French clockmaking came into its own in the 17th century, when highly ornamented clocks covered in gilt bronze, known as ormolu, were produced to keep pace with the new standards for opulence set by King Louis the Fourteenth’s Palace of Versailles.

There were two general styles of antique French clocks during this period. One was known as boulle, which refers to a clock cased in tortoiseshell and inlaid with brass, pewter, porcelain, and ivory. The second type was called religieuse, in which brass and pewter overlays were set in ebony veneers on oak.

During the Regency period (from roughly 1715 to 1723), bracket clocks, which had been popular a century before, came back into prominence. A bracket clock could be hung on a wall or placed on a table, making it a flexible timepiece compared to, say, the longcase clocks that were also being produced at that time. Rococo pendule, for pendulum, clocks featured curvaceous profiles and seemingly endless decorative detailing.

By the time Louis the Sixteenth assumed the throne (he reigned from 1774 to 1791 and was executed in 1793), clockmakers were producing highly accurate regulators, skeleton clocks whose exposed works were protected from dust by glass domes, and mantel clocks festooned with everything from bronze Greek and Roman statuary to cherubs.

This was also the era of cartel clocks. Housed in elaborate cast-bronze or gold-leaf-on-wood frames (cartel is French for frame), these French wall clocks often featured Roman numerals on white dials surrounded by gilt garlands and figurines. One of the many makers of these sorts of clocks, as well as other styles, was Frederick Japy, whose Japy Freres would become the leading French clockmaker in the 19th century.

From the 18th century onward, longcase clocks were made in Normandy at Saint-Nicholas-d'Aliermont, near Dieppe. This was a localized industry, and these clocks rarely made it outside of Normandy. Tall, thin, and key-wound, Normandy clocks had short pendulums, were rope driven, and featured enamelled faces and ornately carved hoods.

Comtoise clocks, the name given to the standard variety of French longcase clocks found all over France, were made in the Jura region of Franche Compté. A spring-wound variation ...

The French wall clocks from this period are known as "aeil de boeuf" (bull's eye). Some have movements that are versions of the "Pendule de Paris," the movements found in marble and standard French mantel clocks. These clocks, most of which have a sort of flower shape, are often decorated with mother of pearl and have lift-up fronts.

Until the end of the 18th century, the French clockmaking industry had been centered in the Jura region because of its proximity to the Swiss and the German clockmaking industries in the Black Forest, as well as the skilled craftsmen who worked there. In the early 19th century, a couple of makers moved closer to Paris, where they made standard mantel clock movements. One clockmaker moved to Saint-Nicholas-d'Aliermont, which was attractive because like Jura, it offered a pool of local craftsmen.

The black marble cases used by French makers were assembled in Rance, using marble from the Dinant area. This practice changed slightly, however, when Belgium became independent—the French grabbed a piece of the Dinant marble fields and imposed import tariffs to undermine the industry in Rance.

In the 1800s, Gothic revivalism swept France. Now French antique clock cases began to resemble Gothic cathedrals. Other clocks featured objects animated by the clock’s movement. Some of these even incorporated a music box to give the clock and its animated elements its own soundtrack.

During the 19th century, two types of French antique clocks in particular were manufactured in large numbers. The mantel clocks from the middle of the century were produced for both the local and English markets. The design of the English versions was naturally more sober than the bronze ormolu, white-marble base, porcelain dial, and gold-handed clocks made by clockmakers such as Raingo Freres for French customers.

French carriage clocks were also produced during this time, mostly for export to England. One of the leading makers of carriage clocks was Henri Jacot of Paris. Some of his company’s clocks had engraved brass cases decorated with spiraled columns crowned with cast capitals. Others were notable for their use beveled glass and porcelain dials. Many chimed on the hour.

At the turn of the 20th century, French clockmakers incorporated the aesthetics of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts into their finished products, but the era when they really shined was Art Deco. French mantel clocks from this period were routinely made of marble, onyx, brass, glass, and chrome. Many of these clocks sported columns on their sides and Roman numerals on their faces.

Figurines and statues, which had been favorite devices of French clockmakers in the 18th and 19th centuries, continued to flank the faces of French clocks during the Art Deco era. Bronze human forms from myth and history were popular, as were animals—from lovebirds to springboks.

French Art Deco clock designers included Edgar Brandt, whose hand-wrought, forged iron clocks typically sat on marble bases, and Cartier, which made all sorts of clocks, including square travel clocks with gold hands and black enameled handles. Compagnie Industrielle de Macanique Horelogere sold clocks under its JAZ brand. Its line of Art Deco clocks, introduced in 1934, were usually geometric (round faces in horizontal cases), colorful (blues, greens, and gold), and often incorporated mirrors into their designs.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]

Clockhistory.com

Clockhistory.com

Bill Stoddard's clock history site offers a trove of great reference information on clock and watch makers includin… [read review or visit site]

National Maritime Museum

National Maritime Museum

Check out this sampling of nautical and maritime items held by the U.K.'s National Maritime Museum and Royal Observ… [read review or visit site]

Dan and Diana's Lux Clock Collection

Dan and Diana's Lux Clock Collection

Dan and Diana Lockett's amazing collection of several hundred novelty Lux clocks made by the Lux Clock Manufacturin… [read review or visit site]

