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 Post subject: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 9:32 am 
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Lewis Mumford says in his classic book Technics and Civilization,

“The clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men. The clock, not the steam-engine, is the key-machine of the modern industrial age….In its relationship to determinable quantities of energy, to standardization, to automatic action, and finally to its own special product, accurate timing, the clock has been the foremost machine in modern techniques; and at each period it has remained in the lead: it marks a perfection toward which other machines aspire.”

The mechanical clock was by all accounts an original European invention; just as all forms of paper currently in use ultimately can be traced back to the Chinese invention of this substance, so all mechanical clocks date back to the European invention of such devices. We don’t know exactly where and when the first true mechanical clocks were made, but it was somewhere in Europe and most likely in the second half of the thirteenth century. The first eyeglasses were made at roughly the same time, probably around the 1280s in northern Italy. We still know less about the circumstances surrounding the first mechanical clocks.

The most prominent element of European society at this time which had long constituted a timekeeping constituency was the Christian Church, particularly the monasteries of its Roman Catholic branch. The Benedictines were joined by other monastic rules after the eleventh century, among them the Augustinians and especially the Cistercians. Punctuality was important in the daily schedule of the monks. Some scholars believe that it was in the strictly regulated life of European monasteries that the mechanical clock was born.


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Cannonical bell clock from Spain


The so-called canonical hours indicated the times of day at which canon law prescribed certain prayers to be said. The fixing of a daily schedule of prayer, work and study among the monks was part of a highly organized society where there was little distinction between worldly and religious activities. The earliest mechanisms were not necessarily clocks as we understand it and did not have big bells, merely a clock that rang loudly enough to get the bell ringer out of bed. At least some of them made use of an escapement-type mechanism which was often weight-driven. It may have been this mechanism that was the forerunner of the clock escapement. Before the invention of the weight-driven mechanical clock, the clepsydra (water clock) and sundial were both known as horologia. The term was soon applied to the new device, too.

Thus we get French horloge, Italian orologio, Spanish reloj. But new things often call for new names: the English called the new device a clock; the Dutch and Flemings, a klokke. And what is a clock, but a bell? Even the French, who stayed with the old name, changed their word for bell at about this time, from sein or sain (from the Latin signum) to cloche. Something new had come on the scene. Seen ontologically and functionally, these timekeeping machines began as automated bells….Monasteries were beehives of varied activity, the largest productive enterprises of medieval Europe. Brothers, lay brothers and servants were busy everywhere – in the chapel, the library, the writing room (scriptorium), in the fields, the mill, the mines, the workshops, the laundry, the kitchen. They lived and worked to bells. The big bells tolled the canonical hours and the major changes, and their peal carried far and wide, not only within the convent domain but as far as the wind could take it. And the little bells tinkled insistently throughout the offices and meals, calling the participants to attention and signaling the start of a new prayer, ceremony, or activity.”

Bells were the drivers behind a new standard for punctuality enforced by the monastic orders, especially during the second half of the High Middle Ages (AD 1000-1300) and with the Cistercians in a leading role. Their agriculture was the most advanced in Europe; their factories and mines, the most efficient. They made extensive use of hired labor, and their concern for costs made them turn wherever possible to labor-saving devices. Their Rule enjoined them, for example, to build near rivers, so as to have access to water power; and they learned to use this in multifunctional, staged installations designed to exploit power capacity to the maximum. For such an undertaking, timekeeper and bells were an indispensable instrument of organization and control; and it may be that it was the proliferation of this order throughout Europe and the expansion of its productive activities that stimulated the interest in finding a superior timekeeper and precipitated the invention of the mechanical clock. The Cistercian abbeys of central Europe must have had their hands full getting satisfactory performance from clepsydras (first invented by the Chinese).

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Whatever the inspiration, it seems clear that in the century or two preceding the appearance of the mechanical clock, there was a substantial advance in the technique of hydraulic timekeeping and concomitant diffusion of the new methods and devices.

Even though the mechanical clock may well have originated within the monastic community, it soon spread beyond it. Already by the fourteenth century, many of the most impressive clocks were paid for by princes and courtiers or by the new urban, secular elites which had grown tremendously in number during the preceding time period. Clocks were the new status symbols of high-tech and wealth. There were also greater practical needs for timekeeping devices among commercial populations than there was in rural areas. The first clocks were not terribly accurate by present-day standards, but if there was only one central clock in a town, it didn’t have to be too accurate; what mattered was that there was one time common to all.

