The Beautiful World of the Clockmaker

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary In a town not far from where I live, there is an old man who repairs and sells old clocks. He used to be a clockmaker himself. He confessed that he made some of the best clocks anyone has ever seen, but now no one wants a beautiful hand-constructed clock with gears and cogs that would make the clocks he constructed turn and chime. Few people do that anymore he told me because the amount of time, labor and parts needed to make such beautiful clocks would be way, way more costly than how much anyone would bother to pay them. In another town that I visit every now and then is a shopkeeper who sells clocks. They may be the wind-up alarm clocks, they may be battery-powered clocks, or they may be German-made cuckoo clocks. He told me that a few small companies make high quality mantel wind-up clocks, and all the wind-up alarm clocks he has (with one exception) are cheaply put-together products from China.

The clock shopkeeper told me that the only three quality time pieces he has are the wind-up alarm clocks made in Serbia (by a German company called Sternreiter), the beautiful mantel clocks where the wooden exterior are made in U.S.A. and the inside clock mechanisms are made in Germany, and of course the German-made cuckoo clocks. Now everybody I know uses cheap radio alarm clocks normally to wake them up, or even their cell phones. But there is something to be said about the beauty of a time piece with gears, cogwheels, the classic bronze bells, and yes the little hammers that hit the bells to make the clock ring. Not so long ago major companies would produce such clocks in the United States and demand for such clocks was high. For instance, wind-up alarm clocks were produced in this country by Westclox—the largest American manufacturer of wind-up clocks and of clocks in general in this country. But like so many other American clock companies, they moved all of their operations to China.

And so many clockmakers in this country found themselves not only without jobs but without a profession. A few still try to make mantel clocks, but now it is with imported German clocks since no one in America manufactures parts for wind-up or mantel clocks anymore. Those who try to restore old wind-up or mantel clocks have to use either old, old American-made parts that might still be good or newly made German parts because of their quality (none of the clock restorers I spoke to use Chinese parts because those parts are unreliable. Besides, they told me, clocks made in China are usually something that can be thrown away when they break down). The old clockmaker and the clock shopkeeper told me they remember the days when people had wind-up clocks, mantel wind-up clocks and even grandfather clocks in their homes. Such clocks were the pride and joy of many families, and such clocks added a kind of elegance rarely seen today.

I could remember such clocks as well. But even in my day the age of the wind-up mantel clock was nearly over and even the classic wind-up alarm clock was beginning to be replaced by cheap battery powered alarm clocks. Sometimes I bring in a clock for the old clockmaker to fix, but alas I can do no more for him. For the clock shopkeeper, every now and then I buy a Sternreiter alarm clock. He likes those especially because they are the best wind-up alarm clock on the market. I buy them because I appreciate the work and craftsmanship that goes into them. Those clocks will probably last between 10 to 20 years. These clocks were not made cheaply, and there is no question that pride went into making these beautiful pieces. These clocks were not made just to serve a function, but to be admired as an object or art. These clocks have in many ways a life of their own, and they mirror the soul of the clockmaker. But fortunately this story actually has a happy ending. There are a few clockmaking companies still around like Howard Miller and Bradford Clocks that still make the beautiful mantel and grandfather clocks that have adorned American homes for generations. Their clocks combine the beautiful wooden exterior of mantel wind-up key clocks made decades ago with precision interior clockworks from Germany that make these clocks as beautiful and attractive as those made so long ago. The fact these are still being made is a tribute to the skill of those clockmakers who will not give in to a world of cheap, crappy imports And according to the clock shopkeeper, people are still buying these clocks and he sells them in his store. There are still people who appreciate what is the heart and soul of the clockmaker.

Comments are closed.