital. At The Clock Clinic, for example, we can carefully disassemble your clock and gently, but thoroughly clean each part to remove items that should not be present. In addition, accurate lubrication will be applied to the relevant parts to ensure the smooth movement of all parts, preventing wear and damage. This not only keeps your clock ticking but also extends its life much further.

Maintaining accuracy

Adjustments and calibration are essential to keep a clock accurate but sometimes, these may need to be a little more frequent than first advised. Both temperature and humidity can influence the accuracy of a mechanical clock and make it much faster or slower than it needs to be. This requires minute adjustments to many or just one part. It could be that the springs require a slight tension alteration or that the escapement needs a little fine-tuning. This can be a very delicate job so it is advised you search, “clock repairers near me” in Google to find a horologist who can help.

 

Mechanical clocks are something to marvel at. In a time where multi-produced microchips and motherboards can carry out millions of actions in just seconds, there is something romantic and nostalgic about the workings and construction of a mechanical clock. For us at The Clock Clinic, they stand as a testament to the days before ultra-hi-tech equipment. The days when one or more innovators took something as simple as time and found a way to measure it, only using their intelligence and problem-solving methodology to reach a solution. If you own a mechanical clock that requires a service or restoration, contact us today. We have many years of experience working with a host of the finest clocks ever created, enabling us to use our expertise to revitalize your mechanical clock.