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It’s well known that the Black Forest region of Germany is the original home of the cuckoo clock. It is, however, not very clear when the first cuckoo clock was made in the region. Although historians are not yet agreed on when and where the cuckoo clock was first made, Triberg, Bavaria occupies a very special place in the history of this clock. In fact, it is considered to be the home of the German cuckoo clock.
The people of the Black Forest region spent most of their winter in their wooden farmhouses by working on the several parts of cuckoo clocks. Some worked on the casings, others on the gears, and the rest of the beautiful artwork. By 1730, the cuckoo clocks made in this region had become very popular. Clock sellers would pick their wares from the Black Forest in the summer and move with it across Europe selling. Some are said to have gone as far as Russia.
Today, travelers have the opportunity to tour the entire 320 km German Cuckoo Clock Route. It runs through the most important centers in the industry including the Black Forest. One of the best know centers is Furtwangen, a town that hosts the Clock and Watch Museum. This town once served as one of the key towns in the clock-making industry. In the museum, you will find exhibits of the following:
The German School of Clock Making was established in 1850. Shortly thereafter, it hosted a design competition of the best cuckoo clock. The winning design featured a house-like casing, on that easily recognizable in the cuckoo clocks of today. The design was inspired by the trendy signalman’s hut featuring at several railway stations at that time. The railway was a new mode of transport and it was just making an entry into the Black Forest.
The best place to have a view of the modern cuckoo clock design is in Triberg, Bavaria. Here, the very farmhouses where early clocks were made have the same look as the clocks. There is no mistaking that the cuckoo clock has an attachment to this town. It was not by accident that the houses were made to look like that. The clockmakers were looking for extra light in the winter for increased clock production and that is why they expanded their windows.
If you are coming from Stuttgart, Triberg is only 100 kilometers away. It is the capital of the German cuckoo clock. On the streets, you will witness shops run by various clock making families. On the shelves, they have hundreds of cuckoo clocks such that every few seconds there is the all too familiar sound.
However, if you are looking for where cuckoo clocks are made today, all you have to do is go to Schonach, only 3 kilometers away. It is right here in the Black Forest where they make all the clock parts, which are then assembled in tiny workshops by hand. There is a workshop that makes only the twin puffs that produce the clock’s two notes. The only imported component is the music box which is sourced from Switzerland. This is used on the more expensive cuckoo clocks.
Today, just like the 1850s, there is a design revolution in the Black Forest town of Schonach. In several showrooms, you will find the more traditional carved clocks as well as plain cuckoo clocks. Some of them are in very striking colors such as lime green and pink. For anyone looking for a traditional or modern German cuckoo clock, the Black Forest area is the place to be. No other place in the world represents the cuckoo clock tradition better.
Five Types of Coo Coo Clocks
The distinctive feature of the cuckoo clock is the sound it produces when it strikes the hours. You can easily mistake it for the sound of a cuckoo bird. The mechanism that produces the sound is a set of two minuscule pipes. As the clock moves, it creates air, which is then pushed through the pipe to produce the sound. Most cuckoo clocks are made using Roman numerals.
There are several types of cuckoo clocks, which include the following:
These are designed to feature the Black Forest house. The houses don’t come in the same size. While others are small, others are larger. It is the size of the clock that determines this feature. You can easily see the cuckoo bird sitting just below the roof of the house. The designers of these houses go into a lot of trouble to provide minute details. The house structure also has shutters and even balconies.
Every house has a visible scene on its outside. Expect to see a garden with trees or animals. On some clocks, there are moving figurines that can be seen participating in normal daily activities like chopping wood. It is also possible to see turning windmills.
On most chalet cuckoo clocks, you will find a group revelers busy drinking their beer. Every hour, these can be seen raising their glasses.
Just like any other artistic items, chalet clocks exist in the form of different types. There are simple clocks and others with more intricate designs that include music, many figurines, and moving elements.
The clocks made in the Black Forest in the early years were mainly carved in nature. They are known around the world for their distinctively artistic look. On them are hand carved figurines and details. The most commonly used wood is Linden, a local Black Forest produce.
