The Intricate Art of Clockmaking

The Intricate Art of Clockmaking

I n the 21st century our lives are driven by time. It has become essential that we know the exact time down to fractions of a second. Without highly accurate timekeeping we would have no internet or satellite navigation. However, life has not always relied on such accuracy of time. In the medieval period, for much of the population, sunset and sunrise were the only important times. Afterall, if it was too dark to work it was time to rest.

A Small Gilt-Brass Renaissance Drum Timepiece, German, circa 1550. Estimate £8,000–12,000.

Five hundred years ago things gradually began to change. At that time, the only clocks were public or church clocks – machines to ring bells but they were highly inaccurate and required almost daily re-setting by sundial. The wealthiest in society began to take an interest in timekeeping and passing of the hours and whilst they almost certainly would have owned their own sundial, that was not of much use during the winter or at night.

A Renaissance Gilt-Brass Quarter Striking 'Türmchenuhr' with Alarm, German, circa 1600. Estimate 6,000–9,000.

Gradually, clockmaking turned to a small and highly refined domestic market, just as occurred with the telecoms market at the advent of the mobile telephone. The clockmakers of renaissance Germany and, in particular, Augsburg and the surrounding area, were world leaders in the development of the domestic clock.

A Renaissance Ebony, Lapis Lazuli and Gilt-Mounted Astronomical Monstrance Table Clock with Cross-Beat Escapement, Caspar Buschmann II, Augsburg, circa 1610. Estimate £40,000–60,000.

In this sale we have examples from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries illustrating some of the stylistic and technical changes that took place during that innovative period of horology. From Lot 1, which is extremely early and decorative but very basic, to Lot 20, which, as a Masterpiece Clock, has every available complication and was the iPhone of its era.

A Gilt-Brass Quarter Striking Astronomical Masterpiece Clock with Alarm, Johann Peter Mayr, Augsburg, circa 1740, Johann Peter Mayr. Estimate £12,000–18,000.

In these days, when we are confined to home and perhaps less transfixed by digital atomic timekeeping, what better way to appreciate the history of timekeeping than to own a small piece of that history in a renaissance work of art.

Clocks & Barometers

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