The invention spread rapidly throughout Europe. A public clock which struck the hours was erected in Milan in 1335, and the oldest still-surviving clock in England is the one at Salisbury Cathedral, dating from 1386. These early clocks probably had errors of up to half an hour a day. It was only after the introduction of the pendulum clock in the seventeenth century that minutes began to appear on the clock face, followed by seconds on marine chronometers and astronomical clocks. By the early 1800s, accuracy had improved to less than a second.

Clockworks were initially heavy and cumbersome devices used on major public buildings. Spring-driven clocks appeared on the scene gradually from the late fifteenth century onwards. The principle of the spring itself was an old one, but clocks made on this principle were hard to make. With miniaturization evolved the portable timepiece we know as the watch. The first watches were worn as jewelry, often around the neck, later to be replaced by pocket watches. Wristwatches only became popular in the twentieth century.

Once the fashion of wearing watches took hold, makers vied for smallness; Francis I of France (1494-1547) paid a small fortune in 1518 for two that could be placed in the hilt of a dagger, and Elizabeth I (1533-1603) of England wore a finger ring that not only told the time but served as an alarm. The small timekeeper was a revolutionary instrument which stimulated technical skills.


Christiaan Huygens became widely known for his invention of the pendulum clock which he patented in 1657.

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Reconstruction of a 1657 Huygens clock face

His motivation for this work came from his interest in astronomy, where the need for accurate timekeeping had long been obvious, but was becoming more pressing as more accurate observing instruments were designed. Huygens’s design proved to be a rugged and practical timekeeping device and in 1658 clocks built to Huygens’s design began to appear in church towers across Holland, and soon spread across Europe. It was from 1658 onwards, and thanks to Huygens, that ordinary people began to have access to accurate timepieces, instead of estimating the time of day by the position of the sun. Huygens also developed a balance spring clock at roughly the same time as the great Englishman Robert Hooke. With the pendulum clock, it became possible for the first time to build timepieces accurate to less than a minute a day. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this was reduced to a second and eventually to a hundredth of a second or less.

While the early production of mechanical clocks was centered in countries such as Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, France and England, tiny, landlocked Switzerland was eventually to become more closely associated in the popular imagination with the production of mechanical clocks and watches than any other nation in the world. During the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, the reformer Jean Calvin (1509-1564) in Geneva had no use for ornaments and vanities in a city that once had a strong jewelry manufacture, but strict Calvinists were willing to make an exception for watches.

Beginning in the eighteenth century, Switzerland became the center of a watch making industry, particularly in the villages of the Jura Mountains. Excellent Swiss craftsmen travelled abroad; the best known is the great clockmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823). The Swiss kept at the forefront of technical innovation and enjoyed the backing of a well-developed financial sector, above all of their famous banking system.


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A gold and rock crystal pocket watch made for the French queen Marie Antoinette by the famed watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet --called "the Mona Lisa of the clock world." -- is one of the items returned after Israeli police detectives cracked a legendary 1983 heist of 106 clocks at a Jerusalem museum after a 25-year search.


Much of the production was export-orientated, not only catering to the Western market but to the Asian market, to China and India. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, clocks figured with increasing frequency among the gifts to prominent individuals in the Middle East, and then as articles of commerce. Maintenance and repair of these unfamiliar devices were a problem in the Islamic world, and the practice arose of sending craftsmen along with the gift of clocks, to demonstrate their use and to repair them when necessary. The first public clocks were set up in the Middle East as late as in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Much of the early European interest in clocks and watches was in no sense utilitarian. As mentioned before, many portable clocks were worn as jewelry, as fashion statements and status symbols. However, next to the grinding of glass lenses, the making of fine watches was among the most precise crafts in early modern Europe, and the technological know-how generated from this fed back into the making of other types of machinery.

With increasingly accurate clocks, in Britain people could literally knock at the door of the astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, to have their timepieces standardized against astronomical time. Britain was at this time the world’s leading maritime nation. British ships with their marine chronometers calculated longitude from the Greenwich meridian, which was considered to have longitude zero. This was internationally recognized in 1884, and the longitude (0°) of the Royal Greenwich Observatory is now known as the prime meridian. Banks and firms in the City of London, too, needed to know the exact time of financial transactions. After the introduction of railways, local time in various towns and cities needed to be synchronized against a national standard, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

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The traditional clock making industry in the twentieth century met strong competition from electrical and finally digital clocks. This time, the Americans and eventually the Japanese played major roles in addition to Europeans. During the 1960s and 70s, the industry was faced with a challenge from the watches of American Timex, which the Swiss handled in their usual, dynamic way, by studying it and learning from it.

