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    

French Brass Regulator Tiffany Anniversary Torsion 400 Day Clock Grivolas AtmosFrench Antique Art Deco Mirror Glass & Chrome Mantle Alarm Clock Dep SavoyRare Carved 8 Day French Carriage Clock - Fret Work Cased Carriage Mantel ClockAntique 19thc Japy Freres French Gilt Bronze Cartel Wall Clock Jannot A NiceFrench Empire Ormolu Mantel Clock @ 1820 Music Theme ExcellentLarge Brass Lantern Clock Front Keywound Possible French ClockAntique 1830's French Empire Paris Porcelain Mantle Clock &base By Raingo FreresAntique French Gilt Brass Carriage Clock W/ Hand Painted Floral FaceFrench Repeater & Strike Carriage Clock Maker Dejardin 1880/1890 ParisMiniature "mignonnette" French Brass Carriage Clock By Drocourt Paris. With Key.Vintage Brass French Carriage Clock With Key Good Running TimepieceEarly French Bronze Or Brass Empire Portico Clock Case 16" High Repeater French Antique Carriage Clock With Half-hour Strike And Hour RepeatAntique 19th C French Gilt Bronze Mantle Clock With Stunning Sevres PorcelainGenuine Antique French Striking Carriage Clock Movement Antique French Brass Carriage Clock With KeyMagnificent Antique French Crystal Regulator Clock Time Strike France Ad MouginVery Nice Antique French 19th C Inlaid Boulle & Gilt Bronze Bracket/mantel ClockFrench Boulle Mantle ClockAnique Neoclassical French Portico Clock Gilt Bronze 19th CAntique 19th Century Victorian French Gilt Metal Figural Mantel Clock 8day C1880Unusual Antique French Ebonised Mantel Timepiece/clock+ Napoleon Bonaparte C1880Beautiful Antique French Carriage Clock Serviced & Restored Jan 2016Impressive Antique Large French L.p Japy 19th C 8 Day Pillared Mantle ClockAntique Art Nouveau French Onyx Mantel Clock Old Base For Lady Statue SculptureAntique Rare French Bulle Electro Clock Original Glass Old #185357 Runs WorksAntique French Japy Freres Figural Mantel Clock Movement Dial Parts RepairFrench Carriage Clock Circa 1840-50; Time, Strike, Alarm, Repeat W/ CalendarAntique French Bronze Figural Mantel Clock, 19th CenturyAntique French Open Escapement Figural Clock Movement Dial PartsAntique French Ebonised & Bronze Large Carriage Clock Designed Mantel ClockGilded Ormolu French Mantel Clock Armillary Sphere/bibliotheque/cherub/libraryFrench Bronze Cased Crystal Regulator Mantle Clock Signed Japy Freres FranceFrench Empire Ebony Marble Portico Or Pillar Scroll Mantle Clock Ormolu Dial14” Vintage French Gilt And Marble Ornate Electric Mantle Clock Works Antique 19th C French S.marti Figural Gilt & White Marble Mantle Clock & BaseOld Vintage Antique French Crystal Regulator Brass Shelf ClockAntique Marti Slate French Clock Medaille De Bronze Open Escapement Need RepairAntique (1850) Bronze French Column Table Clock By Japy Freres - Free Shipping Pair 13” French Marble Brass Clock Pitchers Decorative Sculptures Antique Tiffany & Co. French Carriage Clock W/ Hour & 1/2 Hour Chimes - RunningAntique 1855 French Vincenti Figuralmantle Clock With Lovely Sevres PorcelainFrench White Marble Mantle Clock S Marti Et Cie 1869Excellent Original Edwardian French Inlaid Mahogany Mantle Clock Nice SizeAntique 19thc French Mougin Solid Brass 8 Day Bell Striking Figural Mantle ClockAntique-french-spelter -zamac-mantel-shelf-clock-*1880th CenturyRare L Brocot Antique Brass Mantel Clock French Crystal Mercury Pendulum X35 Good French Gilded Ormolu Striking Mantle Clock Japy Freres Movement Circa 1890Antique French Brass Carriage Clock. Striker/repeater. Key. Good Condition.Antique French Carriage ClockAmazing Quality Antique French Gilt Metal & 7 Blue Sevres Porcelain Mantel ClockGorgeous Antique French Gilt-mounted Pottery Clock Garniture 1830-1880 CAntique Japy Freres French Made Clock Movement Dial And Parts Rare Unusual 8 Day French Rosewood & Silvered Pierced Fret Work Carriage Clock Genuine Antique French Repeating Carriage Clock CaseAuthentic William Harnden French Street Scene Cafe & Clock Tower Oil PaintingAntique French 8 Day Carriage Clock With KeyM66 French Vintage Clock Movement, , Marti, With Dial,for Parts Or Repair Small Antique Fixed Pendulum Alarm Mantel Clock French..French Ebonized Portico Pillar Mantle Clock