Detex Watchman's Clock Album

Detex Watchman's Clock Album

Philip Haselton's guide to watchmen's time recording equipment. Includes 19th century German portables, 20th centur… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Wonderful 19thc Solid Gilt French Mantel Clock - Original Antique Clocks19c French Mystery Clock With Figural Standard & Opaline Glass Dial Dial No ResAntique 19thc French 8-day Movement Alarm Brass Carriage Clock, Richard & Co19thc Antique French Empire Winged Griffin Brass Charles X Portico Mantle ClockAntique French Rococo Ad Mougin Bronze Victorian Louis Xv Style Mantle ClockAntique Mulotin A Reims Gilt Bronze & Slate French Empire Mantle Clock NrAntique French Comtoise Weight Driven Alarm Clock , Gilt MetalTwo Antique Brass French Carriage Clock Clocks - Working But Need Some ServiceAntique French Open Escapement 8 Day Time Bell Strike Clock Movement Only RepairSuperb 19c Farcot Mantel Clock - French Boulle Clock - Original Antique ClocksStunning 19thc Eboinsed French Portico Mantel Clock - Original Antique ClocksSuperb 19thc Ormolu Bronze Horse French Mantel Clock - Original Antique ClocksVintage Art Deco French 1930's Jaz Chrome & Bakelite Mantel Alarm Clock.Superb 19c Ormolu & Sevres French Mantel Clock - Original Antique ClocksExceptional Antique Solid Bronze & Ormolu French Grande Sonnerie Mantle ClockBeautiful Antique French Comtoise Wall Clock- 1850 FranceVery Nice Antique 19thc French Japy Freres Bronze 8 Day Bell Strike Mantel ClockSublime Antique French Ornately Embossed Bronze Ormolu 8 Day Mantle Table ClockRare Antique French Japy Freres Mantel Clock Movement With PendulumA Lovely Clean French Carriage Clock In Good Original Condition C1910 *re Oiled*Superb French Clock Movement With Visible Escapement Working 113mm HolAntique Turner Oxford French Brass 8 Day Platform Type Lantern Carriage ClockAntique French Samuel Marti Open Escapement 8 Day Clock Movement Only Running NrVery Beautiful Antique French Gilt Metal & Sevres Porcelain Mantle ClockSuperb 19thc Bronzed Spelter Slate French Mantel Clock - Original Antique ClocksRare Signed Antique French Regnault Paris Bronze Spelter Figure Mantle Clock Nr19th French Portico Empire Clock, Excellent Inlaid Case, No ReserveHigh Quality Antique 19th C French Solid Pierced Gilt Bronze 8 Day Mantle ClockDelicieux Antique French Large Enamelled Clock Face 19th Century Brocante Chic Very Rare, Q-strike 4 Melody Lcb 4 Airs Antique French Wall Clock- 1920 FranceAntique 19th C French Solid Gilt Brass Portico 8 Day Bell Striking Mantle ClockAc21 Antique Mechanical Pendulum Spelter Gold Gilt Clock R&s Dated 1875 French Wonderful 19thc Solid Gilt French Mantel Clock - Original Antique ClocksAntique Clock-rare Exceptional French Ormolu & Ornate Porcelain Mantel Clock SetSuper 19thc Painted Spelter Marble French Mantel Clock - Original Antique ClocksAntique French Morbier Weight Driven Wall Clock For Parts, Or Restoration.Very Nice Antique 19th C French Solid Gilt Bronze 8 Day Bell Strike Mantel ClockVintage Art Deco French 1930's Jaz 'cubic' Chrome & Bakelite Alarm Clock.Antique Clock For Parts Or Restoration French ??Antique French Japy Freres Mantel Wall Clock Movement Only RepairSuperb Large French Clock Movement By S.marti Working 135mm HoleExtremely Rare Antique French Verge Fusee Alabaster Shelf / Mantle ClockAntique 19thc French Japy Freres Green Onyx Marble 8day Bell Strike Mantle ClockAntique 19th C French Hp & Co Honore Pons Gilt Metal Figural Mantel Clock C1830Antique French Samuel Marti Open Escapement 8 Day Clock Movement Only Parts NrAntique French Tiffany & Co. Hand Painted Floral Dial Mantel ClockLarge Antique 19th C French Solid Gilt Pierced Bronze 8 Day Bell Mantel ClockStunning 1920s French Art Deco High-style Lady & Panther Sculpture Mantel ClockAntique Waterbury Bronzed French Clock W/ Winged Cherub Gold Gilt Key Wind NrAntique 1848 French Japy Fils Polished Black Marble Figural 8 Day Mantle ClockLarge Victorian French Portico Boulle Clock *** H.azur Paris ***Antique French Clock Movement Lot For Parts As IsSmall French Antique Striking Clock Movement By S.marti 89mm HoleAntique French Japy Freres Open Escapement Clock Movement Fits A 5 3/8" OpeningAntique French Brevette 8 Day Gilt Mantel Clock , Painted PanelsOld C1920 Inlaid Mahogany Balloon Shaped Mantle Clock French Movement Antique 19c French Renaissance Revival Cast Brass Mantel Clock H. Ricndei ParisFrench Spelter Clock Case Super Parts ProjectAntique Solid Brass Ornate French Footed Mantle Clock...clock Runs & ChimesHand Painted Antique Bronze French Sevres Porcelain Mantle Clock Dore Gold Gilt~