On most of the carvings, there are featured scenes from nature such as those of men hunting. You are also likely to find leaf patters all around a carved cuckoo clock. At the top, you will see the cuckoo bird carving.
But that isn’t the only bird you will lay your eyes on. Owls are a common feature on the carvings. The hunting scenes are full of stags and deer. The best thing about these clocks is that they are carved exclusively by hand. Just like for the other types of clocks, the sizes vary from small ones to large ones.
There was a time when shield clocks were the most popular exports of the Black Forest region. That was long before the Black Forest Cuckoo clocks came and took over the mantle. The shield cuckoo clocks were made using one of the simplest designs. All there was to it is a square frame topped with a semicircular arch.
Just like the other cuckoo clocks, this type has been produced in Germany for some time now. They, therefore, have a rich history and tradition about them. Most of the people love them for their beauty.
A lot of care is taken to paint these clocks by hand. That is why you cannot easily come across them, even right there in the Black Forest. It is all thanks to the advanced skills it takes to paint these clocks. Not all clockmakers in the Black Forest region can make them. They would require hiring an artist from this region to paint the clocks.
In the 1800s, the demand for these clocks was on the rise. Clockmakers, therefore, opted to use decals instead of hand painting. The former process was a little bit quicker and would lead to the production of more clocks.
Today, the painting is mainly done by hand. You will find beautiful designs featuring flowers right there on the shield of the clock. This is done using a special base coat that preserves the painting for many years to come.
There are a number of people today who are much at home with a cuckoo clock from an era gone by. Antique clocks come in the form of Black Forest Clocks with glass domes, which were loved in the 19th-century.
Apart from that, there are Bahnhausle clocks which are made with railway signal house designs. They were a main feature in the 1850s and onwards. Experts believe that it is these clocks that preceded the carved cuckoo clocks. You cannot, therefore, talk about the history German cuckoo clocks without mentioning them.
The good thing about antique clocks is that they provide a glimpse into the long history of Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks. It is, however, to come across original antique cuckoo clocks since many of those available today are replicas. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t match the originals in terms of quality and details.
If you are buying a cuckoo clock today, you may want to consider one that’s decorated using modern art. Many of them have a blend of the traditional and the modern. They borrow heavily from the traditional Black Forest clock making tradition while featuring elements of contemporary art and design.
They stand out for their bold colors and clean lines. You wouldn’t find a style that’s as bold as it is minimalistic. If there ever is future for the cuckoo clocks, this is definitely how they will look.
Modern cuckoo clocks still feature the cuckoo bird and its signature hourly call. That’s what makes these clocks as the Black Forest as any other. The birds are uniquely shaped and the birdhouses situated in different places. In the place of the traditional Linden wood, materials such as bamboo are used to make these clocks.
The Cuckoo Clock Working Mechanism
It is very important to know the mechanism that makes a cuckoo clockwork. Essentially, the movement of cuckoo clocks consists of the timing mechanism and many other aspects of the clock. Over the years, cuckoo clocks have been made to work in two ways, either mechanical movements or quartz movement. The type of movement used in a cuckoo clock determines how you wind the clock and how you keep it silent at night. This also determines just how long the clock will last as well as its accuracy and performance.
Most of the clocks certified by the Black Forest Clock Association must have the mechanical movement. That’s because long before electricity was invented, Black Forest cuckoo clocks existed. That’s why a genuine Black Forest Cuckoo Clock must be made to include a pendulum that drives its mechanical movement.
The pendulum is designed to move back and forth – the ‘tic-toc’- to regulate time. The weight is attached at the end of a copper chain, which drivesclock’s movement through the pull of gravity. A close look at a cuckoo clock would reveal a maple-leaf-shaped structure. That is the pendulum. As for the weights, they look more like pinecones.
The weights are attached to a chain gear which helps drive the internal gears of the clock. As the weight descends, they turn the internal gears thus causing the pendulum to move. That’s what produces the characteristic ‘tick-tock’ sound of a cuckoo clock.
