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 "oeil 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]

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    

Antique 1855 Japy Freres French Clock For Parts Or Repair - Clock WorksAntique French Carriage Clock With Case, C. 1900'sSuperb 19thc French Gilt Metal & Blue Sevres Porcelain Clock Garniture Side UrnsSuperb Antique 19th Gilt Metal & Blue Sevres Porcelain French 8 Day Mantle ClockAntique 19th C French Japy Freres Gilt Mantel Clock 8 Day Bell StrikingFrench Swinging Cherub Clock In An Alabaster Case For RestorationPhilippe H. Mourey Japy Freres French Antique Mantel Clock With Enamel Dial.Spectacular Antique 19thc French Mantel Clock With The Most Beautiful ChampleveFantastic 1890 French Champleve Carriage Clock Stunning Antique 19th Gilt Metal & Black Marble Figural French Mantle ClockAntique Running French Champleve Enamel Repeating Carriage Alarm Clock *2 Bells*Stunning 19thc French Red Shell & Brass Inlaid Boulle Mantle Clock Base SuperbFrench Fancy Morbier Repeater Striking Wag On The Wall Clock Circa 1900Superb Antique French Tin Bistrot Wall Clock Chocolat Guerin - Boutron C1890 Antique Gothic Cathedral Shelf Mantel Clock, French, Oak, Gorgeous, Wrks Gr8, NrAntique 19th C French Solid Gilt Brass 8 Day Mantel Clock - Superb Hunting ThemeRare Antique 19th C French Brass & Sienna Onyx Marble Portico Mantle Clock SetAntique French Bulle Battery Electromagnetic Clock Marble Base For Parts Repair Antique 19thc French Art Nouveau Style Ansonia Old Rococo Victorian Mantel ClockAntique French Gilt Brass Carriage / Mantel Clock - Working With KeyAntique French Carriage Clock (c 1890) With Key. Complete Overhaul In Aug. 2016 Antique 18th French Empire White Marble & Wedgwood Portico Mantle Clock For TlcAntique 19th Gilt Metal French Cube 8 Day Striking Silk Suspension Mantle ClockAntique French Mantel Clock Beautiful Inlaid Keyhole Or Balloon Case By MartiAntique French Brass And 5-glass "louis Xv Doucine" Cased Carriage Clock & Key.French Carriage Clock Very Rare Case Style Double Top Window Fully Restored 1900 Beautiful Antique French Figural / Statue Clock Case Super Antique French Brass Gilt Mantel Clock, Smaller Size + Gilt Wood Base GwoAntique French J. Marty & Sons Inlayed Marble Open Escapement Mantel ClockStunning Antique 19th Gilt Metal Figural French 8 Day Japy Freres Mantle ClockFrench Morbier Tall Case Clock Movement Double Bell Parts RepairsFrench Statue Clock Mantle Clock Movement Time Only Parts ProjectAntique French Japy Freres 19th C Gilt Bronze & Sevres Porcelain Mantle ClockStylish Original Antique Art Deco French Bayard Brass Cased Alarm ClockLarge Couaillet French Brass Striking Carriage Clock Serviced & Cleaned, WorkingAntique 19th French 14 Day Inlaid Ebonised Portico Mantle Clock For TlcVintage French Brass Bayard 8 Day Carriage Clock Duverdrey & Bloquel WorkingAntique 19th C French Twin Figural 8 Day Bell Striking Mantle ClockAntique Bronze French Mantle ClockVintage Antique French Slate Mantle Clock For Spair Or Restoration See VideoFrench Morbier Tall Case Clock Good Quality Brass PendulumEarly French Mantle Clock Movement Silk Thread Suspension Parts RepairsAntique Vintage French Clock Movement With Bezel, Pendulum, Rear DoorStunning Miniature Carriage Clock, Drew & Sons London French Movement To RestoreAntique French Figurative Mantle Clock, Ornate Cast Iron HandpaintedAntique Victorian Japy Freres Clock Bronze Vintage French Wall Model 23072 NrFrench Statue Clock Case Gilded Metal Case Parts Restoration ProjectAntique French Platform Escapement 8 Day Clock Movement Perfect Working OrderAntique French Brass Carriage Travel ClockAntique French Brass Striking Clock Movement & Matched Pendulum - Japy FreresVintage Brass French Style Mantle Clock Case Project PartsAntique French Clock Marble & Bronzed Spelter W/cherub And Birds In A ChariotRare Antique French Made Flava Flav Carriage Coach Heartbeat Large Mop ClockSuperb Antique French Lge Timeworn Socle Stand Plinth C1880 Statue Clock BustFrench 8 Day Silver Plated Carriage Clock With Swiss Platform EscapementFrench Bayard Duverdrey & Bloquel 8 Day Carriage ClockMarti Medaille De Bronze French Mantel Clock With Various Side PiecesAntique French Eight Day Striking Picture Frame Wall ClockFrench Morbier Tall Case Clock Dial Surround Floral Painted DesignVintage French?? Reguet No 4356 Small Clock Wood