It took decades for quartz clocks to become small and cheap enough for personal wear. The Swiss were latecomers to this development whereas the Americans and especially the Japanese excelled at making electronic quartz watches with digital displays. The demand for these devices grew rapidly during the 1970s and 80s, often with Japanese companies such as Seiko in the lead. The Japanese played a prominent role in the electronics industry and contributed significantly to the digital revolution at the turn of the twentieth century. Quartz watches were technically so different from traditional watches that they almost constituted a new industry, but one that happened to compete directly with the established industry.

Yet this did not spell the demise of the mechanical clock as a popular product, as some observers predicted when digital quartz watches first flooded the market. The Swiss fought back and have managed to reassert themselves as the major manufacturers of prestigious, high-end clocks and watches. In sheer numbers China, which has in the early twenty-first century become “the workshop of the world,” made up for her status as latecomer to the manufacture of watches and became the world’s largest producer of timepieces by volume. Switzerland has so far managed to maintain its edge when it comes to production by value.

To some extent the mechanical clock has been reborn as a fashion statement, as it was in the beginning. We should of course keep in mind that even cheap watches today are vastly more accurate than mechanical clocks were in the beginning. They are often water-proof and have numerous added functions undreamed of by early horologists. Quartz clocks have themselves long since been surpassed by atomic clocks in accuracy. The time when mechanical clocks constituted the cutting-edge of scientific timekeeping devices is permanently over, but it was the mechanical clock that opened up the modern world of accurate timekeeping.

David S. Landes believes that the invention of the mechanical clock in medieval Europe was “one of the great inventions in the history of mankind,” with revolutionary implications for cultural values, technological change, social and political organization and personality:


“Why so important? After all, man had long known and used other kinds of timekeepers – sundials, water clocks, fire clocks, sand clocks – some of which were at least as accurate as the early mechanical clocks. Wherein lay the novelty, and why was this device so much more influential than its predecessors? The answer, briefly put, lay in its enormous technological potential. The mechanical clock was self-contained, and once horologists learned to drive it by means of a coiled spring rather than a falling weight, it could be miniaturized so as to be portable, whether in the household or on the person. It was this possibility of widespread private use that laid the basis for time discipline, as against time obedience. One can, as we shall see, use public clocks to summon people for one purpose or another; but that is not punctuality. Punctuality comes from within, not from without. It is the mechanical clock that made possible, for better or worse, a civilization attentive to the passage of time, hence to productivity and performance.”

Source: layijadeneurabia.com

Tomorrow...Famous Mechanical Clocks
...



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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 10:54 am 
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That first picture had me really confused until I realized that the hours on it go counter-clockwise. :dunce:


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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 11:38 am 
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Quote:
A gold and rock crystal pocket watch made for the French queen Marie Antoinette by the famed watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet --called "the Mona Lisa of the clock world." -- is one of the items returned after Israeli police detectives cracked a legendary 1983 heist of 106 clocks at a Jerusalem museum after a 25-year search.


This caption intrigued me - the thief, Diller, (or should that be Dillinger?) was quite a guy. Check it out:
http://forum.collect.com/tm.aspx?m=2748"

On another note, one of my best friends runs a clock shop and does repairs, so I'm lucky to have a bit of hands on experience with clock innards. Fascinating stuff. The sheer size of the mechanism in a tower clock is boggling. And then to take apart a fine pocket watch...
For me there is a romanticism in finely crafted mechanical things. Ingenuity and art conjoined in a useful object ... bliss.

I'm really enjoying these tidbits (can you tell :blush: ) Many thanks, DITHOT!


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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 12:26 pm 

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"The big bells tolled the canonical hours and major changes ... And the little bells tinkled insistently ..." And I thought monastic life would be one of peace - inner maybe! Great stuff DITHOT.