In musical cuckoos, there are three weights while in the rest there are only two weights. In any of these two types of cuckoo clocks, the first weight controls time, the second, the cuckoo bird’s movement and sound, while the third helps drive the music box. To rewind, the weights are pulled back.
The weights in some clocks are meant to move for one day, while in others, they move for as long as eight days. 8-day cuckoo clocks usually rewind only once every week. These clocks are usually more complex and larger in stature. That is why they are also very expensive.
As for one-day movement cuckoo clock, it requires being rewound only once every day. It can only make smaller movements because of its weights which are lighter. This type of clock is, therefore, more affordable than its bigger 8-day counterpart.
There is a manual shut-off option, which you can use to stop the clock from making any sound at night. You can then turn the sound back on in the morning. In some 8-day movement clocks, you will find pieces that automatically shut off during the night. You won’t be able to hear the music between 9 pm and 8 am. Clocks with automatic shut off are slightly more expensive than the rest.
From most mechanical movement clocks, you will hear the songs ‘Edelweiss’ and ‘The Happy Wanderer’. With an 8-day movement clock, the songs alternate every other hour. As for the 1-day cycle clock, the songs will change every half hour.
Quartz cuckoo clocks are powered by electric batteries and not through the force of gravity. So is the animation and sound box. For that reason, these clocks require very minimal maintenance. All one has to do is change the batteries.
Many of these clocks can play music too. Every hour, expect a different melody. These clocks are a darling for individuals looking for cheaper options. They do not have the Black Forest Clock Association certification and are therefore not authentic.
How Cuckoo Clocks Are Made
To make a cuckoo clock, choosing the correct wood makes all of the difference. Essentially the cuckoo bases are made using pine or walnut. The rest of the clock is, however, made using linden, which is a soft wood that crafters of these clocks find easier to carve. This wood can be found in most parts of Europe.
The wood is acquired and aged for up to two years before the artisans can start working on it. To make the outer casing, the wood is usually cut into different forms and extents. This is done using mainly hand-held tools but it can also be done using power tools. The wooden pieces have to be dried for the artisan to start designing the clock.
First, the shape is outlined on paper before it is sketched and cutting it out into the wood. As many as 50 distinct knives are used to carve the design in very fine details. For a cuckoo clock, the design is just as important as its function. This is what the owners are looking for. Nothing brings back the memories of the days gone by like a traditional looking design.
The movement mechanism which consists of steel and brass gears are then built inside the clock to keep the time ticking and the cuckoo sound. The clocks are made either with a 1-day or 8-day movement.
After the clock has been set, a cuckoo bird is attached to the movement. Two tiny bellows are then put at the top of the clock. It is through these that the ‘coo’ sound will be made. In some clocks, a music box is attached to the clock at the very top.
After making cuckoo clocks, they have to be tested for a minimum of two days before being presented for sale. That’s as soon as it receives the artisan’s stamp of approval.
Cuckoo Clock Greatest Features
Cuckoo clocks are by their nature great pieces of art. They are made with a number of features so that they can be as distinctively beautiful as they can be. The following are some of the greatest features of cuckoo clocks:
- A music box
very hour, a cuckoo clock has to sound some music. This is produced in the music box that is found right at the top of the clock. The music box is usually driven by one of the three weights in a musical cuckoo clock. In traditional clocks, the music box produces only one of two melodies every hour. However, in the quartz clocks, the number of melodies can be higher. That is usually electronic in nature.
These can be a group of dancers who begin to move every hour. They can also be a group of revelers busy drinking their beer or wine. Every hour, these can be seen raising their glasses. Again, their movements are controlled by the gears as well as one of the weights.
- Moving Figurines
On some clocks, there are moving figurines that can be seen participating in normal daily activities like chopping wood. It is also possible to see those turning windmills. These figurines are essentially controlled by the weights and gears of the clock.
- Different motifs
Cuckoo clocks, by their nature, feature a number of curved scenes from nature. On some of the oldest timepieces, you will find hunting scenes. Others have leaf patterns all around the carved cuckoo clock. On top of every clock, there is a carved cuckoo in addition to that, some clocks have owl carvings as a major part of the decorations. On some of the hunting scenes, the most common animals are stags and deer.
Most of the paintings on cuckoo clocks are those of flowery figures. These paintings are painstakingly done by the hands of the great artists. Each of the clocks is a unique piece of art that has the personal touch of each artist.
What Goes Into Cuckoo Clock Pricing
Anyone looking for a cuckoo clock will discover that they are available at different prices. There are various factors that determine the pricing of cuckoo clocks. These factors are discussed below.
- The features
The most expensive cuckoo clocks have some of the highest numbers of features. That cannot be said of the cheaper clocks which are usually minimalistic. As such, chalet cuckoo clocks, as well as carved cuckoo clocks, cost more than the shield variety. That is because of the intricate design that is characteristic of chalet cuckoo clocks and carved cuckoo clocks. These clocks have elaborate features such as different motifs, moving figurines, dancers, and a music box. The pricing, therefore, works according to a simple formula. The more the features, the higher the price.
- Whether they have music box
Not all cuckoo clocks have music boxes. Those that do usually attract some of the highest prices on the market. That is because the addition of a music box calls for the inclusion of additional which raise the amount of money required to make the clock. For that reason, the prices of these clocks are much higher.
- Size of the clock
Cuckoo clocks are usually made in different sizes. The bigger clocks are meant for mounting on shelves while the smaller ones are put on walls. Because of their sizes, the bigger clocks are usually priced a little bit higher than the rest.
- The age of the clock
When you go to buy a cuckoo clock, be on the lookout for the age as this can make it either cheaper or more expensive. Usually, the newer cuckoo clocks have higher prices than their older counterparts.
Also, newer clocks tend to have better interiors than older ones mainly due to advancement in technology. It is the precise mechanism of newer cuckoo clocks that make them very pricey.
- The type of the clock
Cuckoo clocks exist in different types. It is, therefore, reasonable to say that the pricing for the different types of clocks is varied. For instance, chalet clocks tend to cost more than shield cuckoo clocks. The former has an essentially intricate design with details which make it very expensive. Also, antique clocks will be priced much lower than their newer versions. As explained earlier, newer cuckoo clocks have more precise internal mechanisms as compared to their aging counterparts.
- Whether it has a 1-day or 8-day winding
By their nature, 8-day winding clocks are more expensive than the 1-day variety. 8-day clocks are usually more complex and larger compared to the 1-day clocks, which are simpler because of the lighter weights. That explains why the former is more expensive.
- The carving details on the clock
Did you know that the more carvings a clock has, the more expensively it will be priced? The carvings take time and artistic precision to produce and someone has to pay for that.
- The number of items and figurines on the clocks
Cuckoo clocks differ in the number of figurines and other features. Those with more intricate moving items are, therefore, more expensive than the rest. That is because these figurines require additional internal mechanisms to make them move the way they do.
High-Quality Cuckoo Clocks Made In Germany
German cuckoo clocks are the best in the world. Nowhere else will you find a tradition of producing the best clocks spanning a number of centuries? The outer designs are usually hand-carved by artists through an elaborate process that begins with the drawing of sketches on paper. These are then transferred onto the wood and cut out using up to 50 different knives. Nowhere else would you find clocks of better quality than those made in Germany? In other countries, cuckoo clocks made in factories using the quartz technology.
That includes the artwork on the outside of the clock and the other artistic features including the cuckoo bird, figurines, and dancers. When buying a German cuckoo clock, you aren’t just getting a time-piece, but more a piece of art. With these, you don’t need a painting to decorate your walls.
Where to Buy Cuckoo Clocks?
Are you looking to buy a cuckoo clock? It is not just about acquiring a beautiful time-piece. Make sure you buy your cuckoo clock in Germany. There are, however, one or two things to bear in mind.
Some cuckoo clocks are much better than others. However, when it comes to the type of clock you select, it boils down to your personal preferences. While some individuals may prefer a certain color or size, others may not be attracted to that design.