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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 2:21 pm 
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Thanks DITHOTbaba, I've really been enjoying all the tidbits thus far and learning a quite a lot. This overview of the history of mechanical clocks has been particularly interesting and leaves me with a burning question....fire clocks !?! :perplexed: :lol: Time for some digging. :biggrin:

P.S. Thanks Buster for sharing the info. about the Israeli museum heist. :ok:


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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 2:36 pm 
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I have never seen any mechanical clocks and watches with a 24 hrs display.
I didn't know they existed. :biggrin:
(see picture of clock at the Royal Observatory)

From my grandfather I inherited a beautiful silver pocketwatch.
It still runs accurately but I always forget to wind it up. :lol:



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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 3:45 pm 
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Boo-
Check out Al-Jazari (b.1136)
Not only did he design an interesting candle clock mechanism, he also was into automatons!


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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 4:48 pm 
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Buster wrote:
Boo-
Check out Al-Jazari (b.1136)
Not only did he design an interesting candle clock mechanism, he also was into automatons!



Thanks Buster for the heads up. :ok:


Live in Depp
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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 4:55 pm 
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Such an interesting tidbit DITHOT. Our lives are so tuned to time that we forget to realize and appreciate how it became "time".
I inherited a small lovely lapel watch from my grandmother and I wound it once too many times IngridN. :bawl:


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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 6:25 pm 
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Believe me this tidbit could have gone on for a very long...well...time, as it were. Not just the history of ancient time keeping but, the guy Diller would have been interesting too so thanks for giving us more info.

ladylinn, I've been having the very same thought since I worked on this tidbit. It's hard to imagine life without the commonality of time. I'll meet you when the sun hits the second branch of the tree on the left?

lizbet, I can't take credit for that string of words but they certainly conjur up an audtiory image. Although the monk with the insistent tinkling bells might have gotten on me nerves a wee bit! :rolleyes:

IngridN, I have a mantel clock I inherited from my father. It has a wind up mechanism that needs repair. Thanks for reminding me!

Buster, automatons you say? Check in on Friday...
:grin:



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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 10:26 pm 
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Many thanks DITHOT (do you ever go "da thot" or "deet hot" ? sorry :whistle:)

On a more serious note, I never knew that at all about early Christian monastaries. They sound like forerunners of highly organized factories, corporations. Gee, humans seem to repeat themselves alot. Perhaps there is some inner need in all of us for rigor and order, which leads to bureacracy (horrors -- that thought!) And our little computers and blackberries being the latest versions of order-making in our lives.

I am impressed by all the history you collected for us. I will never, ever look at a clock in the same way.



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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 11:03 pm 
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fireflydances, I answer to many names. :grin:

I too was struck by our human need for order and definition of our day. I never imagined my life without "time"!



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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 11:14 pm 
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Very interesting tidbit, DITHOT...thanks! :cool:

Interesting comment at the end about punctuality coming from within...I think I'm missing my punctuality gene
. :perplexed:


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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Thu Jun 24, 2010 10:26 am 
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Theresa wrote:
Very interesting tidbit, DITHOT...thanks! :cool:

Interesting comment at the end about punctuality coming from within...I think I'm missing my punctuality gene
. :perplexed:


I know some people with that defect! :lol:



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 Post subject: Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #3 ~ A Chronology of Mechanical Horology
PostPosted: Thu Jun 24, 2010 1:55 pm 

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This tidbit is really a morsel and I've come back to read it again. I'm a member of a religious community which is "ordered" but we don't live together - therefore the role time keeping played in religious communities fascinates me however any romatic notion I might have had about medievil monastic life has just be thrown out as I can't imagine bell after bell (no matter how large or small) ringing day in and day out - I think I prefer the Buddhist monastic tradition of notes in your cubby hole or gentle taps on one's shoulder - I can't imagine trying to go on an eight hour meditative journey with bells ringing all over the place now or then - for that matter I can't imagine living day in and day out with bells ringing all over the place!?

The opening line has also brought me back to this tidbit: "The clock is not merely a means of keeping track of hours but of synchronizing the actions of men, I'm not sure this is entirely true - wouldn't it be more accurate to say a formal synchronization - wouldn't the sun have synchronized our actions prior to mechanical clocks (I come from a long line of farmers and lumberjacks plus a sister who lives and works in rural Zambia)? You were / are up with the sun (before in many cases) and worked until the sun went down - various tasks happened throughout the day every day (milking cows, collecting eggs etc) and many of these things had been going on for hundreds if not thousands of years before clocks - as long as settled agriculture has been in existance. Clocks and light bulbs are two of the invovations that have forever changed the ordering of our lives - only time will tell if the internet will be included as such a life changing technology!?



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