If you want the best cuckoo clocks regardless of your personal preferences, it is best to buy them from the Black Forest region in Germany. This is the place where the art of making clocks has been passed on from one generation to another over the centuries. Even if you can’t go to Germany, buy a clock with an origin from the Black Forest.
In Germany, all the clockmakers have membership in the Black Forest Clock Association (VDS). It is this organization that is tasked with upholding industry standards that have been passed on from previous generations. Any clock you buy must, therefore, have the VDS certification. The VDS also has a network of service stations to help maintain and repair the clocks.
That is not to suggest that cuckoo clocks without the VDS certificate are of the poorest quality. The clock might just be authentic and of the highest quality. The VDS certificate is, however, an assurance that what you are buying is of the best quality.
Buying in Germany or…?
For most buyers of cuckoo clocks, buying them in Germany is better than doing it anywhere else. After all, the clocks are made in Germany. You have to consider the following:
- When you buy your clocks directly from Germany, you will be required to pay import duty on the goods. The process also involves filling in a lot of paperwork.
- Your imported cuckoo clock might just turn up with defects or of lesser quality than expected. Be prepared to pack and ship it back to where it came from. Apart from paying the shipping costs, you will have to fill in export forms.
- Buying a clock from Germany would not come with a warranty. However, buying from your country will give you access to a more comprehensive warranty.
- Prices in Germany are likely to be lower than those in your country of origin. Bearing in mind all the disadvantages of importing a cuckoo clock from Germany, you will have to determine if it is worth taking the risk.
If you are traveling to Germany, you can buy a small-sized clock and fit that into their luggage. However, the clock could be ruined with checked luggage.
How to Unpack a New Cuckoo Clock
You have just bought a cuckoo clock. How do you ensure that it is unpacked and set up in readiness to serve you for a lifetime? Read the instructions that came with your new cuckoo clock. After that, you can then consider unpacking the clock.
During the packing process, cuckoo clocks are usually secured from the possible damage while in transit. Trust the clock to work if you unpack it carefully. Here is how to unpack a new cuckoo clock:
Unpacking with care
First, put the carton the right side up. Follow that by cutting the adhesive tape to open the top. Make sure that you cut only the top of the tape. Cutting in deeper than expected could just end up damaging the new cuckoo clock.
Inside the package, styrene, paper or special packaging is used to protect the clock. Carefully remove these materials to avoid damaging the clock itself. Hold the roof and remove the clock from the packaging. Never hold the figurines or carvings. If the clock doesn’t have carvings, take it out by holding the bottom panel. It’s now time to remove the weights and pendulum. Ensure you don’t open the small plastic bag at the clock’s base. You will do that later.
Don’t throw away the packaging before you are sure that you have all the pieces of your clock intact. Make sure you give the empty box a thorough check. Go through the parts on the table and ensure they are all there.
In some clocks, you will find the weights, pendulum, antlers together with a deer head, and a carved piece for the top.
Tuning the clock face-down
Get hold of the clock and ensure it is facing downwards. Take care that you do not damage the face of the clock, the hands, tiny figurines, and the carvings. If you need an additional hand to help you hold the clock face down, then do it. Place the clock on a soft towel.
Remove the two bellows clamps. Simply pull them out. Clamps are easy to notice since they come with orange tags. Take care that you do not damage any of the wires in the clock while at it.
Replacing the back door
It is now time to replace the door at the back. Make sure the locking tab is secured in place. It is necessary that you keep the cardboard box, chime paper, and clamps in a safe place. You might just need them for future transportation. It’s time to turn the clock on the back. Open its front and remove the cuckoo.
Securing the clock on the wall
Do you know exactly where you want to mount the clock? Put a screw into the wall, at least two meters from the ground. It should stand at an upward angle. Allow the screw to hang out 1 or 2 centimeters. It’s now okay to secure the clock on the wall. Make sure the clock is hanging perpendicularly to allow for the free movement of the pendulum. Once you have done that, your clock is ready. It’s time to set it. Set by turning the long hand to the left until you get the correct time.